The 10 Greatest Things I Did At Lifehacker Australia

A recurring message round these parts is that you shouldn't be afraid to embrace change. So here's a big change: after seven years at the helm, today is my last day as editor of Lifehacker Australia.

I've had a fantastic time throughout those seven years, and over that period Lifehacker has become bigger, brassier and broader. Our core mission — offering advice on how to do things better — hasn't changed, but we've expanded and improved and attracted a growing audience as that has happened. Immodest statistic #1: we now have more than 1.5 million unique browsers in Australia each month.

That's a huge switch from when I took on the editorship seven years ago, in what was supposed to be a part-time gig. Instead, it's become the biggest, most successful and most fun job in my 20-plus-years as a tech journalist. Immodest statistic #2: I've written more than 11,000 posts for the site during that period.

And the world has changed a lot in that time. When I began, Android didn't exist. Nor did the iPhone. Nor did the NBN. I used a BlackBerry. (Actually, to be brutally honest, that only stopped last year.) Also, I grew a beard.

So to celebrate before I leave, I'm going to totally indulge myself and journey back through my 10 favourite things I've done at Lifehacker. Come along, why doncha? Obviously this is only scratching the surface, and we don't have time to examine and analyse all 11,000 posts. So this is a totally self-centred selection of some of the highlights.


10. Testing broadband speeds in the field

Mobile broadband was in its infancy when I started at Lifehacker; one of the earliest posts I wrote dealt with how to use a 3M velcro pad to attach a USB dongle to an Eee PC. These days, no-one uses USB dongles — tethering and hotspots give us more versatility, or we just plug SIMs into our tablets.

But to my mind, whatever the device, the biggest question to address was always this: how well does mobile broadband work in reality? This took on a particular political edge when we kept being told we didn't need the NBN because mobile broadband would work just as well. My own experience suggests that's a completely bollocks argument. Mobile broadband is fantastic, but it's patchy and unreliable, especially when you leave city areas.

I've discovered that through all sorts of tests. I flew all the way to Dubbo to see how good mobile broadband was there. I took a slow train up the NSW North Coast and spent a day roaming round Maitland to see how well it worked. I returned to the area to see if Vodafone could make a go of 4G. I travelled from Townsville to Brisbane on a train to see how Queensland fared. I did the same from Melbourne to Adelaide, and found the point in regional Victoria where Telstra reception was non-existent but Optus was fine. I even travelled on every train line in Perth to test the reception, and tried out how good the connection was between London and Paris on the Eurostar.

As you can see, I've done a lot of that testing on trains. One particular highlight was last year's Extreme Commuting experiment, where I tried out every single train line in the greater Sydney area to assess how insane travelling for three hours or more a day to get to work would send you. Insane enough, it turns out, that I also repeated the experiment in Melbourne. Yeah, I'm an idiot. But those projects did let me discover the nano-weirdness that is Mindaribba station:


9. Rolling out Planhacker

Here's my not-very-secret but technically dirty confession: I love spreadsheets. I love assembling data into a table and comparing it. And the most useful way I've been able to do that is via Planhacker, our regular feature where we round up everything that's available in the communications market, whether that's mobile broadband or prepaid deals or the best way to buy an Android phone.

We've run hundreds of Planhacker posts, but the example that sticks in my mind right now is the one for the launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last year. Apple decided to officially allow prices to be unveiled at 6pm on a Friday, and since every press release announcing those details had to be approved by Apple HQ, I ignored those and relied on browsing company sites and frantically updating spreadsheets instead. Hard work, but the result was the most comprehensive guide to your choices for buying an iPhone 6 on a plan


8. Doing wild things with fast food

Yes, my colleague Chris Jager is the Lifehacker fast food king, with regular roundups via Takeaway Truth and Taste Test. But he isn't the only one to develop an unhealthy obsession with takeaway. Four experiences in particular stand out:

Christ, it's a shock I'm not fatter.


7. Getting to indulge myself with side projects

Lifehacker has been my job for seven years. One of the main side benefits has been the ability to write stories for our sibling sites Kotaku or Gizmodo when I feel the urge to step outside my normal "helpful advice" parameters.

At Kotaku, that resulted in fiendish puzzles involving retro titles or explain why retailers like Kmart and Big W don't give a damn about selling games. It also meant I could write immensely personal pieces about my grandmother dying. (If you only read one linked piece from this article, read that one.)

At Gizmodo, that meant I could write about KISS and Tori Amos and porn. It also meant I could indulge my love for archive research and produce definitive histories of the last time the Star Wars Christmas Special aired in Australia or Albert Unaipon, our first indigenous scientist.


