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The Current State of Tech Sites: As we approach the two year mark of being online, we now have a pretty good feel for what happens behind the scenes... specifically, we have a few things we'd like to get off our chest.
Date: February 17, 2003
Catagory: Articles
Manufacturer: N/A
Written By:

For those of you who don't know, Viper Lair is quietly approaching a personal milestone. On April 24, 2003, we will celebrate our two year anniversary. What will we do to mark that event? Probably sit around wondering what to do next.

When I started VL, I did it with the intention of trying to develop an objective, and honest review site. For the most part, I feel that VL has maintained my initial goals. I have tried hard to provide our readers with quality content, and we pride ourselves in writing detailed reviews that will inform our readers. Naturally, we've had ups and downs, but I think we've done ok so far. Given our readership, I would assume most of you are satisfied with how we're doing.

We are

So why am I such in a pissy mood? As hard as we work, I don't think we're doing as well as we should be. Who's fault is it? Well, I certainly can't blame the readers, since I'm not pointing a gun at your head and telling you to show up. My focus is on various manufacturers and other tech sites. Bear with me as I continue on...

Manufacturer "Purchased" Reviews

Yes, it's a sad fact that many websites are heavily influenced by manufacturers to publish favorable reviews. Basically, smaller websites, in order to gather more review samples, are often subject to manufacturer arm twisting to print up a "nice" review, mentioning (or fabricating) the strengths, and ignoring the weaknesses. Trust me, you can spot these reviews a mile away. The problem is, people are reading them, clicking on sponsor links, driving traffic up. Everyone wins here. The tech sites get more traffic. The sponsors get more traffic, and possibly some sales. The readers get information, if that's what you want to call it. The sponsors, as ecstatic as they could be, fire more stuff off to the tech site. Wash, rinse, repeat.

VL isn't a big site, but we're not a small one either. One thing we don't do, is we don't accept favors from sponsors to write a decent review. Yes, we have advertising, and yes, we do get paid, and although I can't prove that we don't let it influence our reviews, all I can do is give you my word that we run our own show here. One manufacturer, requested banner placement for a recent product review. This is our first time we've worked with them, so at the risk of possibly losing them before they shipped us the motherboard, I politely emailed our contact and told him flat out that "I can guarantee a detailed, and thorough review, but I cannot promise a favorable one. If it blows, well, our readers will know about it."

Thankfully, our rep was cool with that, and he was still willing to work with us. The same goes with most of our other sponsors, which to be honest, is a real relief. No sponsors means no site, but I'd rather shut VL down than be a free marketing service for them.

Truth is, we have lost potential sponsors, simply because I refused to promise a "nice" review. Heck, one potential sponsor offered us "tons of free hardware... anything we wanted" if I agreed to fire a current staff member (I'll give our regular readers one guess to who that is ). As tempted as I may have been, considering that staff member has never done anything wrong, other than being straight up with our readers, I pretty much told the guy where he can stick his offer.

So, we're honest, we stick up to our ideals and for our staff members, why don't we have the big reviews, like the Bartons, the Vapochills, the pages of motherboard and video card reviews? Well, that brings me to my next rant.

Crappy Websites

Well, I already kind of mentioned the whole favorable review situation, but to expand on it further, take a look at some of the content on various sites. There are sites that steal from others in order to share the traffic when there's a big product announcement. Then there are sites that say 50 words about a product and bombard you with a dozen pics. There are websites that do nothing but suck up to manufacturers. I can probably list a few other things, but those are the ones that come to mind.

What ends up happening is a lot of manufacturers pick up on these things, and tell everyone else that their "review samples are exhausted" or "we prefer these ____ sites". Ok, I'm cool with that, but not to toot my own horn, I know for a fact we can do a heck of a lot better than some sites that are higher up on the pecking order. If traffic was a concern, well, I also know our traffic is also better. Like I won't let AMD to tell me how to write a review, I can't force AMD to send me their latest CPU. I can live with that, but because Joe Schmoe can write a one page review of a Barton 3000+, it doesn't mean I can't get a little annoyed. I'll get to why later on.

Thing is, I'm not the only one in this boat. There are plenty of quality sites that don't get a fair shake. What can we do about it? Just keep working hard. As Internet history has shown, the crappy websites eventually go away, though they're always replaced by more.

So how does this end up hurting sites such as ours? Believe it or not, I do work hard to keep VL working, as do some of my fellow webmasters who share my opinion. In the end, sponsors become wary of new sites, since the last site just screwed them out of a 400$ video card.

