We’re in the middle of seeing the decline of the newspaper and traditional journalism, and the rise of the blogger or Netspert™ as I prefer to call them. The traditional formats of informing people about new product, or happenings, or simply telling a story is a format that’s just too slow and ponderous for todays information saturated. When a new product is released, people don’t want to read a press release and wait for a review in a month, they want a review 24hrs after it’s released.
Savvy companies are still supplying magazines with product for ‘reviews’, but these reviews often come with the pesky baggage of actually having to purchase advertising space that’s becoming less and less effective.
The new frontier (in an electronic sense, anyway) is that of the Netspert. The Netspert is a middle class blogger, usually with a healthy income for indulging their hobby over and above what a normal enthusiast can, and a thirst for self-promotion. They’re early adopters – buying all the latest gadgets as soon as they come out – or if they have the inside line, they get given product to ‘test’ from the importer or manufacturer.
Every hobby or interest as a core group of these people. In my once beloved cycling, those guys are ‘Guitar Ted’ and ‘Prolly is not Probably’. In my current hobby of photography, one of these Netsperts is Steve Huff.
The interesting part of this style of product promotion, involves the user experience. Magazine reviews often come across as though they’re trying not to offend, or that they’re trying to please too many people, or that there’s a frowning guy standing over them with a big bag of money. Statistical analysis has virtually disappeared from magazines, and even those that do have some don’t really quantify what those statistics actually mean – ‘That number is bigger than that number, therefore that one is not as good’ type of analysis. There’s a backlash against that of course, and that is the number-crunching Netspert. Those guys fill in the analytical gap that the magazine has abandoned in their own revenue-protective way, and why not, they don’t have as much to lose. In photograhy, the main analytical protagonists are DxOMark and Lenstip.com.
I’ve deliberately linked to both Lenstip and Steve Huffs reviews of the new Olympus 17mm / f1.8 lens. You’d be shocked to think they’re reviewing the same lens:
“This lens is not exactly a successful construction”
“I don’t really grasp what they counted on, presenting such an average instrument as the 1.8/17 at such a price.”
“Another home run for Olympus with their 35mm equivalent lens”
“Another bravo to Olympus. Just makes me wonder what is to come next from them.”
So where does UX come into this? If you read Steve Huffs review, he talks all about “real world” and “getting out there and taking photos”, so his comments are more organic and experiential. If you test something, compare it to something else, and conclude that its rubbish, there’s no emotion invested in that. It’s a ‘yes/no’ proposition. You take what you will, you move on. What companies must love about the positive prosumer Netspert review, is that it’s emotive, it’s informal, has pretty photos attached to it. A peer is telling their peers and aspirationals about his experience. Huff tells a story, and attaches the photographic proof. That carries much more weight than a pie chart.
Of course there will always be the naysayers and the ‘pixel-peepers’, but the dialogue and conflict between the “Chart doesn’t lie” types versus the “But look at the pictures!” types is just plain good publicity. If people aren’t talking about your product, then what’s the point? Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
At the core of my design ideals, I believe the best products are ones that are a sublime balance between form and function. However, we are human beings after all, and whether we admit it or not, our reactions to things are visceral and emotional first-and-foremost. How we experience a product or service is in my mind more important than it’s pure functionality. Just check out how long the comments section is on Steve Huff’s website to give you a good indication of that.