The Verge review
The verge has been up and running for almost two weeks now and I thought it was time to give it the full review treatment. It's a little strange to review a product that's available for free for everyone to use, but I think it means enough to the readers that a full review is in order. I'll try to touch on all elements of the site and give you a feel of what it is like and what you can expect from it in the future.
A brief history lesson
I think it's fair to say that most of us were probably loyal Engadget readers at one point. I was too. It was my main source of consumer electronics news and stood out above the rest because of its quality articles and great scoops. A lot of that had to do with the great editorial staff which, when I started reading, was lead by Joshua Topolsky.
In February this year things started to get messy at Engadget. In a disagreement between some of the editorial staff and AOL, the company that owns Engadget, multiple talented editors decided enough was enough and left. A move that was likely triggered by a change in strategy for AOL, detailed in a memo that leaked earlier that month called "The AOL Way". Paul Miller was the first to part ways with AOL. On his own blog he wrote about the reasoning behind this move. He explained that AOL has decided to turn their news assets into ad selling machines at the cost of good journalism and he couldn't work under those circumstances any longer.
That got the snowball rolling and shortly after that, senior editor Nilay Patel and editor in chief Joshua Topolsky announced their departure as well. A very sad time for Engadget and its readers. And I'm sure it was a tough time for those who decided they needed to leave as well.
It was quiet for a while after that. Until in April when New York times ran an article announcing the start of a new project by Joshua and "as many as eight of the more prominent editorial and technology staff members at Engadget". Working with SB Nation the team would build a new gadget site to rival the best in the industry. A move Joshua confirmed later that day on his own blog.
This was also the moment when the team launched "This is my next" a website that would host editorials, reviews and news items while they were building what would later become known as The Verge. To much joy of the readers the podcast also returned and ran for 30 episodes until the official launch of The Verge.
On November 1st The Verge launched. I remember I was actually at work at the moment constantly refreshing the page to see if the site had launched yet.
Right before I went into a long meeting, the announcement that used to be on the site changed into a message saying the site would be up and running soon. I ended up getting my very brief first impression of the site on my phone when I registered for an account during that meeting. When the meeting was finally over I got back to my desk and used the boss's time to check out the site.
Unlike many other gadget sites, The Verge doesn't take the standard blog approach of showing articles in one chronological stream. Instead it looks much more like a magazine, with articles spread out over the entire page and split into little sections. This will take some getting used to at first, because it's not immediately obvious how the flow of the site works. However it does show you more articles without having to scroll, so it's much easier to scan headlines and look for the posts that interest you.
The page is split up in a couple of sections. The sections with a white background represent the space where most of the articles are shown. It is cut up by sections with colored tiles, starting with a one at the top that's a lot like the "Top Stories" section on Engadget. It will show stories that deserve a more prominent place on the site and should catch your attention before reading on. The biggest difference with how the top stories work on The Verge compared to Engadget is that they only appear in this section and won't be repeated elsewhere on the page. This makes a lot of sense if you keep the magazine style in mind, but in practice it quickly became a section that did not catch my eye right away. Mostly because it's usually filled with posts I've already read. This could be because I'm so used to skipping over it on Engadget, but on The Verge this could lead to failing to notice the most important posts right away.
Other colored sections highlight different types of content, like less important quick reads, videos, product pages, reviews or galleries. Some of which actually do show up in the main article flow.
After a while you get used to the style and you notice that the new articles appear on the top left of the white section, making the other articles move one spot to the right or onto the next row. In the end it's a matter of preference, but the style really grew on me. Especially after you haven't been on the site for a while it immediately shows the most important posts and the site always looks colorful and very pleasing.
The quality of the articles is exactly what you would expect from this talented group of editors. It's always highly accurate and current and this team has proven again and again that it can get some of the greatest scoops in the industry. But I especially love the long form features and reviews posted on The Verge. They go far beyond the regular news posts when it comes to styling and content. Unlike most posts, features and reviews use the entire width of the website. They're stylized very well and complemented with many images and videos. This makes them feel much more like magazine articles, which really is a refreshing sight for a gadget blog. Both reviews and features have gotten their own link in the site navigation. Be sure to check them out!
The front page isn't the only source of news though. The site also features hubs on specific topics like Android, Apple, Mobile, Gaming and many more. These hubs can be found next to the trending topics in a bar right beneath the main navigation of the site. Next to it there is a "SEE ALL" button on the right to expand that bar to show all the available hubs. Because the main navigation is so prominent and this second bar has a small grey font, they don't really stand out right away, which is a shame, because there is a wealth of information behind these links.
Hubs act a lot like the front page of The Verge does. They have different sections and a main article flow with a white background. It's a great way to look at the news that you're looking for without being bothered by topics you don't really care about. In fact in some occasions posts about a certain topic never make it to the front page, but only appear on the hub(s) it belongs to. It took me a while before I noticed this and it does come with a downside. There seems to be no way to comfortably read all posts without going through different hubs. If you're like me and prefer to read all the news posted on the site, that could be a bit of a hassle. The only way to see all the posts in one place is the "new articles" counter on the left of the site navigation. This didn't use to show all articles, but I have been informed that that was a bug and it has since been fixed.
Have you ever found yourself wondering what you already read about that great rumored smartphone, when reading about it in a certain article? You used to have to search for the other articles about this phone or use the tags to navigate your way through the massive amount of content. The Verge thinks they have the solution to this problem. StoryStreams basically are a way to group articles about a story together in a meaningful way in order to give you all the information posted about that story. Sometimes they are featured on the front page, but most of the times you will find them on the right side of an article that is part of a StoryStream. It will show you what story the article is part of and where in the StoryStream you are.