6. Speaking up for the truth

Lifehacker is about facts and individual decisions, not opinions. But sometimes it has been necessary to highlight the actual facts involved in an issue in a rather opinionated way, because everyone's so busy arguing about what famous person X says that they don't bother to check if any of it is actually true. A few random examples that spring to mind:


5. Insane video moments

Quite aside from my occasional appearances on The Project, we've always had fun with Lifehacker Video. Highlights have included testing out stain-proof T-shirts (I promise this wasn't meant to be homo-erotic, but my nipples have no self-control):

And producing bacon milkshakes:

And me solving a Rubik's cube:

And testing remote-control inflatable sharks:

Even enterprise IT can have its fun side:

Though me impersonating Estelle Getty may have been a step too far:


4. Ridiculous travel challenges

One of Lifehacker's signature moves is to send me on an extended road trip subject to a ridiculous constraint. The first of these was actually the longest: Hand Luggage Only, which required to spend a month travelling around Australia with only a single carry-on bag, visiting every state and still continuing with my regular work. Boy, I did a lot of washing in hotel sinks that month.

Subsequent adventures saw me work for a week using only a BlackBerry while travelling, repeat the experiment but with the added hassle of going overseas and using a BlackBerry that didn't have a keyboard. I eventually moved on from my BlackBerry addiction, but then decided to try the whole thing again with a Samsung Note 4. Clearly, I have a problem.


3. Launching Lifehacker IT Pro

Lifehacker has always had an interest in IT pro and developer issues (the site's US founding editor Gina Trapani had a developer background, not a journalistic one). We took that to the next level in January 2013 when we created our dedicated IT pro channel, covering practical issues around how to deploy and manage IT, and how to build your career working with it (and get paid a decent amount).

For Lifehacker this was a natural fit — since we live in the bring-your-own-device era, the lines between "work tech" and "life tech" have become completely blurred, so it makes sense to cover them all. Getting IT Pro kicked off also gave us the ability to bring Chris Jager on board, and let us launch projects like World Of Servers.


2. Starving myself to save with Mastercheap

Of the many ridiculous things that I've put myself through for Lifehacker, the one that people still ask me randomly about five years after it happened is Mastercheap, where I had to start with an empty pantry and a $25 budget and see how well I could eat. Everyone seems to particularly enjoy the moments when I was forced to not eat free food, like the time I showed up at a high tea or had to sit through a meal at a five-star restaurant while eating nothing. (I'm nothing if not stubborn.)

I tried the notion again in a more basic form with Mastercheap Raw, and just this week dived back into the numbers to see if it would still be possible in 2015. No-one actually needs to eat under those constrained conditions for more than a week, but it's still a valuable lesson in how we often spend more than we need to for food.


1. Hiring and working with the best people

While I've loved writing all those stories (and the thousands of others we haven't discussed here), the absolute high point of my time at Lifehacker has been the chance to work with so many awesome people at Allure Media. I was a happy freelancer before I took on Lifehacker, and I doubt I'd ever have contemplated working in an office again if it wasn't for being around such amazing folk.

So a massive shout-out to my CEOs Chris Janz and Jason Scott; my publishers Seamus Byrne and Danny Allen; Gizmodo stalwarts Nick Broughall, Alex Kidman, Danny Allen, Luke Hopewell and Campbell Simpson; Kotaku legends Mark Serrels and Tracey Lien; and regular contributors Alex Kidman, Anthony Caruana, Lindsay Handmer and Jeremy Ray. And it's always been a pleasure being in the same office as the teams at POPSUGAR and Business Insider, our utterly amazing tech team, all our other support staff and the hard-working sales folk who sell the advertising which funds all this excitement and fun.

Extra-special acknowledgement has to go to two people. Since 2013, Chris Jager has worked alongside me on Lifehacker, forcing me to raise my writing game and proving to me that there's no such thing as too much fast food. The site would not be what it is today without his awesome contributions.

My longest-standing colleague at Allure Media is often invisible to our readers, but she's utterly amazing: our night editor Elly Hart. Not only does Elly deal with all the incoming stories for Lifehacker and Gizmodo and Kotaku, she also knows all my weird and precise rules about story tagging and headline writing and which story has to go where. With Elly and Chris on board, I know Lifehacker Australia is in safe hands for the future.


So it's been great, it's been real, but now it's time to try something else. So I'm off to become editor-in-chief at comparison site Finder.com.au. (Regular readers will already know Finder through our regular Ratehacker column each month.) Lifehacker will of course continue: Chris Jager will be taking over as acting editor, and there will be new staff along shortly.

