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A Brief Chat With Tim Stevens

September 19th, 2011

Before we start, could you give us a bit of your background as an avid internet user?

Well, I got my start on the Internet way back in… I think 1994? I was a Netcom user back then, dialing up on an ancient Packard Bell with a 14.4 modem. It took ages and ages to get everything connected back in those days, and but since I was working at a computer hardware store, I was constantly bringing home new modems and hardware to make things a little less painful.
When I went to college in 1996 my school (Hartwick College) had just completed rolling out Ethernet for the entire campus, which was mind-blowingly quick at the time. DSL and cable were still a few years off back then.

Anyhow, in college I got a gig reviewing Sega Saturn video games for a website called Games Domain and that started me on the long, slippery path of writing for money.

Quite recently you took the position as Editor In Chief at Engadget, but you already were an Editor, am I right? How did your professional life has changed since then?

Yes, before becoming EIC I was Automotive Editor at Engadget. I was really working to push our coverage on the transportation-related front and was helping to branch us out into coverage of EVs and other related topics.

But, I joined Engadget as an Associate Editor way back in 2008.

At that time I was still working full-time as an Enterprise Software Architect. As my career with Engadget progressed I dialed back to part-time software consulting and then finally left the software world altogether. So, major changes in terms of what I do all day — that’s for sure. But, ultimately, there are a lot of parallels too.

It’s all about working with talented people and doing everything you can to keep them happy and engaged. And we have lots of very, very talented people at Engadget, I’m happy to say!

Your’s one of the biggest tech blog in the world, but of course you are not the only one. The competition is strong I assume. In your opinion, what does differentiate you compared to other blogs? Which are your absolute strengths?

Yes, there is a lot of competition out there, but I can honestly say we stay focused on what we’re doing. Obviously we’re trying to beat the internet, and we routinely do, but that’s us pushing ourselves.

Our biggest strengths are of course speed and dedication to get the news up quickly, but I’m really focusing us on creating strong feature content too. Our biggest strength is our writers, who have diverse backgrounds and bring a lot of different areas of expertise to the table.

This lets us cover a broad range of topics with expert precision, instead of just focusing on a narrow area or writing very vague summaries of news articles culled elsewhere.

And another big strength is our readership, who very generously take the time to keep us informed through tips on news stories that we sometimes miss, or send us information before it’s released to the world.

To build yourself a name you are obliged to be always on top of everything, delivering real added value to readers. How do you create a news? It’s just the luck of being at the right time in the right place, or there is more, such as tipsters or outside relations?

Yes, we of course try to cover all our bases, but our tipsters are a huge help in filling the cracks. We can’t be in every forum and watching every specialty site out there and scoping out every retail shelf for something to be put up for sale a week too early.

But creating news is a very complicated topic… there’s no single thing. Tipsters are a part of it, watching the news like a hawk is a part of it, and building relationships are a big part of it too.

We need to make sure that we’re on the radar of every PR person out there who has news they want to distribute, so they call us first when they’re ready to release it.

That means I personally get hundreds of press releases a day, but I read them all. Unfortunately I can’t reply to them all, but I do read them.

And a little luck never hurts, but we try to not rely on that.

Which is your best advice you can give to a blog, to help its growth and success?

For a blog looking for advice, I’d say focus on doing something better than anyone else.

Cover some topic or set of topics better than any other site out there. If you’re getting beaten to the news, find out why and fix it. If you’re trying to cover too much, cut back on your area of focus. If it’s a small, specialist site, just be laser-focused on a specific topic and beat everyone to news on that topic.

Or, if you’re more into editorializing, don’t try covering the news too and instead focus on opinion-related topic.

But, focus I think is the important thing. Do one thing and do it well, and then when you get bigger you can start to branch out.

To conclude, a question that I ask to all of my guests: which is the gadget that you couldn’t live without?

Gadget I can’t live without… man….

Well the obvious ones are my desktop, my laptop, and my smartphone (a Droid Charge). But those are boring so I won’t say those.

I’ll say my Xbox 360, because it’s my primary gaming machine, the machine I watch recorded TV on, and the machine I watch Netflix on. Without that my life would be a lot less entertained and, well, we all know what happens when you get all work and no play.