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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

What The Heck Is Wrong With The Web?
November 30th, 1999

Last week, I talked about the Mac Web's credibility. Well, I have to take another look at it, not that I was whacked by enough readers to change my mind :-)

Did you read what Rodney O. Lain wrote for last Friday? He points out several interesting but debatable points. To sum up what struck me as important, here are a few quotes:

There is always someone with a Web site and an opinion ready to toss in their two cents about Apple's business decisions. Always quick to opine about what Apple should or shouldn't do, about what Apple should have or should not have done.

Notice the focus of the word Internet in the following sentence:

Maybe we should think about the value and the effect of the opinions we are more than eager to toss to the Internet winds.

And then he quotes someone else with:

From past experience, I think there are huge dangers telling Apple what they ought to do. Don Crabb got into this trap at the old printed MacWeek, and it hurt him. Hardly anyone has the business insight to second-guess Apple's decisions.

Before I go further... what follows is not a direct answer to Mr. Lain. The material I showed you is simply an example of what goes on around the Web. A lot of people question the credibility of what they read on the Internet.

What is wrong with us Mac columnists on the Web? After all, we have the right to our opinions. We have the right (and duty) to express them. It is necessary to do so. When corporations use their PR and advertising resources to influence their customers, there is something missing: a third opinion. I understand that not everybody has something to say to Apple, but you don't have to be a columnist for a Mac Web site to have good ideas.

Interestingly, the above-mentioned article, just like a lot of criticism that gets published, targets Internet columnists, not printed Mac journalism.

If a site contributor attacks one of Apple's decision, it is seen as exaggerated, sensationalistic, or just plain wrong. If the same person sings Apple's praises after the release of a new computer or any kind of major announcement, then a lack of objectivity and the person's bias is obviously showing. Rodney did not necessarily say this, but there is a wave of thought around the Mac Web that tells us how wrong we are, no matter what we write.

But... when the G4 was announced, the MacAddict folks said they were literally drooling. Did anybody attack them by telling them how wrong they were when worshipping the new graphite beast? They are knowledgeable, right? What about the controversy about the G4 shortage and Apple's reaction? My colleague Kyle D'Addario wrote a forceful editorial, venting his steam about it. Of course, Apple did not change its direction about this because of an editorial, but I think that Kyle had a darn good point. His viewpoint was the one of many other frustrated customers. Since Apple apologized for the way it mishandled the issue, what he said represented more than just his opinion. It represented people's reaction to Apple's move.

What about Macworld magazine, which usually puts Apple's latest announcement on the cover and sings Apple's praises? What about Andrew Gore who was positive about the iMac in 1998? He was so happy about it that he said he felt like it was like 1984 again. These were the same kinds of opinions being expressed on the web. Oh yeah, I forgot. If it is print, it is serious. The Web is not.

You know, there are quite a few talented writers who write for Mac related sites. There is Charles W. Moore who writes for many sites including Applelinks, MacSimple, MacOPINION, etc. He is phenomenal. Another example is Tim Hillman over at MacCentral. I could go on with several other names, but you get the concept.

Of course we have to be careful when we read someone's opinions about Apple's business decisions. But sometimes, it takes more than a corporate or end-user view to see through a situation. It takes someone who can put himself between both parties and use his judgment. This is the journalist's job.

As I said above, this viewpoint is necessary. While I am not suggesting that Apple follows the Mac web community religiously, I will bet you my next paycheck that sometimes there are elements inside Apple that do consider opinions from good writers. If not, then it is quite a coincidence that iMacs were released in 5 flavors this last January if you keep in mind that people like Don Crabb asked for such a thing soon after the original iMac was announced by Cupertino.

A lot of columnists write for Mac Web sites, but they are simply not as ignorant as many would have us think. Many of them would never have a chance to publish anything because of the restricted circle of print journalism. Take me, for instance. Do you think I would have had a shot if I had given my resume to one of the major print magazines before I developed a history? Most probably not, but the Web allows me to voice my opinion.

If I, as a columnist, suggest something to Apple, it might be because as a customer and power user, I would like to see it happen. As a writer, maybe my opinion is shared by thousands (or more) of other Apple customers. If anybody out there dares to second-guess Apple's moves, maybe there is a reason behind it. We should not be afraid to celebrate or berate Apple's creations. This world needs opinionated writers who will not restrict themselves to what others would like them to do.

Indeed, Mac columnists on the Web are not as bad as we picture them. They get unfair criticism from all sides. I think that we, as a Web community, have to learn how to appreciate them for their time and efforts.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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