Friday, April 23, 2010

Requiem for a Brand

I have never been a regular reader of CNET News. Mostly I just browse their headlines through Google Reader, diving in to read a particular story, if I think it will interest me or one of my friends; and, from time to time, I find the site an inspirational source for what I write on this platform. It was in this latter spirit that I decided to pursue the headline, "Lufthansa to Gray Powell: Drinks are on us," for which Google Reader had provided the following snippet:

The German airline carrier says it wants to fly the suddenly famous Apple engineer to Munich for free.

However, when I clicked on the Google Reader hyperlink, I realized that I had tripped over a topic far more important than the ongoing story about prototype technology getting lost in a bar. In the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, this is the above-the-fold image that appeared in my Firefox window:

Note that the only familiarity resides in the banner for the Tech Talk blog. The rest of the screen is consumed by CBS News content, which (with the exception of the advertising at the top that did not quite fit in the window) has nothing to do with technology, computer-based or otherwise.

This was not entirely a surprise. I remember when the news broke that CNET News had been acquired by CBS; but all I really remember is that, once the announcement was made, business appeared to proceed as usual on the CNET News site. So I took this as just another instance of absentee management by an off-site "parent." It seemed as if CNET would go on being CNET, and the site would still be worth visiting.

Fortunately, I am pretty good at ignoring all those distractions that occupy Web designers whose masters are determined to seize my eyeballs. Going below the fold I discovered that this was a blog post by Charles Cooper, whom I have read in the past with both satisfaction and reflection. However, I discovered that, following the article, there was no longer a biographical statement for Cooper, let alone any mention of the CNET Blog Network; nor could I get this information through the hyperlink on his name (which at least still directed me to his other posts).

At this point, however, I found myself on another quest. I needed to determine whether or not CBS had decided to write the proper noun "CNET" out of their "construction of reality" in a manner that would probably set George Orwell grimly nodding his head. The fact is that "CNET" does not appear anywhere on the page for this blog post; and, what it worse, the URL for the blog does not appear on the "Blogs" page managed by CBS! Then there is the TOPICS list, which is sadly impoverished, and the CONTRIBUTORS list, which is no better and far less familiar than I would have hoped. Had the very idea of CNET been purged with all the vigor Orwell had observed in Joseph Stalin and his lackeys?

The one clue I had was that TECH label, hanging in red under the CBS logo. Beneath it was the list of "departments," each of which was a hyperlink. Sure enough, there were a bunch of "divisions" in this "department." This is what I could get to fit on my screen:

The only "division" missing from this display is GAMECORE. From here one could click the SEE ALL link; and the headline for that page is "CNET News." I suppose this is what the suits at CBS would call "phasing out the brand;" but my own perverse sense of free association immediately recalled the I'm-not-dead-yet guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Given that we are at the end of the week, I had to give this serious consideration with regard to the semantics of "chutzpah." After all, while chutzpah may involve manifestations of stupidity and/or malice, its true meaning resides in how it colors the situation. In this case I would assume that this design change emerged from the premise that, even among the most avid readers interested in technology, the CBS logo would be far more effective than the old CNET logo. Put another way, the assumption was that the CNET logo was losing eyeballs; and the CBS logo would recover them, probably with a multiplicative increase. This constitutes the sort of over-inflated sense of self (or, if you prefer, "corporate identity") that lies at the heart of many of the best examples of acts of chutzpah. Consequently, I feel justified in assigning the Chutzpah of the Week award to whomever declared "Make it so" regarding the redesign of presentation for CNET content. Once again, we are firmly in the territory of negative-connotation chutzpah!

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