What if the gadgets in all those "best of" and "tested" articles aren't the best and weren't tested?

Housefresh publishes detailed, honest, comprehensive tests of air purifiers. But because it spends time and money on that stuff, it doesn't have the resources to compete with major publishers who instead focus on gaming SEO with "best of" lists. It blames Google for the situation, while taking aim at what tops searches for "the best turbo encabulator for pets" and so on. These publishers use affiliate links, which is fair enough, but what Housefresh demonstrates is outright misconduct: the articles are lies. Those sites haven't reviewed anything. They have no "labs". They have not "tested" dozens of air purifiers. They just started claiming they did because a Google update prioritized hands-on reviews.

The evidence is circumstantial but overwhelming. When Google was perceived to have imposed testing as an SEO requirement ("Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness") all these articles were suddenly updated with claims of testing. Though dozens of devices are 'tested', they are not individually reviewed on the sites. Multiple sites have similar stock photos of the items being "tested" with the same copyright credit. At best there's some kind of gadget-testing ghost kitchen out there, but really, it was Tuesday for that freelance photographer.

And the result is that actual hands-on gadget reviewing is uncompetitive content. Unless you're a well-resourced short-tail major like Wirecutter or Rtings, you're probably in trouble. They and you alike are up against… private equity.

Private equity firms are utilizing public trust in long-standing publications to sell every product under the sun. In a bid to replace falling ad revenue, publishing houses are selling their publications for parts to media groups that are quick to establish affiliate marketing deals At position #8, we have Popular Science, a magazine from 1872 that was sold to a private equity firm, North Equity LLC, in 2020. A year later, North Equity introduced Recurrent Ventures, a new arm of their business that runs all the media brands they acquired. A few months later, PopSci switched to an all-digital format. Two years later, in 2023, PopSci stopped being a magazine altogether.

A comical element is the recurring recommendation of Molekule air purifiers, which don't work and have come to signpost shenanigans in air purifier content. The company making them went bankrupt last year after being sued to the wall by customers, but so long as those $1000 trashcans are cluttering up Amazon warehouses they'll be turning up in "tests" at Popular Science and the like.

A few thoughts:

– Buzzfeed does the gadget lists but is honest about what it's up to. However, its articles are tossed-off, cut-and-pasted sets of photos and reviews pasted from Amazon, so it's rather pushing the limits of what might be credited under the aegis of "at least they're being honest." Rudolf Höss was also honest about what he was up to.

– Reddit is the last remaining place where human opinions can be farmed for these lists, but it's slowly being infiltrated by the marketers. With an IPO looming which will bring new owners and a fiduciary duty to enshittify the site, enjoy the final twilight of site:reddit.com.

– Another signpost to look out for: the executives running gadget sites issuing tone-deaf statements (such as Yahoo when it laid off everyone at Engadget last week) declaring the pivot to commerce without giving journalism even the slightest lip service.

"I collect church collapses, recreationally."