It's the Content
by Robert Gardner
I recently went to an office supply website looking for a roll-about cart for my laptop. At this site, there were four models, each with various "customer reviews." The overall scores ranged from 3 (out of 5) to 5. "Maneuvers well," said one reviewer. Another review said, "Difficult to maneuver." "Can handle heavy loads", said one, while another said, "Can't handle heavy loads." How to choose? All four models were from the same manufacturer. The only difference between the four models was the color. There was no lack of words describing people's thoughts on this product, but not much useful information. After visiting the site and reading the reviews, I am no closer to deciding if I want to spend my money on this product or not.
I'm sure each of the reviewers was trying to present an honest opinion, but we don't know the evaluation criteria, and we don't know the qualifications of the reviewers.
For years, the EDA trade press has been a trusted source of news and information related to electronic design. In an effort to attract and retain readers and increase value to advertisers, EDA publications hired qualified editors and writers to assure that the information published in their name was accurate, relevant, and informative. Readers knew the qualifications and evaluation criteria of each editor and writer, and this helped the engineers to reach a more objective conclusion.
In the example, the small amount of useful information on the website was: 1) that the product existed, 2) a photo, and 3) a few basic facts, such as height and shipping weight. This is equivalent to the ads in the trade magazines. Chip and system designers must first be made aware that a product exists or they cannot begin to evaluate its applicability to their problems. The decision to evaluate and purchase a new tool is ultimately greatly influenced by engineers who have relied on the EDA press as a trusted source -- to help determine what new products or services are potentially worth their limited time to evaluate, and as an aid in understanding how new tools and techniques could help get their next product out the door with less headaches than the last one.
Over the past few quarters, the trade press has undergone some major changes. Many of the editors and writers long trusted by EDA companies and designers are gone from the large EDA media publishers. One claim is that print media is no longer self-supporting, and that disseminating product information is becoming web-centric. We've heard the buzz words: rich media, Web 2.0, interactive content. As the media moves away from print towards a web-centric distribution, something had to give. But the focus may now be on selling the sizzle, not the steak.
The EDA Consortium recently invited EDA publishers CMP (EETimes) and Reed Business (EDN Worldwide) to present their views on where they see the media moving. In the first of these presentations, Paul Miller, president of CMP Electronics Group, included the results of a survey which showed that while a slight majority of business decision makers turned to business to business (B2B) websites first for information, a larger majority felt B2B magazines provided objective information and were still the source they trusted. (The survey was taken before many of the recent changes in the trade press.) One possible explanation is that while the vendor's websites do provide useful information, the readers still turned to the trusted advisor for an objective view.
In the same presentation, events such as trade shows were shown to be another growth area for the EDA media. Trade shows allow designers to see and evaluate new products and companies in the most interactive way possible -- via a face-to-face discussion.
Paul Miller's September 26 presentation is available on the EDA Consortium website, www.edac.org. Presentation materials from the December 5 EDA Consortium event with Al Robinson and others from Reed Business/EDN Worldwide will also be available on the EDAC website.
Has the expertise of the EDA writers and editors that readers have come to respect and expect been sacrificed in an effort to bring in interactive web design expertise? With experts in both EDA and interactive web design, it should be possible to create websites that are media rich without sacrificing quality content. A well-designed, interactive web page may help to attract the reader, but at the end of the page, the content must provide readers with the information, knowledge, and insights they need to help them do their job. Because at the end of the day, when they decide how to invest their company's money, it's the content that matters.