Reciprocation, or lack of it

The majority of websites release press releases when something new is posted on their site. As a hardware community, it is in everyone's best interest to post each others news and share the traffic. We here at VL are guilty of being too nice sometimes, as we post a lot of reviews on our front page, some of them which we probably shouldn't bother with, but what can we say? I'm Canadian. After awhile, usually whenever I have a spare moment, after reading their reviews or articles, I'll pass by their news page. If this happens to be a day that we post something new, I would like to see a reciprocal link in exchange for us linking their stuff.

Naturally, this doesn't always happen. Although we post some good articles, I am aware that not everything we post will be of interest to everyone. Not posting stuff occasionally is fine, I don't get offended, but never posting our news is a different matter entirely. Nothing pisses me off more than supporting a website that does not return the favor. One guy even had the gaul to say a ten page Radeon 9700 Pro review isn't interesting, but a two page GeForce4 MX420 review he linked from elsewhere is more exciting. Since I just posted three of his reviews this week, that is a real kick to the nutsack.

Our policy is simple now. If you, the webmaster, are wondering why none of your articles are being linked here at VL, read this article. As for sites that don't link anyone's news, but pull stuff off instead, well, it's a little harder to get pissed, but we're a little more selective about what articles they send our way. If it's good, it'll be posted.

Website and Manufacturer Slandering

We try our best to keep out of the website bashing that occurs on occasion. This prudence often keeps us out of trouble, and for the most part, we get along good with a lot of people. Although I am kinda giving crap to other websites, I'm not mentioning any names. Sure, I may be a hypocrite anyhow, but considering some of the bashings that go on between sites, my rants are subtle.

We have had people try to get us into the "fun" though. Recently, there were some announcements of a conspiracy by a reseller to get a positive review of one of their products. The webmaster logged the conversation, and posted it on his front page, which in my opinion, was the wrong thing to do since there simply wasn't enough research done.

Another webmaster claimed a website was plagerizing the work of another (which they did on other occasions), and announced it in his forums. Eventually, he had to apologize since the site was a partner site of the "plagerized" site. A word of advice guys, research the issue a little more before announcing it.

There's one thing I want to address though, since it was brought up by our staff, as well as our friends at . Last weekend, was a little rough on us when posting a news item. If you missed it, here it is...

MCSE Means What?
I am sure some of you out there have your MCSE that wonder what it is really good for, while others of you wonder if you should get one. ViperLair shares their thoughts and their recommendations, but then again they advertise and suggest using OCZ Ram as well.

This came up because we had an OCZ banner on top of our page. Though a banner is still there, it has been toned down to be less "OCZ Fanboy-ish". Our previous banner said all kinds of glowing things about OCZ, which can be misinterpreted.

I'd be lying if I said Kyle's remarks weren't upsetting, but to be honest, I didn't disagree with him. OCZ is an advertiser, and I'm sure he knows that advertising is hard to come by these days. We don't work at VL for the money. Hell no. If that were the case, I'd be out on the street begging for change. I also know [H]'s stance on OCZ. He felt the banner was misleading, whereas I shared a similar opinion, which is why it's a little more sedate now.

Am I forever pissed at Kyle now? Not at all. He's rough on a lot of sites, and he's knocked us more than a few times as well. I have a lot of respect for him (I know other webmasters are split on this), and I actually do take his remarks as constructive criticism. [H] has never blatently slammed us maliciously, but unfortunently, a few webmasters take it too personally. When asked why do I like [H] so much, I usually reply "cause they tell it like it is." Maybe if [H]'s slams got more personal, I'd have a different opinion, but after two years, Kyle hasn't called me a gimp yet or anything.

Final Words

Well, the point of the article was to expose some of the things that goes on behind the scenes here at VL, and no doubt, other websites out there. Thing is, I was once a regular reader, just like you, and I pretty much thought all webmasters got along, informed readers truthfully, and respected the intelligence of readers. As a reader, a lot of what I've talked today may not seem all that important to you, but certainly, I would bet that a lot of webmasters know exactly how I feel.

After two, sometimes long, years, I've learned that there's a lot of backstabbing, genuine hatred, and disrespect going on. Sites fight for sponsorship. They fight for money. They fight for traffic. Small sites fade away, hurting other smaller sites who are actually trying to be as good as the big boys. Is this ever going to change? Not likely, but as long as VL sticks true to our roots, you can expect us around for awhile.

Ed. Note: Although we appreciate the feedback thus far, please refer to this forum thread to place comments, as it's impossible to reply to each one individually. I also posted some additional notes here.

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