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I wish reading Lifehacker still felt worthwhile

July 27, 2011

Today, I made a decision to stop reading Lifehacker. This decision surprised me because of the positive associations I connect with the Lifehacker brand. I’ve been a loyal reader for several years and generally found their content to be valuable. So, what happened?

In the past few years, it is my belief that Lifehacker has increased the amount of content they publish each day. As a subscriber to the Lifehacker RSS feed, you will see roughly 209.8 posts per week (according to a “Trends” report in Google Reader). Each article in the RSS feed includes an SEO optimized title, an image, a roughly 50 word excerpt, and a link to the full story.

In the past 30 days, I read the headlines of each of the 700 articles Lifehacker published, read 77 of their article excerpts (about 11%), and starred only three. If I “starred” something using Google Reader, that indicated I might someday later refer to or share the content with a friend. If we estimate that I spent roughly 10 to 30 seconds evaluating each story that would mean that I spent between two and six hours over the past month to simply evaluate if content was worth looking at further. So, over one month, I spent a lot of time winnowing all of the Lifehacker content in order to identify that 0.43% of the content was valuable to me. Yikes.

I was even more disappointed by several of the articles that I did click through to read in full — the excerpts suggested a specific finding or resource, while the article itself actually didn’t deliver or address those specifics. Also, there seemed to be a lot of “content noise” — material being pulled and republished from alternate primary sources on the topics of business, psychology, and lifestyles without adequately adding value or curation. Ultimately, the “more content” published each month didn’t equal more value for me as a reader.

Looking back on the past month (and few years), my data suggests that me spending time with Lifehacker content isn’t really that effective. Reflecting on this data makes me also consider that reading Lifehacker wasn’t entertaining or fun for me — it was work! This is not quite the same conclusion my heartfelt admiration for their brand inspired me to believe. In fact, the outcomes I experienced were quite the opposite of the brand promise posited by Lifehacker’s tagline “tips and downloads for getting things done” —  I got very little done and found very little worth downloading. I might have better invested my time using a search tool to find something I really was interested in or needed rather than trusting that the Lifehacker editors and writers would deliver something of value.

Looking back at the time I spent perusing Lifehacker content and the returns on my investment makes me feel sad. While I respect and admire the work and direction the founders of Lifehacker took, it seems like the current iteration has strayed or lost focus in some way.