TUAW’s ‘liveblog’ coverage

Earlier today, the MacJournals Twitter account alerted its followers to live coverage of Apple’s music event from Macworld, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), and Engadget. (We did not provide live coverage of this event as it was less about the Mac than it was about Apple’s other businesses.)

About an hour later, we backtracked on part of that with a follow-up tweet:

We wouldn’t have recommended TUAW liveblog coverage had we known how vicious it would be. We’ll know for the future.

This generated only two responses on Twitter (both in agreement), and as far as we can find, none in E-mail. Nonetheless, Victor Agreda Jr. (who initiated TUAW’s liveblog coverage) called us this afternoon, identified himself as a full-time employee of AOL, and asked for an explanation of the word “vicious,” assuring us that they take such things very seriously.

One would think it wouldn’t be difficult for AOL to ask for a response on the Internet to a comment on the Internet. Either way, our policy is that since the comment was public, our response is as well, and here it is:

TUAW’s coverage of the event was not the same kind of “liveblog” as from Engadget or Macworld: the people posting the coverage for those two outlets were actually at the event. Only one of the TUAW commenters was actually in the room with Steve Jobs and the rest of the press today, making it, as one person put it (our paraphrase), more of a chat about the event than what we would consider a “liveblog.”

That’s fair, of course, but had we known, we wouldn’t have recommended TUAW’s coverage to begin with. However, what TUAW did wind up posting was all but useless as news coverage. It was aggressively impatient for any announcement that didn’t match the rumor mill that the site had been flogging (for traffic purposes) in the weeks preceding the event, and was indeed viciously dismissive of any reality that didn’t match rumor fantasy.

In other words, it was not about what happened. It started with an expectation of pre-determined rumored products (cameras on iPod Touch models, as predicted by John Gruber; Beatles music, and so on), and degenerated when those were not met.

TUAW’s livebloggers apparently had no idea about new iTunes 9 features, so they discussed (and applauded) items like better sharing, better app management for OS X iPhone devices, Genius for applications, and so on. But when Phil Schiller came on stage to start laying the foundation for any new hardware features, things deteriorated:

10:28 TUAW Host (Mike R.): Reminder all, Sam L. is live onsite

10:28 Tim Wasson: What else ya got for me, Steve?

10:28 Joachim: Phil’s on iPods

10:29 TUAW_DaveCaolo: Here comes Phil!

10:33 Erica: Phil tells us that the iPod is a great pocket computer. Two years late.

10:33 Erica: TABLET, PHIL, TABLET

10:35 Erica: Hey, I said it’s right up there with Ponies. I *want* but I’m not going to *get*

10:35 TUAW_DaveCaolo: We know the iPod touch is a computer. Move along, Phil.

10:35 Michael Jones: I hope he doesn’t do all of this netbook build-up to just talk about the existing iPod touch.

10:37 Sam Levin: iPhone demo of videos. nice.. ok, where’s the new touch???

It’s worth noting here that Sam Levin was TUAW’s correspondent at the venue. Less than ten minutes after Schiller took the stage to remind everyone exactly where the iPod platform was today, the on-site correspondent was demanding that he stop so Apple could show the new hardware TUAW had been flogging as rumors.

This was necessary, because this event included correspondents from AP, CNBC, and other non-technology people who don’t follow this stuff with a microscope. To explain why the next product is such a great thing, you first have to explain why the current one is a smash hit.

The excerpts above omit many lines of TUAW coverage, but we invite you to compare what you read at TUAW with the same time period in the Macworld live coverage. Macworld provided facts in black text and commentary in brown text, describing what was going on. TUAW was heckling from inside and outside the event demanding rumor fulfillment.

The iPod/iPhone platform would be a nice curiosity without the App Store, but when Schiller took the time to demonstrate new games targeted for the iPod market—the subject once again of Apple’s holiday marketing campaign for the iPod Touch—the cynicism quickly took over:

10:38 Erica: Just announce the new iPod touch please […]

10:38 Tim Wasson: Just show us the camera.

10:38 Erica: Wasting time with demos from developers. Means they pushed another product back?

10:38 TUAW_DaveCaolo: If they’re spending so much time on something the touch has done since its inception, then iTunes 9 + iPhone 3.1 + New touch is it.

10:39 TUAW Host (Mike R.): Ars: Time to take a bathroom break

10:40 Joachim: did they need to take *this* long for demos?

10:40 Megan Lavey: *taps foot* Come on, Apple, I’ve got a copy of Rock Band: The Beatles to pick up.

10:41 Josh Carr: I’m afraid erica could be correct… they’re wasting time on dev-speak.

10:41 TUAW_DaveCaolo: Parade of developers = zzzzzz (with all respect to developers)

“With all respect to developers, you are boring and you’re boring us and you should stop that because we have rumors we’ve been flogging!

There’s really just no way to describe this other than vicious. As soon as the event stopped providing news they hadn’t heard, and left unresolved rumors, the site’s correspondents (all text quoted is from TUAW staffers, not from the public at large) petulantly demanded that Apple stop providing information that mainstream reporters needed to come close to the proper context, and instead resume new announcements at a pace that would have created a fifteen-minute event. It was completely bereft of any understanding that such events have to serve an audience larger than, well, TUAW staffers.

It’s what our grandparents used to describe as “can’t see past the end of their own noses.”

