A common refrain heard by anyone who writes regularly about software goes along the lines of, "Why didn’t you mention X?" The implications are usually that the author doesn’t know the topic well or is engaged in an active conspiracy to prevent the public from hearing about said product. Tonya, Geoff, and I hear comments along these lines often enough that we thought we’d give you all a look into the dark underbelly of computer journalism and give you the top ten reasons why products aren’t mentioned in articles.
10: It’s Inappropriate — The main reason a program might not garner a mention in an article is that it’s simply inappropriate. Articles come in different forms, and if I’m writing an announcement about the release of a new version of the program, it may not be appropriate to mention competing programs. And, even if I do mention a competing program where a specific feature compares well or badly, that doesn’t mean that I want to mention all existing competing programs.
9: The Program is Lousy — Let’s face it, much of the software out there isn’t all that hot. I’ve run into situations where I’ve been writing about a particular class of software and one or more of the programs just aren’t worth mentioning. They crash on launch, repeatedly pop up error dialogs, are poorly written HyperCard stacks, or just plain don’t work. Almost as bad are programs that work but don’t have any features worth mentioning.
8: There isn’t Space — We’re not particularly concerned about space issues in TidBITS, but most paper publications live and die by space constraints. When I write an article for MacWEEK, I have a special template file that I use. I aim for 115 lines in that template file, and if I’m trying to cut a few lines, removing a gratuitous mention of a product that doesn’t really fit in the article is a good way of doing that. Even in TidBITS, space is a consideration, since although we don’t care about the size of individual articles, issues almost always come in under 30,000 characters.
7: The Almighty Editor — In edited publications, the author is seldom the last person to see the text. In many cases, the author submits the article and doesn’t hear anything more. When the article appears, it may have significant changes about which the author knew nothing. Many editors are good about sending back queries or drafts of edited versions, but even then, if a few words have to come out because of space considerations, a copy editor may remove mention of some ancillary products. In short, the author isn’t always responsible for omissions.
6: Lists are Boring — In some categories, there are only two or three programs, which makes it easier to mention all of them. However, if you consider the number of Web servers for the Macintosh, for instance, you can see how difficult it might be mention all of them. I can think of at least 17 Macintosh Web servers off the top of my head, but it’s utterly ridiculous to mention all of them every time I write about one of them or about running a Macintosh Web server. Even worse, in TidBITS we’d feel obligated to include URLs to the home pages of all of those 17 programs, and including 17 lines of URLs is ludicrous.
5: Companies from the Moon — Some companies are incredibly hard to deal with, which makes it much more likely that their programs will be overlooked. For instance, if the company has a confusing Web site, lacks a free demo version that writers can download, doesn’t respond to email, requires non-disclosure agreements written by lawyers from hell, doesn’t return telephone calls, won’t send review copies, or something along those lines, it’s easy to avoid mentioning that product. It’s an author’s job to write about software, not to act like an investigative journalist and hunt down basic details that a company won’t divulge for whatever reason.
4: Private Information — Sometimes we don’t mention products because we know something that’s not public about that product and the developer has asked us not to divulge that information. For instance, if a program is slated for a significant upgrade in the near future, the developer may not want the previous, more-limited version reviewed.
3: Wrong Product, Wrong Publication — We often get email asking if we would mention some product, Web site, or worthy cause. Frankly, it’s a little awkward to be asked to cover something, but even worse is when that something isn’t along the lines of topics we cover. It’s not uncommon for us to receive information about Windows programs, which we almost never write about in TidBITS, and although we do mention the occasional Web site, we don’t make a habit of it, so we’re unlikely to mention every neat Web site someone tells us about, no matter how cool or otherwise worthy it might be.
2: Conspiracy Theories — Although it’s almost unthinkable, it is conceivable that a product wouldn’t merit a mention in an article, or even in an entire publication, if there was some sort of truly weird circumstance, like the developer was having an affair with the author’s spouse, or the author heard voices telling him that the developer was the spawn of the devil, or some such nonsense. I know of no such instance, and every conspiracy theory I’ve ever been subjected to has been so completely wrong as to be laughable.
1: Authors are Fallible — Every now and then, we authors just blow it and omit a product that should have been mentioned in an article. Sometimes we just didn’t know about the product, especially if it’s new or badly publicized, but more frequently, we simply forget or just don’t have time to check something out. When you’re keeping a lot of information in your head at once, every now and then something just slips away and you forget to mention it when you’re writing. If your editor doesn’t know a great deal about the topic, which isn’t uncommon, the slip isn’t rectified.