That doesn't mean I'll be disappearing altogether either. I'll be contributing guest posts from my new role; those 11,000 stories I've already written are still here to keep you informed; and being an organised Lifehacker type, I still have quite a few posts already scheduled to run after I've departed. And I'll always enjoy being a reader of Lifehacker — able to learn fresh ways to tackle problems, clever uses for unexpected objects, and all the ways to make the most of new technology as it emerges. I imagine I'll be leaving comments more than occasionally, and interacting with readers that way.

And that leads to the final and most important point: thanks, readers. Lifehacker's aim has always been to help, and you've all helped by suggesting story ideas, posing questions for Ask Lifehacker, and offering comments and critiques. Most of all, you've helped by embracing and reading the site, and proving there's more to tech coverage than just regurgitating tech rumours. Thanks for coming along for the ride, and stick around — there's still so much more to come!

If you still need a little more Angus Kidman in your life, follow me on Twitter @gusworldau.


Comments

    Thanks for everything you've done for the site, Angus. You'll be missed, hope things go great for you at Finder. And grats Chris Jager on your promotion!

    Thanks and all the best, Angus!

    1 and 6 were probably the best.

    Good luck in your travels. :)

    *sniffle* It feels like Animal just left Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.

    You will be sorely, sorely missed Gus. I will make it my #1 mission to continue your legacy of excellence.

    It is a sad day for the reader of LifeHacker, but I am sure you are going on to bigger and better things. Thanks for all the great articles and good luck in the future.

    Wishing you all the best in your new gig, Gus!

    Will look forward to your guest posts on Lifehacker! :)

    I think it's cute how you honestly believe we are going to let you leave.

    Big congratulations, Angus - have been reading lifehacker for a hell of a long time (though only start commenting in the last few years) and enjoyed your fantastic work! 7 years with the same team is quite an achievement. Good luck in the new job!

    Thanks Angus for everything, always enjoyed your work, I hope what you go onto is as fulfilling as your time here mate :)

    Good luck Angus! It's been great!

    Thanks for the last seven years Angus, all the best!

    We're going to miss the hell out of you, Angus. Have a great time at Finder, but don't be a stranger!

    Changing of the guard eh... good luck with your next venture Angus, that 7 years itch needed a scratch no doubt. By the way, I dont suppose Danny Allen spent any time in Tassie in his teenage years did he? Ive always thought he looks like a Danny Allen I went to school with in St.Helens back in the 80's.

    Angus, have loved the site since day one, you will be missed, but this passionate community is small so I am sure we will see you around. Thanks and good luck

    Remember the good times at Lifehacker Australia, cherish the friends and friendships you have made, and have a bloody awesome last day. You are one of the most intelligent and committed persons I have ever known. You will always succeed at whatever you truly believe in.

    You will be missed, Angus! Best of luck with the new gig, hope you enjoy :)

    Who would have thought you doing a spot of guest editing while I was off getting married would turn into such an impressively long stint as editor of Giz's sister site? I think it's safe to say that the site (and Allure) won't be the same without you Gus. Nice work, mate.

    So long, Angus! I bumped into you once at a blackberry event, and from our brief chat it was clear you loved your gig. Best of luck in the future.

    Really going to miss your presence here Angus! All the best for the future.

    My faves were definitely your Mastercheap and Hand Luggage Only sets of articles :) very much looking forward to your guest posts

    Angus, cannot believe you're leaving!

    Thank you so much for your posts and relentless pursuit of all things that can be improved in life.. definitely have used quite a few of these. Also thanks for the competitions of which I was able to get 2 prizes! 1 was a Steve Jobs poster - still hangs in my home office and the other was based on a challenge you also tried out in the videos above being that Lifehacker made me the IT Survivor last year (certainly hope that continues for another person this year). In any case, despite my move away from being purely technology focused and back into the world of finance and hedge funds I must say, it's always a welcome change to my week to read whats going on in Lifehacker world.

    So from 1 IT Survivor to another, I wish you all the best in your new endeavours!

    Wish you the best Angus - you will be missed, best of luck for your future endeavours :-)

    Dude - I always looked forward to your posts. Love the Mastercheap experiments and loved how you subjected yourself to quite a few punishments. I love spreadsheets as well. Lifehacker won't be the same.

    Congratulations Angus for building Lifehacker Australia along with your amazing team to the website it is today.

    It's a tough one for me - I'm sad to see you leaving LHAU because I really enjoyed reading your posts, but at the same time I'm super excited that you're joining us at finder.com.au

    All the best to Chris, Elly & the team - I'm sure they'll do a great job in looking after you legacy. I'm really excited to watch LHAU continue to grow in 2015 and beyond.

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