To his credit, Victor Agreda (who asked us to explain our words) seemed to get it:

10:45 Victor Agreda Jr: So far all the games shown look pretty awesome. Maybe boring to us, but some Windows friends are most excited by these announcements

Sadly, most of his counterparts simply couldn’t achieve the same self-awareness. Schiller showed graphics demonstrating that a Dell netbook really isn’t a pocket-sized device, attempting to make mainstream reporters realize that the iPod Touch is pocket sized and very powerful. TUAW staffers said:

10:46 Erica: I’m still thinking: Why do the Dell tease at all?

10:46 Erica: If there is no payoff

10:47 Michael Jones: Erica: agreed. It seemed like an odd buildup if they weren’t going to do anything with it.

A few bright spots:

10:47 Tim Wasson: Erica, I think the payoff is that the touch is better than the netbook.

10:47 Megan Lavey: Or maybe the point was to show that Apple doesn’t need no stinkin’ netbook.

10:47 mikeschramm: I can see it as just a little jibe at the other manufacturers

…contemporaneously shot down:

10:47 Erica: Nobody games on netbooks

10:47 Erica: Nobody sane that is

(The above excerpts are more intertwined in the actual chat, which you can read for yourself.) In other words, showing the iPod Touch running gaming can’t be a shot at netbooks because “nobody sane … games on netbooks,” so mentioning a netbook must have meant Apple was meant to introduce its own netbook—a product type Apple’s executives have repeatedly said they’re keeping an eye on but that, at present, does not provide the experience they want to associate with the Apple logo.

There were plenty of other complaints that Apple had the temerity to talk to people other than TUAW’s hyper-focused crew, but you get the idea pretty clearly: demands that anything but new product announcements simply stop, completely, because if TUAW’s crew didn’t need demos, nobody possibly could have benefitted from them.

When hardware announcements did start, TUAW’s writers were temporarily mollified, but quickly returned to iPod Touch camera rumors as soon as they saw specs on a new iPod Touch that did not include a camera. When it became clear there was no iPod Touch camera, the disappointment came back fast:

10:57 mikeschramm: On a scale of 1 to 100, I rate this event an iTunes 9

It briefly crossed Erica’s fingers that the camera rumors might be bunk, but once a camera appeared on the iPod Nano, TUAW seemed to admit no possibility that the iPod Touch camera rumors were simply wrong:

11:02 Josh Carr: There have been rumors about the iPod touch camera failing in the test phase… with this report, i’d say there’s some chance it’s true.

Of course, for rumormongers, rumors can never fail: they can only be failed. Rumors are never wrong; something must have happened within Apple or its suppliers to explain why the rumors didn’t come true. This usually manifests as news stories blaming Apple for not having produced a product that the company never intended to produce, a shared lack of self-awareness.

Near the end, a bit of the missing self-awareness slipped in:

11:10 mikeschramm: Why is everyone saying this apple event failed? We got everything we expected but Beatles. No one really expected a tablet, did they? really?

11:12 mikeschramm: the camera in the touch is a legit complaint about this event, but nobody gets to whine about no tablet, that was a pie in the sky

Nowhere does TUAW’s coverage bother to address why no camera in the iPod Touch is a “legitimate complaint.” Because it didn’t meet the promises of people who don’t work at Apple and who do not design the products?

This is like us reporting that TUAW is about to roll out a new design that allows for instant thought-based weblog posts of any news item, eliminating all the typing and proofreading, so they’ll have the most accurate and up-to-date coverage of live events ever. When that doesn’t happen, should TUAW be criticized? Did they fail to meet expectations? Did the new system fall apart in testing, or they just incapable of providing what they needed? Assuming that any rumor must be true is ridiculous.

The most aware post of the entire “liveblog” came from Mike Rose near the end:

11:19 TUAW Host (Mike R.): OK gang we will wrap it up here… Thanks to everyone for turning out — I think our ratio of participants to actual news was higher than it’s ever been… :)

Perhaps that’s why TUAW’s participants were so aggressively unaware of their demands that the event be tailored to them, rather than understanding it was an event for the media at large, and that it was not there to valid the rumors they’d printed to generate traffic:

We like TUAW. It’s on our list of daily reads, and it’s staying there. Any outlet is free to cover rumors if it wishes, no matter how often such coverage proves to waste the time of its readers. Coverage of live events doesn’t need to be dry and colorless, either.

However, we found today’s coverage viciously unaware and unsympathetic of anything beyond TUAW’s own narrow view of the technology world. TUAW aggressively dismissed anything that wasn’t a new product announcement, said that Apple’s failure to meet false rumors were “legitimate complaints,” and provided no context for why anyone should have believed any of the rumors other than the fact that they were actual rumors.

Despite using the Flash-based CoverItLive service that made live updates flow smoothly to our (non-iPhone) browsers, it was not useful to our readers, nor to anyone who hadn’t spent time following and dissecting unsourced and unfounded gossip. We would not have recommended that readers follow the live coverage had we known this, and we will hesitate to recommend TUAW live coverage in the future because of it.

TUAW’s later published coverage of today’s events is more considered and useful, though it still maintains an unhealthy tone of wondering why rumors didn’t become reality, rather than ever asking why people believed rumors that turned out to be false. TUAW is far from alone in this myopia, but it’s not nearly at the level that permeated the live chat, and should not dissuade you from reading more if you seek more information about today’s announcements.