Ezra Butler offers fourteen formulae that guarantee success in your new role at Mashable.
Every fledgling tech blogger should receive these fourteen formulaic post suggestions for slow news days, or months with low site traffic. Each of these posts, if written well, is guaranteed to garner many unique pageviews, likes, retweets, shares and comments.
Eagle-eyed observers of the industry will quickly recognise the perennial relevance of these templates and the ease with which they can be applied to fit any news item.
1. Why Do Patent Trolls Exist?
“Patent Trolls” are the favourite whipping boy/chief villain for any tech blogger. While the name is traditionally bestowed upon non-practicing entities whose sole purpose is dedicated to purchasing patent rights and using them to sue companies who infringe upon their intellectual property, the moniker may also extend to large corporations (such as Apple) who use their patents as a bully pulpit against competitors.
This is a really easy post to write, as some holding company is always embroiled in a lawsuit with another company. A good writer will learn to be adept at quickly composing a traditional David versus Goliath-style post. A great writer would take Goliath’s point of view, explaining why both patent holders and trolls are necessary evils.
Be sure to throw around some recently published statistics how much was spent on patent trials so far this year and ponder where that money could have been better spent. Make a slideshow with all the the things you would buy.
You should also mention the moral question of “Should Patents Be Used Offensively or Only Defensively?” and glibly attempt to solve the “Should the individual engineer own the patent or is it the intellectual property of the company that pays him a generous salary?” debate in the course of your writing.
2. I Cannot Believe That Company Has Privacy/Security Issues!
Let’s face it: privacy and/or security breaches are de rigueur on the web today. While often the result of lazy programming, they are equally likely to be the result of a psychopathic CEO. It is taken as a badge of honour when a site receives enough recognition to have security issues recognised and talked about.
A reporter must feign shock and disgust at the discovery of the breach, questioning how people can ever trust a casual sex hookup app or a site that hosts social CVs again.
The job of the journalist here is to create fear in the minds of the uneducated masses. Most readers do not have the technical knowledge to parse a simple set of privacy settings to understand how their identity can be protected. They’d rather have convulsions and blame someone else. Help them!
Be sure to give common sense advice regarding best password practices. Irresponsibly imbue your readers with the belief they can protect themselves.
Remember to quote comments from another article – or, better yet, tweets and Facebook posts by disgruntled customers. Remember that in tech blogging the plural of anecdote is always data.
Remember, if the company apologises, you must perform an immediate reverse ferret: praise their honesty, integrity and courage lavishly. Don’t write an essay eviscerating them and questioning if it is just a simple ploy to drive a rise in traffic to their site. Or do. Whichever, really.
3. Let’s Shame This Important Person About His “Social Media” Gaming and Usage
This one always raises a smile: analyse a public figure’s social media profile. Regardless of who it is. you will be able to identify “anti-social” practices ranging from purchasing followers to following/unfollowing to artificially inflate following ratios. Ignore any denials or plausible excuses.
If it’s a public servant, scoff at them for not understanding “how social media works”.
4. This Industry is Dying Quickly / This Industry is Being Massively Disrupted
Death and disruption are so hot right now. Don’t worry, you need not have any insider information: googling statistics is enough. As a rule of thumb, the easiest way to figure out which industry is dying fastest is to see where the most venture capital has been deployed.
Be sure to focus your article on your own experience with the industry as a consumer. Use the vertical pronoun liberally. Even if you haven’t read a newspaper in 5 years, feel free to presume that everyone else is just like you. If you illegally download every piece of media, ask why anyone would not act like you.
Throw around the words “evil” and “unsustainable”. If the statistics do not back up your claims, explain why statistics are fungible and can’t be trusted. People will read you for your authoritative declarations. Make predictions stating the industry at hand will be dead in 5-10 years, because, to be perfectly honest, you probably won’t still be a tech journalist at that point. If the industry does in fact die, though, you’ll be able to tweet with pride about your acute prognostication skills.
In a similar vein, blow out of proportion how an industry is being massively disrupted by a single newcomer. As proof, cite “unfair” legislations aimed at curbing the effect of that company.
View “disruption” as an end within itself, and not a means to something greater. Conveniently forget to mention that all the discussed “disruption” is occurring in two or three cities and bears no relevance to most of the people reading your article.
5. Will The New Competitor Usurp All Relevance in The Industry?
If you see a scrappy start-up with a marginally superior UI to an incumbent product, it is your duty to write about it hysterically.
6. Is this Acquisition Worth the Money?
The main benefit of being an armchair commenter is that you are able temporarily to dull the pain of your worthless life by fooling yourself that your opinion matters. It is your job to pass judgement on any company and analyse the price tag. Under no circumstances bring any business expertise to bear on the subject, if by some miracle you have any.
Whatever the price is, your professional opinion must differ. Be daring! Propose the company is undervalued, even at $1 billion for 7 people. Explain why it is a good idea, or, conversely, why the acquisition proves the current CEO is incompetent.
