Feedback loop

Putting together each issue of Macworld magazine has always taken a lot of work by many different people: editors, writers, copy editors, designers, photographers, illustrators, production artists, and ad salespeople—and the list goes on. But these days, there’s another crucial contributor, who’s more involved than ever in determining what goes into the magazine: you.

Click to discuss

It’s an unavoidable fact that—thanks to the realities of the printing process—even the most up-to-date story in Macworld is a couple of weeks old by the time you read it. That’s one reason we’ve embraced the Web so fervently: we can post stories at Macworld.com as soon as news happens. (Or in some cases, such as Steve Jobs’s big announcements at the last Macworld Expo, while news is happening.)

Every one of those Web stories contains a link to a discussion page, where you can let us know what you thought about the article (and see what other readers had to say about it). We get a huge amount of feedback in these forums, both critical and complimentary. Reading those discussions can be one of the most rewarding (as well as one of the most aggravating) parts of my job.

And believe me, I read those comments carefully, because doing so is one of the best ways for me to find out what you are thinking. And those comments often have a direct impact on the magazines that end up in mailboxes and on newsstands.

Give-and-take

Take, for example, my story about our tests of the first Intel-based iMacs. We had those systems’ benchmark test results up on our Web site within days of receiving the first machines, and I wrote a story to accompany and explain those results.

That story made some people very angry, because it suggested that the new iMacs were not “2x faster” than the previous iMacs, as Apple claimed—at least not in our real-world application tests. Some readers were mad at Apple, over what they saw as a false marketing claim. Others took us to task for what they saw as flaws in our testing methodology or mistakes in our interpretation of the results.

When readers challenged my conclusions, I began to investigate, and I asked Macworld Lab Director James Galbraith to do some more testing, the results of which we posted online as soon as we could. When it came time to prepare that online story for print, I updated it to address the issues that readers had raised. The result may not satisfy everyone who complained. But the give-and-take certainly made the story stronger and clearer.

“2x Faster”?

While I don’t mind it when readers disagree with me, I can’t stand it when I’ve confused them. That, unfortunately, was precisely what happened when many online readers tried to understand our Intel iMac test data.

We usually refer to the speed differences in our lab tests in terms of percentages: 18 percent faster, for example, or 14 percent slower. But in his Macworld Expo presentation, Steve Jobs said that the new Intel iMacs were 2x , or two times, faster than the previous model. Those were the terms he used and the terms readers were expecting, but not the terms we used.

Soon the feedback loop kicked in. Within half an hour of posting our story about the test results, we had received dozens of e-mails and forum posts that made it clear our story wasn’t making sense to some readers. Less than an hour after the story went live, we had reformatted our benchmark table so that it explained results in terms of “times as fast as,” instead of percentages.

From Web to print

The reason I’m explaining what went on behind the scenes at Macworld.com is because this issue’s cover story—“Inside the Intel iMac” (page 64)—wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is if I hadn’t written it in the aftermath of that hubbub. We learned from our online readers just what parts of our story were confusing, and what aspects of our testing required more explanation—and then we fixed those problems.

By posting articles online first and then gauging the reaction, we get to find out what works and what doesn’t, and then we can refine our product.

Some readers of the printed Macworld are also regular visitors to the Web site. Others stick with the magazine and rarely venture onto Macworld.com. But whichever kind of reader you are, you benefit whenever we post a story online.

[ Jason Snell is Macworld ’s editorial director. Let us know what you think of this month’s articles. ]

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