This is one of the best new features of The Verge, it allows you to read everything on a certain story or product from one single mini-blog without having to navigate the site to find it. What's unfortunate though is that the direct link to the StoryStream is rarely featured on the front page and usually the only way to find these is to find an article that's part of one and click through to the StoryStream. Luckily though, they are also fairly easy to find using the search feature, but they do deserve more exposure.
As you would expect the podcast also found a new home at The Verge and you can expect the same insane and tangential experience we know and love from the "This Is My Next" days and Engadget before that. The podcast differentiates itself in that it's an entertainment podcast first and a gadget podcast second. That's not to say that there is no meaningful conversation going on, but it's always a great listen, simply because the conversations are genuine and the subjects are always interesting. It feels like you're listening to a group of friends instead of a couple of people doing their job. Think of it like this: The Vergecast is a podcast about gadgets, just like Top Gear is a TV show about cars.
And lets not forget the upcoming first episode of "On The Verge". A returning show that will be filled with interesting guests. The first show will be held on November 14th, so I can't say much about that yet in this review.
Another great feature is the product database that The Verge introduces. Instead of having to search the articles for specs and information about a certain product, this is now stored in one place. And while it was never that hard to find specs on a product that is already being sold, the great thing about this product database is that it also contains rumored products like the HTC Edge.
It will also let you compare up to 6 products of the same type, like you see in the image above. This is a very convenient way to see what the main differences between products are and can help you make a buying decision or get you some ammunition to shoot down that forum troll.
Forums & Comments
The verge comes with a lot of new community features, including a set of forums. You will find forums for all the hubs on the site and more. Posting on the forums is very much like posting an article on which people can comment. In fact, the tool used to post on the forums is a slimmed down version of the tool the editors use to post on the front page as well and allows you to add images and links and create a rich layout for your post. This gives the forums a completely different feel compared to most discussion boards. The philosophy behind this is that it should enable people to write more insightful posts than simple discussion starters. And starting the first week we've already seen a lot of interesting posts pop up that are much more than simple forum threads. Something Dieter Bohn noticed as well and he posted an article on the front page to point out some of the best forum content.
The community this forum has attracted so far seems very insightful and tolerant, as far as that's possible online. While I joked about trolls earlier, the truth is that with some minor exceptions, interaction has been very civil. And a lot of posts and comments are very informative. This makes this an ideal hangout for when you're done reading news and simply want to discuss it some more. I have noticed that forum activity spiked when the site was just launched and seems to slow down a little at the moment. Hopefully it won't slow down too much, because so far it has been a great way to kill some time.
What's nice is that commenting on a post actually updates the page real time, so you can have entire conversations without ever needing to reload the page. And when someone else comments on the same post you're looking at, you'll get a neat little notification box on the bottom right that informs you of that fact. Unfortunately you get no such notifications when people respond to your comments on other posts and this is one of the things you really wish were there. Right now there is no way to quickly find the responses to your posts/comments without navigating to all of them.
As I mentioned before, commenting on a post on the front page or any of the hubs is exactly the same as commenting on a forum post. This leads to most of the topics staying on topic and people will actually read the post before they comment. A very interesting approach and I hope it will trigger more quality community generated content.
Content that actually gets attention from the editors as well. As most of the editors as well as product managers frequently pop their head in on the forums and join the conversation.
Site updates & bugs
One of the great examples of The Verge's staff communicating with the readers is the post on bugs and design flaws on the forums. Any new site launches with a couple of bugs or annoyances, but the response from the product team and the editors has been amazing. I noticed bugs being fixed in the first few days and if you go through that topic now, you'll notice that a lot of the flaws mentioned aren't there anymore.
As Nilay notes in the comments on that post, they look at the website as an app that was released as version 1.0. I believe we are already at version
1.0.3 1.0.5 at this point and they've promised to eventually publish the version history so we can see the work that has been done. Updates aren't just about bug squashing either as more added features have been promised for future releases.
Loading times & mobile
Features like auto updating of comments and heavily styled front page of The Verge do take their toll on loading times on slower machines, but mostly on mobile devices. While writing this review it actually seemed to crash my browser a couple of times when I tried to open a feature or review. (Thankfully the posting tool auto saves drafts) I'm sure that that minor bug will be ironed out though.
But when opening the desktop version on an original iPad it took a good 26 seconds to fully load the page. At the time the iPad was connected to wifi with a 100Mbit uplink, so all time was time it needed to render the page. And even after the page was fully loaded there was a lot of checkerboarding when scrolling around.
That's a shame because the mobile site is more geared towards smartphones than tablets. It would look too blown up for ideal tablet use. On a phone, the mobile site does look a lot better, but unfortunately it's fairly limited in functionality. There is no access to the forums and the content is presented in a much more traditional way. It's simply a list of headlines with a picture next to it.
Unfortunately at this point there are no mobile apps available either, which means there isn't really a great mobile experience for The Verge yet. But I have no doubt there are great changes on the way for mobile devices.
All in all The Verge is a great website and I think it delivered on or surpassed most of our expectations. The new community elements and product database makes this one of the more complete gadget sites and elements like StoryStreams and product comparisons make it much easier to find what you're looking for. The Verge also has their loyal fan base going for them. They are fun to engage and actually have something interesting to say.
The news articles, reviews and features are top quality and make this website the go to place for gadget news.
Unfortunately it's not all sunshine and rainbows. The site can be a bit hard to navigate and that can possibly lead to you missing out on interesting news. That and the lack of a good version or app for smartphones and tablets makes it hard for me to give it a top score.
Nevertheless, this is one of the best (if not the best) sites out there for consumer electronics news. And it has won me over as a faithful reader.
+ Great quality posts and design
+ Community forums
+ Product database
- Navigation can be confusing
- Resource heavy
- Mobile version is too basic/no apps