Publishing TidBITS every week for the last six years has given us a good sense of continuity. We usually know off the top of our heads whether we’ve written about a topic, who wrote about it, and how long ago the issue was published. But it’s easy for us to forget that many of our readers – in fact, most of our readers – haven’t been along for the whole ride. During Macworld Expo in January, I met many TidBITS readers, but two in particular made me decide to write this article. One reader introduced himself, said how much he liked TidBITS, and that he’d been reading since issue 50 in 1991. A few minutes later, another reader came by, said he liked TidBITS, and had been reading for two issues. So, though long-term readers have read a few articles like this, I thought I’d write another to help newer readers figure out who publishes TidBITS, where TidBITS came from, and why.
Who, When, Why, and How— Being on the TidBITS staff is more a life-style than a job. TidBITS is run by an odd triumvirate consisting of myself, Tonya Engst, and Geoff Duncan. I sometimes take the title of Publisher, Geoff is more or less our Managing Editor, and Tonya is probably our Senior Editor and the most organized of us all. A multitude of other people help with TidBITS, and we are grateful for their able assistance. In particular, Mark Anbinder, our News Editor, has written loads of articles for us over the years; Mark Williamson at Rice University has been stunningly gracious in administering the TidBITS mailing list; Lauren Snell makes DealBITS possible, and a whole slew of wonderful people translate TidBITS into a variety of languages.
TidBITS started in April of 1990, before Tonya and I were married, long before we met Geoff, and when we still lived in Ithaca, New York, where we’d both grown up and attended Cornell University. TidBITS began as an effort to summarize the latest news in the Macintosh industry and has expanded to include software reviews, editorials, and an emphasis on the Internet.
We distributed the first 99 issues as a HyperCard stack that functioned as a cumulative archive. With issue 100, we moved to the setext format, which let us to increase readership immensely, since you no longer had to download and decode each issue. That’s remained a guiding force in our distribution philosophy, and is one of the reasons we don’t use Acrobat, DOCMaker, or any similar file formats. If you want to read more of the early history of TidBITS, check out TidBITS-222.
In November of 1994, we hired Geoff Duncan as our Managing Editor. Geoff assembles and distributes each issue, writes articles and most of our MailBITS, coordinates submissions, and manages editorial email. He also scripts everything in sight and develops custom tools. To read more about why we hired Geoff, see TidBITS-256.
Although TidBITS has always been free to readers, we’ve funded it over the last few years with corporate sponsorships along the lines of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) model. The companies that sponsor TidBITS ensure we can pay Geoff, travel to Macworld Expos, and buy the occasional piece of hardware. TidBITS has always been profitable because of how we do business (spend nothing you don’t have), but we’re not talking about big bucks. Also, because of our incredibly low overhead, we don’t need a big cash intake – a lesson for Internet entrepreneurs.
We started DealBITS relatively recently (see TidBITS-297) to help smaller companies who couldn’t afford sponsorships get exposure, experiment with ways to promote commerce on the Internet, and to bring in a little more revenue. Lauren Snell <[email protected]> joined us a few months ago to coordinate DealBITS with advertisers.
Despite its 150,000 readers and 40,000 person mailing list, TidBITS gets relatively little media attention in comparison to newer and flashier Internet publications and services. I attribute it to the fact we’ve been around a long time, prefer to provide quality information rather than bandwidth-wasting glitz, and let our work be our primary method of self-promotion. We don’t arbitrarily add people to our mailing list (an extremely impolite way of getting bigwigs to read your stuff), nor do we publish the many kind letters from our readers (they’d steal space from more important information).
We stay excited about creating TidBITS by sticking to our main criteria for how content gets in the issue – we tend to only write about stuff that enthuses us or that we think is newsworthy and important. It’s no fun to use boring or mediocre products, so we rarely review them. Although we overlap a bit, Geoff tends toward breaking news, system software, and development stuff; Tonya writes about word processors and Web authoring tools these days; and I concentrate on Internet connectivity, clients, and philosophy, as well as various unrelated bits of software. We also publish many articles submitted by TidBITS readers – usually if someone thinks something is cool enough to write a decent article about it, the product is cool enough that we want to publish the article.
Finding TidBITS — One development that’s surprised us recently is that some TidBITS readers have only encountered TidBITS on the Web – they have no idea we’re primarily a mailing list (and have been since 1990!). Similarly, people who have read TidBITS for years may not realize TidBITS issues are available via the Web. So, quickly, here’s where to find TidBITS.
You can subscribe to the TidBITS mailing list by sending email to <[email protected]> with this line in the body of the message:
SUBSCRIBE TIDBITS your full name
Substitute your real name for "your full name." You can also find TidBITS issues at the FTP and Web URLs below. TidBITS issues are available on a number of other sites, and translations are available in a variety of languages (check the links at the final URL below).
Reprinting Articles — Another of our guiding philosophies is that TidBITS should be free to readers (or so cheap that no one would notice, which isn’t currently possible on the Internet). As an extension of that philosophy, non-profit, non-commercial publications (such as user group newsletters) should feel free to reprint TidBITS articles. All we ask is that you give credit to TidBITS and to the author and include the <[email protected]> address so people can get more information. For-profit publications should contact us to work out a reprinting arrangement.
Articles and Submissions — We can’t be experts on everything. If you think something deserves coverage in TidBITS, consider writing an article about it. We like publishing other points of view and are happy to work with authors and edit articles to fit the TidBITS style. We can pay only in fame, but a number of TidBITS articles have been reprinted (with payment to the author) in other major and minor publications, and some of our more regular authors have found additional work based on having written for TidBITS.
If you think you’d like to write an article for TidBITS, send a note to <[email protected]>; we’ll send you guidelines and let you know if similar articles are already in the works.
Questions and Email — We attempt to read and reply to the email we receive, but that’s become increasingly difficult as the volume has increased. In addition, many people seem to view us as a source of free technical support. This can be frustrating – although we welcome comments and are happy to help out when we can, we don’t know everything and dealing with all the mail takes time away from researching and writing articles.
Another class of email that takes a significant amount of energy to handle is email asking us what we know about some topic or another. Since TidBITS is a publication, if a topic is current it’s conceivable (even likely) that we’ve already covered it. However, sometimes we don’t talk about current topics for good reasons – they may be unconfirmed rumors, we may not find the topic interesting, or we may be trying to find the time to finish researching the issue. In addition to our own interest in covering subjects thoroughly, we’ve learned that if we cover a topic in an incomplete manner, we will be deluged with questions.
There’s a searchable archive of TidBITS issues online at the URL below. Though it might be difficult to reach at times, searching there is almost certainly faster than asking us via email whether we’ve written about something.
And the Eternal Question… In closing, I’d like to clear up the mystery of why the BITS in TidBITS is uppercase. I don’t know that we’ve ever explained this, and Geoff complained recently that in over a year as managing editor, he still didn’t know why. Here’s the scoop: we came up with the name for TidBITS at about the time the NeXT machine from Steve Jobs shipped, when all cool products at least had weird capitalization, and the super-cool products had wacky capitalization. Naturally, we went the wacky capitalization route, though we admit that it takes hard work, not just wacky capitalization, to make for a super-cool product.