Nothing happens in a vacuum: this acquisition always means more than just the acquisition. It means the competitors of the acquired will have articles written questioning if they will be similarly bought by the competitors of the acquirer. You’ll be able to ride the wave of speculation for weeks!
7. Is Apple/Google/Microsoft/IBM/Yahoo/RIM/Nokia Alive/Dead/Located in the same state as Schroedinger’s Cat?
Most behemoths live in a perpetual state of “one foot in the grave”. Even the sacrosanct Apple receives the odd bit of criticism, questioning how long they can last without Steve Jobs at its helm.
As a blogger, you must be willing to ask the hard questions. Or, you know, regurgitate what a dozen other pundits have said before you with your own spin and a different headline. (See the Guardian‘s Charles Arthur for a masterclass in recycled garbage.)
8. Is There A Tech Bubble?
We all fear a tech bubble, and fear sells newspapers. Go for broke! The formula for identifying a tech bubble is very simple: a major acquisition. By brazenly asking the question you are positioning yourself as a thought leader.
The “bubble” question is crucial for tech bloggers. You must display knowledge of the “scene”. Refer to previous bubbles, even if you’re too young to really remember them.
9. Why Are Women Under-represented in Tech and How Can We Change That?
If you are a woman or an effeminate male, you can always run off a piece on why women are being unjustly under-represented in tech. You should probably quote someone from one of the multitude of “women in tech” organisations and be sure to use Ellen Pao as an example.
Start by talking about teaching STEM in high schools, and why many women tend to focus on lifestyle companies. As a counterclaim, you should probably Google a list of women who, without them, the Internet would not exist. That really gets the sisterhood going!
Use a personal anecdote, because people will be unable to argue with the claims of your experience.
For extra points, you can write about other minorities like blacks, Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. Though, unfortunately, you may only write about the hottest gay tech entrepreneurs if you are writing for a gay magazine, because no one really cares which entrepreneurs are gay.
10. Look at this Website/App Which is Changing The Way I Run My Extremely Busy And Important Life.
Talk about yourself. That is all that people really care about, after all. Whether you feel you receive too much email, you have too many receipts to handle, or the traditional way of ordering a taxi doesn’t work well enough for you, share an app or service you use to help you navigate modern life.
Admit to being in a minority of people who actually have the exact needs that you have, but show how anyway this solution is perfect for you. Gushing about a product will usually result in the company sending you free swag, which you can show off at parties.
11. Are Copycat Startups Bad for Tech?
Remember to quote all the famous entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who have uttered pithy sayings such as, “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything”, “first to market doesn’t matter, it’s the best that wins”, and “competition forces innovation”.
By being anti-copycat, you will be the entrepreneur’s favourite. But the money people will love you if you cogently defend the rights of the copycat. It’s a tough decision. If in doubt, reflect on who paid for your last five lunches.
Be sure to list all the European copycats who were bought by their US prototypes, indicating which ones failed and which ones succeeded. If you are still under your daily word quota, feel free to use Groupon as a cautionary tale and Fab as a success story.
12. Is This Miserable and Tiny Local Scene the Next Silicon Valley?
Being a tech blogger is all about being able to recognise the next big thing – and writing about it before anyone else. To that end, intelligent publications hedge their bets on multiple locations. This piece will be shared by all members of the tech scene in question, as a sort of validation of what they are doing.
If you are writing for an important enough publication, your piece will be quoted ad nauseum by other journalists struggling to come up with ideas. Additionally, whenever any company from that locale receives publicity over the subsequent year, your piece will inevitably be quoted as background. Trebles all round!
To be fair, the term “local scene” is relative. All you really need are four or five struggling app developers trying to launch their companies out of a local Starbucks. Remember that once you define an area as a scene or “tech hub”, any failure can prompt a new post, such as: “Will The Tech Scene Be Able To Weather The Loss Of This Company/Investor?”
There is no shame in returning to an earlier piece and questioning its continuing validity. As an early cheerleader, the community will trust you and feed you early and exclusive “scoops” of product launches, milestones, funding rounds and acquisitions.
13. Is this company buying that company? (Alternately, “Should this company buy that company?”)
A lie, repeated often enough, becomes the truth. (Or so the saying goes.) This works best when you state with certainty that an anonymous source told you about secret talks between the two companies.
Be sure to choose two companies that do not publicly respond to rumours. While the half-life of such a story can be measured in hours, no one will remember or care when it doesn’t come to anything. Just be sure to have one authentic scoop every few months to maintain your integrity.
There is nothing that cannot and should not be gamified. Gamification is like mayonnaise: it improves everything. So wax poetic about how gamification is the next stage of the internet and how everything can be and is being gamified.
This is distinct from your typical “disruption” article, because you will want to show how every company must incorporate basic gamification principles into their design or die. Give examples of how “normal” companies are employing gamification.
Talk about how gamification has changed your life, and how you regularly employ gamification to get out of bed, to do the dishes and have longer-lasting and more rewarding sexual intercourse with your significant other.