Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ars Technica's Ken Fisher Speaks!


When I was recently in Boston, I had the pleasure of taking Ken Fisher, the founder and editor-in-chief of the tech news and analysis site Ars Technica, to dinner.

Why? Well, to begin, in a crowded sector, Fisher runs a site that has a breadth of deeply techie coverage, original news, a dash of attitude, nice writing, fair analysis and a highly passionate community of serious tech enthusiasts.

And, of course, a totally uber-academic Latin name, meaning the “Art of Technology,” suggested by a quote from the “father of medicine,” Hippocrates:

“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile,” which is translated as, “Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”

And, interestingly, the seemingly esoteric tone does not extend to its readership or its writers, most of whom have been drawn from that community.

And while not as well known in the echo chamber of Silicon Valley, the site has long been one of largest in the tech content arena, in terms of both audience and page views and is also one that has been one of the earliest to the table, having started in 1998.

But what’s a relief is that Ars also can cover more viral and perhaps silly tech topics with equanimity, such as its post yesterday on the uproar about the goofy internal promotional video that Microsoft did and which the hair-trigger tech blogosphere treated as a criminal offense.

Wrote Ars writer Emil Protalinski sensibly: “So what’s the lesson here? There is none. Microsoft still likes making fun of itself and people still like making money off of headlines that bash Microsoft. It’s just another day on the Internet.”

If this sounds like a mash note, it is, although Ars is not perfect. For example, it did get into a little trouble in 2006, when a writer did not properly attribute text from IPDemocracy blogger Cynthia Brumfield, but it apologized and then properly linked.

But, because while there is a lot of noise out there, signifying nothing, it is nice to find such a large and successful tech site that does not need to shout to be noticed (like, well, the sometimes I-scream-you-scream BoomTown, for one!)

Or, as Ars Technica gracefully notes in its description of itself: “We work for the reader who not only needs to keep up on technology, but is passionate about it…But at Ars, ‘opinion’ never devolves into dogma; we strive for measured judgments and carefully relayed contexts…It was once said that sine scientia ars nihil est, that is, ‘without knowledge, art is nothing.’ We agree, but there’s also a corollary: sine ars, scientia nihil est.”

Here’s a video (which is hosted on YouTube due to a Brightcove snafu) I did with the soft-spoken and professorial Fisher about Ars, the state of content on the Web, why Ars does not need to be in Silicon Valley and the possible return of the three-syllable word:

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald