Connecting with Bill Sobel

David Pogue thinks science, technology, language and humor go together quite well. "That’s been my experience, anyway, in my years writing columns, presenting science and tech on TV, creating how-to books and doing a lot of public speaking," he explains on his website.

Pogue, the former personal technology columnist for the New York Times, is the founder of Yahoo Tech — a "consumer-technology website for normal people."

He’s also a monthly columnist for Scientific American, host of science shows on PBS’s “NOVA” and a correspondent on the CBS News Sunday Morning.

In his spare time, he authored four titles in the For Dummies series of books and teamed up with O'Reilly Media to launch Pogue Press, the company that creates the Missing Manual books. If you haven't heard of the Missing Manuals, they're a series of "warm, witty and jargon free" manuals for popular consumer software and hardware products … the "books that should have been in the box."

A Busy Guy

2014-11-August-David-Pogue

Pogue has won two Emmy awards, two Webby awards, a Loeb award for journalism, holds an honorary doctorate in music and is a popular speaker at TED conferences.

What's he talk about? "After happily weathering installation nightmares, customer service hiccups, and an overwhelming crush of backups, upgrades and downloads, Pogue reports back with his recommendations via his many columns, TV appearances and how-to books," his TED bio explains.

Recently, he shared his insight with CMSWire, too.

Sobel: You're a musician, composer, writer and everything in between. Can you share with us a bit about your professional journey?

Pogue: It certainly has been a peculiar journey! It began at Yale, where I was a music major. I moved to New York City, where I spent 10 years conducting and arranging musicals on Broadway, trying to make it big. Clearly, that didn't happen.

On the side, I began writing reviews of music software — and, eventually, all kinds of other software — first for the New York Macintosh Users Group (NYMUG) and later for Macworld Magazine. My interests in music and writing have always overlapped. Anyway, my big break was joining the New York Times in 2000, which led to all kinds of other opportunities —TV appearances, speaking engagements, and so on.

My other big break was getting Yahoo's interest last year. The company offered me carte blanche to create a new tech website for non-technical people — told me I could hire whomever I liked, create and design whatever I wanted — it was irresistible. After 13 years at the Times, I was ready for a change.

Sobel: As many of our readers know, you and Walt Mossberg were the gold standard of technology journalists … you writing for the New York Times and Walt writing for the Wall Street Journal. Ironically you left the Times at around the same time the WSJ decided to end Mossberg’s All Things Digital. Seems a bit ironic. Or is it?

Pogue: Without being aware of it. I guess it's easy to conclude that there is some kind of overall trend here — print journalists moving to the web or whatever. But I think our departures came from very different motivations.

Sobel: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer showed a lot of interest in Yahoo Tech. She was quoted on Tumblr as saying “David will lead a major expansion of consumer tech coverage on Yahoo and will publish columns, blog posts and video stories that demystify the gadgets, apps and technology that powers our users’ daily lives.” It’s been less than a year since you made the leap. Is it too early to talk about how things are working out?

Pogue: I joined Yahoo in November and my site, Yahoo Tech, opened on Jan. 7. Super fast, if you think about it.

So yes, the company has totally thrown itself behind my efforts, and it’s really been a blast. In just eight months the site has cultivated a huge readership. We had our first 3-million-reader day, and recently we have had 30,000 visitors reading the site simultaneously. That’s far more readers than I’ve ever had before. And since a reader writes to be read … well, it makes me super happy. We have a hardy band of 10 writers, columnists and editors, and we work together really well.

Sobel: I’ve enjoyed the programs you've hosted and produced for NOVA, including “Hunting the Elements” and "Making Stuff." Can you tell us a bit about the show and what you have planned for the future?

Pogue: NOVA and I are in the middle of discussing what comes next. We’ve done four miniseries together, and have all kinds of plans. But on public television, you have to raise all the money before you start filming, so it’s a slow process.

Sobel: Are you still interested in music?

Pogue: I do a lot of public speaking, and I still like to conclude each talk with some songs about the high-tech industry at the piano. I’ve got a couple of new ones bubbling, and at Yahoo, we’ve been talking about turning a couple of them into a music video like this one, which I did in 2007.

Sobel: As a gadget guru, you’re always looking at new products. What are a few of the ones that impressed you most over the past 25 years? Any predictions on others on the way?

Pogue: Well, the Big Two, of course, were the Internet and the iPhone. The iPhone, because it was the model for everything that’s been popular since 2007: touchscreen phones and touchscreen tablets.

This year, the big buzz is fitness and health monitoring, and I’m truly excited about the possibilities. We pay so little attention to our physical lives—and these machines, clearly and helpfully, shine a light on our activity, sleep, eating and other data. There’s a lot of buzz about wearable computing—smart watches, Google Glass and so on. But the only slam-dunk among wearables are the health-related ones.

We’ve also entered the age of entrepreneurial inventor. Thanks to Kickstarter and similar sites, anyone with a great idea and some perseverance can bring a new product to market. We're seeing an explosion of innovation and clever ideas as a result. And the best part of all is that we’re just at the dawn of that revolution.

Sobel: Most of our readers are focused on digital marketing, social business, customer experience. Can you offer them any suggestions?

Pogue: Only that your customers these days can smell the inauthentic from 100 miles away. If you speak your message like a real person, and you actually have something to say, people will tune in.