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:
- The week when I ate nothing but McDonald’s for a week> to see if I could lose weight;
- The four days where I spent a day consuming nothing but KFC, McDonald’s, Subway and IKEA respectively;
- The week where I only ate food from IKEA;
- The time I worked out how to make my own big Macs using Vegemite.
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:
- Gerry Harvey flat out lying about what he has to pay restaurant staff;
- Myer CEO Bernie Brookes completely exaggerating the penalty rates that apply for his staff;
- Everyone involved in the IT pricing inquiry deluding themselves that it would make any difference. (I was dead right in this one; nothing has changed at all in the three years since I wrote that piece.)
- Malcolm Turnbull hoping everyone would actually forget what the Coalition promised for the NBN prior to the last election, most of which is definitely not being delivered.
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.