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David Pogue and Yahoo's "Normals" Problem 213

Nerval's Lobster writes "In a keynote talk at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, David Pogue (Yahoo's freshly minted technology columnist) suggested that the new 'Yahoo Tech' Website — a key part of the company's latest rebranding — would be targeted at 'normal' people as opposed to 'gearheads.' Based on a map that flashed on the giant screen behind him, which showed the 'normals' clustered in the middle of the country and the 'gearheads' restricted to the coasts, it's clear that Yahoo has embraced a divisive strategy that tries to equate Yahoo's brands with some sort of mythical 'middlebrow' audience that exists within clearly defined borders. (During his presentation, Pogue also flashed a slide that made fun of competing tech-news brands: The Verge was rendered as 'The Urge,' for example, while Gizmodo became 'Gizmoody.') The problem is that rigid audience of 'normals' doesn't exist, at least not in the way that Yahoo envisions. Large numbers of well-educated technology consumers — 'gearheads,' in Pogue's parlance — exist all over the country; to say otherwise is like suggesting that Wyoming is 100 percent Republican, or that everybody who lives in Florida hates snow. In other words, Yahoo's approach to tech content isn't merely schismatic; it's willfully unaware of the variety that exists among technology fans."
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David Pogue and Yahoo's "Normals" Problem

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  • by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:35PM (#45898517)

    One thing that has really stood out for me in the last 5 or 6 years is just how conservative their readers tend to skew. It's where the Fox News crowd goes. Just read the comments section of any random news story and you'll see what I mean.

  • So what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:45PM (#45898631) Journal

    I find Pogue's theory's about the demography of normals a bit suspect, but conceptually its not crazy. Every business should know who their customers are and beyond that know who their good customers are (IE the ones that make them rather than cost them money).

    In the case of Yahoo though a couple things come to mind:
    Gear Heads are your customers customers in many cases. There seems to be two types of product pushed in online ads, scammy stuff sold to idots and highend ( or at least high margin ) stuff sold to various types of gearhead/*-ophile,foodie,junkie types. If you as Yahoo don't bring these eyeballs not sure why your actually customers (advertisers) would bother with you. I don't P&G pushing toilet-trees online a whole lot, and its things like toothpaste, frozen pizzas, and lawn fertilizer the "normals" spend their money on.

    Lots of people like the think they are "gearheads" they think they want to feel like they are experts at their hobbies and such feel like they are dealing with fancy things. I am not sure deliberately not projecting an image of "elite" is really going to put people in a buying mood, again something advertizes won't love.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:46PM (#45898643)
    I've seen that trend among my right-wing-leaning friends. For some reason, no matter what you are talking about, they always seem to turn the conversation back to politics. Not just any politics, but more extreme right-wing politics.
  • Re:I'm confused... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @12:59PM (#45898803) Homepage Journal

    I think it is more along the idea of with out the tragic hipster culture. The Verge and Gizmodo are too involved with the lifestyle side of tech. For example when I listen to the podcast "It's a thing" I keep hearing about idiots dressing up like captain Nemo and talking about artisanal hardware. Where I live you just do not see fixie bikes and $300 backpacks. The Verge podcasts is full of never ending negative comments about "Red States" much the same as you hear in the comments on Slashdot.
    So yes I can see the value of a tech site that does not live in the Hipster culture bubble.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:16PM (#45898989)

    I don't know, I think he might be on to something, but the red state/blue state map doesn't make any real world sense. Part of it seems like the typical NYC/California hipster bubble ignoring the rest of the country but the idea might be right.

    Don't forget that in the 70s/80s, only real gearheads/nerds were doing anything with computers. This changed in the 90s with the Internet, and changed even more with smartphones in the 2000s. Now, the camps skew a little differently:
    - True gearheads who want to know every little scrap of technical information about a technology product -- increasingly small percentage
    - "Prosumer" users who like nice tech toys but aren't obsessed with the "how they work" part -- Small pecentage, but more than gearheads
    - "Normals" who use technology on a daily basis and care even less about how it works -- Basically, the same surface area on that map redistributed across the continent

    Part of the reason Apple is so successful is because the iPhone interface is accessible to normals. Everything complex about it is hidden. Android does this to an extent, and different phone/tablet manufacturers abstract the complexity even more. Any normal can pick up an iPhone, use the Facebook app, SMS, tweet, send old fashioned emails, etc. with a very low learning curve.

    It sounds like Yahoo wants to be the 2010s version of AOL -- universally accessible content at the risk of alienating the gearheads, who don't read Yahoo for tech news anyway.

  • by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:45PM (#45899351)

    It's a potentially politically-divisive map from what should be a non-political company. Focus on the US portion for a minute:

    1. He shows the "gearheads" on both coasts in blue, and the "normals" in-between in red. Very much like a current political map of the US, where the majority of the center is red (Republican) and the coasts are largely blue (Democrat). As RLM puts it: maybe you didn't notice, but your brain did. I really don't think the red/blue choice was an accident. A lot of Yahoo management eyeballs would have seen it, thought about it, and approved it.

    2. The map equates the positive term "normal" with red [heartland, Republicans] and the negative term "gearheads" with blue [coastal, Democrats].

    3. The map shows a larger proportion of red areas than blue areas, suggesting that the US is far more "normal" than "gearhead". If it were really meant to show "normal" vs "gearhead" then it's obviously absurd: what about Chicago, Austin, DC, and other major tech centers? But it's certainly appealing for a Republican to look at a US map and see far more red than blue.

    All of which seems designed to position Yahoo as a politically-conservative portal, meant to appeal to people that would prefer to avoid supposedly-liberal web sites like Google. Look at this article to see what I mean: []

    I’m talking about Goodsearch. Goodsearch is run by Yahoo, which, against Google, gives comparatively poor search results. But the return for using Goodsearch is that for each search you make, the company donates one cent to the charity or school of your choice.... This is a great conservative alternative to Google, which yesterday, instead of using its daily Google graphic to honor Easter, they used it to honor a day that not only does no one celebrate, but which nobody has heard of: Cesar Chavez Day.

    Ok, maybe I'm reading more into that map than I should, but they certainly opened the door for speculation. :-)

  • by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Wednesday January 08, 2014 @01:57PM (#45899519)
    What if I told you that the reason they talk about it so much is because they are genuinely concerned about the direction the country is going.

    As one example of many: Not so long ago, we didn't have much discussion about whether communism was better than capitalism at raising the human living standard. Anyone with intellectual honesty already knew that answer so there wasn't much to talk about after a cursory review of the evidence. People who espoused that view were rightfully challenged almost immediately. Nowadays that is not the case. Here we are again debating the "merits" of a system that collapsed entirely less than 25 years ago. (For those that don't know what I am referring to, see the recent Rolling Stone article about what every millennial should be fighting for)

    I want to be clear that we need to provide a forum for new ideas so I don't want to stifle discussion. It just gets tiring trying to explain that we already know some of these answers if you will just fucking look and read. But nope.....thoroughly discredited ideas keep rising to the top without challenge and old lesson will assuredly get relearned (at great human cost!)

    That is why so many people take every conversation to politics. People can no longer assume that common core American values are being represented in politics anymore so it is forcing them to engage and set things straight. They don't want to be political anymore than you want them to be political. It's just that they have no choice.

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