Thoughts on the Future

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Earlier this year at the Lizzies IT Journalism Awards, TechGeek was the proud recipient of the Best Independent Media Award. At the time, a fellow (and proper) tech journalist and friend, Harrison Polites, asked a simple question: “What is the future of TechGeek?”

(Or something along those lines – my memory is pretty terrible after the nerve-racking experience of making a speech in front of the industry)

I’d never really thought about it before: where do I see TechGeek in five years? What about the next ten?

I’d love to cover and attend more events – to send at least one person (ideally me) to Vegas to cover CES or E3 would be a dream come true. Perhaps I could attend an Apple event once in my life, or go inside the massive Googleplex. I know Chris would love to go to Google I/O. I’d love for us just to be invited to attend more events.

In terms of content, I’d especially love to do more feature pieces and more video – perhaps even some Verge-style video reviews and one-off pieces.

To be honest, however, the future does look murky like it always has been. Within the next five years, the site could be dead.

Essentially it all comes down to money.

TechGeek is funded out of our own pockets. We pay our own way for server equipment, computers, cameras, travel expenses and accommodation. The few times I’ve come to Sydney for events (the HTC One launch, The Lizzies, etc) I’ve paid my own way. The money doesn’t come out of TechGeek’s revenue stream.

And I’m still surprised that we managed to survive six years operating in this way. If this was an actual business, we would have collapsed by now.

I should stress here and now that TechGeek is not in financial trouble. We make enough from advertising revenue to cover our hosting bills but little else. In its six years in existence though, TechGeek has never had a proper business plan and despite numerous suggestions I don’t really know how I can monetize the site (if you do have any suggestions, however, feel free to email me)

But that may not last. One source of revenue is Google Adsense, and has become recently a bit volatile. The main problem with Adsense, as experienced by TechAU last year and now us, is that once Google says you violated the policy, you’re immediately cut off from the program. You can appeal the decision, but Google usually does not reverse its decision unless you make a credible case.

TechAU’s ban was largely due to a popular video comparison between Microsoft’s TellMe and Apple’s Siri. TechGeek has now been banned (again, I should add) because of a post in 2011 linking to a post on how to remove the DRM of Amazon Kindle books. This was covered on all technology blogs such as Ars Technica and Lifehacker – but Google had issues with us writing a blog post on it.

It seems unfair that there is no opportunity to offer a fair appeal, especially to those legitimately make money from Adsense.

We are, of course, appealing it. However, TechGeek does have an alternative advertising partner with a local company called Boom Video. They have been excellent to us, and we recently signed a new deal that would be enough to fill the void left by Google AdSense if our appeal does fail.

I say it may not last because as time goes on, we outgrow our servers. We moved from Hostmonster to Media Temple just last year (after I unexpectedly crashed their servers with an ill-fated attempt to cobble together a live blogging solution); and I expect, if we ever go that far, in the next five years we might need to change our hosting configurations.

At the Lizzies, I thanked the tech journos, bloggers and PR people for letting us be part of their community (I also shook a lot, and attempted to avoid saying anything at all because I suck at public speaking, but that’s another story). TechGeek wouldn’t be where we are right now without those in the industry that have allowed small players like us to become a part of it.

It’s also a sentiment I extend to all of our readers – even if you’ve just read an article about iGoogle replacements because somehow that managed to become a top result on Google. Thank you for reading TechGeek. Without an audience, we’d be just another statistic, another abandoned blog online.

And we wouldn’t get to do what we love – covering technology, gaming and geek culture.

In the technology press, readership is the metric by which you’re measured against all others because it’s easy to calculate – it is quantifiable as opposed to quality and personality (something we don’t lack in). Readership equals “reach”, “reach” is the magic metric that gets you “access” and without “access” you can’t build your “reach”.

This metric is used by the “gatekeepers” of the industry – the PR companies. They use it to determine access to people, events and the review unit. Blogs and tech sites live and die by this metric. It also explains why TechGeek is often five months late with a review of products like the Galaxy S4, or have no reviews on the HTC One (we’re still waiting on that promised review unit).

It’s a catch-22. In order to cover the latest tech that you and I love, we need to have an audience. But to build an audience, you need content that draws the crowd.

We strive to write good content – content that makes you think, that informs and that entertains you in some fashion (if it makes you rage, that’s good too). I feel TechGeek complement other, more established sites like Technology SpectatorTechAUAusdroid, and Gizmodo Australia.

We wrote about BitCoin before it became well-known in the Australian media, and we do a lot more analysis on related topics, such as our pieces on the Kony 2012 campaign and how we should change IT education in high school. We even have broken news before they did – for example the FormSpring and ABC data leaks.

I admit we’re a bit quirky and we do things that other established sites tend not to do – I mean, who would in their right minds invest company time in creating the TechGeek Weekly podcast, whose existence is basically – as lovingly described by Ausdroid’s Jason Murray – a “therapy session” of rage? Who would even allow a post examining Fifty Shades of Grey’s impact on digital publishing?

(And yes, it has had a tremendous impact – even if the story was pretty crap in the first place).

TechGeek is very much an open-ended technology blog. It wasn’t designed with that in mind, but it has evolved to be like that. We’re not restricted in what we want to write about, even if it may not appeal to many.

We write what we love.

And that is why I love running TechGeek. I really (and hope) do want to run the site as my full-time job, although I do have a backup plan to finish uni as a software engineer. Truth be told, it’s really fun despite the inconsistent bedtimes and evening siestas.

TechGeek has allowed me to create new connections in the industry – PR people, fellow tech journalists and bloggers. It has helped me break out of my comfort zone a little, and force me to interact with people (I was, and still am, a quiet and shy person no matter what you hear on TechGeek Weekly).

Even if we just had one reader, I’ll still be doing this. I love to express what I love – being a geek. I think that sentiment extends to all of our writers as well.

I don’t care if I have to spend all the money I’ve been saving up to buy a new computer or get another job on the side to keep the site going. I love what I do too much to just give it up, and I won’t give that up unless there’s no alternative option.

Well, except one.

I could sell TechGeek.

But who’d buy a site like us?

Editor’s note: I’d like to thank Jason Murray for subediting most of the original draft.