by Kang Yi Xi (15S03N)
Additional reporting by Joyce Er (15A01A), Valerie Chee (15S07B)
Photo courtesy of Twenty First Tech
RI’s Gap Semester is a time specially set aside by the school to allow its students to engage in self-exploration and develop their own interests. During 2013’s Gap Semester, a group of ambitious tech enthusiasts found themselves with ample time on their hands. They had dreams of starting their own technology website, and of providing quality articles free from the glaring problems that riddled those churned out by other publications in the market. And so they pursued their passion and carved out a new trail. They are the minds behind Twenty First Tech, the burgeoning online technology publication that has already accrued considerable popularity in its nascent years – a typical day garners them an impressive 800 views.
Within the space of a mere few months, Twenty First Tech has undergone remarkable transformations as part of its expansion, growing from a hobby site that featured a motley collection of news articles to a highly polished, professional outfit that posts news, reviews and commentaries on a wide variety of technology products and corporations. The old guard, consisting of Nicholas Foong (Editor-in-Chief, Editor for Windows Phone), Shikhar Gupta (Editor for Android), Fabian See (Marketing Manager, Editor for Android), Shiv Gunter (Editor for iOS) and Timothy Lim (Marketing Manager) is now backed by a complement of other technophiles that have been recruited into the project. The site has also established firm partnerships with public relations agencies handling the affairs of big-name companies like Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, LG and Sony. As Nicholas shares, “When we first started off, we didn’t have relations with any companies, and initially we did approach Digital Life to ask them for advice. The Chief Editor of Digital Life wrote back to us and suggested a few PR agencies that we could contact, such as Edelman (which represents Samsung).” Such partnerships greatly facilitate their article-writing process, for the crew gets tantalising privileges such as invitations to new product launches, notifications on developments in the companies, and – most desirable of all – review copies of the latest products.
One may wonder how Twenty First Tech manages to distinguish itself from the morass of other technology publications that pepper both the print and online markets. The site does so by, firstly, providing Singapore-centric perspectives on various products. “What’s preferred in other countries and what’s preferred in Singapore are significantly different…it’s very significant to bring out these differences and how they’re applicable to the local market,” Timothy explains. The team cites how software like Siri and Google Now have more powerful capabilities in America than in Singapore to illustrate this. Price differences are something they wish to highlight to consumers too; the Surface Pro 3’s price is affordable in the United States but has been inflated by 1.5 times in Singapore, for instance.
Additionally, the site endeavours to adopt a two-pronged approach in its articles by catering to both the average Joe and technology connoisseurs. The editors have noticed that other publications like GSMArena tend to overwhelm the typical consumer with technical jargon, and they thus hope that Twenty First Tech will be an alternative, reader-friendly platform for these consumers to get information on the technology world. On the other hand, the writers’ extensive knowledge of technical terminology and concepts means that they have the mettle to pen pieces that appeal to hardened technology buffs as well. Though the road to developing an article style that can be enjoyed by both target groups has not been an easy one, the team has managed to devise a format that appears to be quite successful. “At the top, we have just simple pros and cons for the average person to read to get an overview of what the phone is like, and then if they want to know more they can just read on. Also, the language that we use for reviews right now is much simpler to understand for the average person,” states Fabian. Nevertheless, the group is still continuing their efforts to fine-tune their balance between jargon and accessible terminology.
The writers expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of existing publications such as hardwarezone.com, CNET and Digital Life, and hope to surpass them by patching up the prominent deficiencies present in these publications’ articles. “(Existing websites) don’t offer their opinions, nor do they offer advice. And most of the time, they have barely any tech specs…(the writers at Digital Life) don’t tell the reader what’s going on and why they came to this conclusion. They just say that ‘this is it’,” elaborates Shikhar. Indeed, a glance at Twenty First Tech’s articles reveals that they are appreciably comprehensive and will likely please the discerning reader; they contain a veritable wealth of information on the various functionalities of the products being evaluated and incorporate relatively well-substantiated personal views and recommendations. Furthermore, the team is not willing to unnecessarily sugarcoat their reviews for popular products, and aims to subvert the influence of companies’ aggressive marketing by providing unbiased reviews of such products. In Shiv’s opinion, the fact that Samsung channels massive funds into advertising enables them to “get by with having products that are not as good as, say, Sony – (Sony has) the Xperia Z1 and Z2 which are actually a lot better.” Since every member has wildly differing device preferences – the argument that broke out the moment we asked them about their views regarding the best smartphone can attest to this – the authors try to ensure that their articles are as neutral as possible by having editors that specialise in particular operating systems and by exchanging feedback with one another about their articles before posting them.
As for their future growth, Twenty First Tech recently announced their collaboration with Vulcan Post, another Singapore-based technology website, and this news is likely to delight fans of both publications. Computer aficionados will also rejoice at the team’s plans to expand into coverage on the PC market. Apart from these, Twenty First Tech is currently reorganising their website and trying to remedy their manpower shortages through recruitment efforts. The website is, after all, a fledgling publication that is still trying to forge a clearer identity, and the writers plan to conduct local market research on the direction to develop their commentary section in. “We’re not looking into expanding in terms of quantity per se…the focus is, we’re thinking, trying to ensure certain standards of quality and certain consistent standards across the board, and we are still getting used to our new organisational structure,” relates Timothy. The publication’s journey toward improvement will likely be a never-ending one, for, as Fabian wisely puts it, “Even if you are currently the best, there will still be areas of improvement to work on, to further refine the product, and make it even better…don’t just stop where you are and be contented, else your rivals will just overtake you and leave you in their dust.”
Twenty First Tech is certainly a promising start-up that displays much potential for further growth, so do keep an eye on them over the course of the coming months, especially since the team is developing exciting strategies to grow their readership within the school. More importantly, though, what we took away from our interview with the budding entrepreneurs behind the project is that one can achieve a surprising amount of success simply by having the courage to chase one’s dreams and an iron will to persist in one’s efforts to fulfill them. The people behind Twenty First Tech started out with barely anything but their love for technology. Their sprawling network of contacts and liaisons only came about through their own blood and sweat, and all the while, they had to juggle their various other commitments as well. After all, you don’t get to have 800 views a day without making a few sacrifices.