This week marks the seventh year of TidBITS, making us serious Internet geezers. If you’re new to TidBITS (and many of you are!) I thought I’d take a moment to note where TidBITS is on this anniversary. Back in April of 1990, Tonya and I released the first issue of TidBITS to the Internet in HyperCard format (a format that survived for 99 issues before being replaced by setext). Since then we’ve published on a weekly basis through several Apple CEOs (Sculley to Spindler to Amelio), numerous business cycles for Apple Computer, the release of more Macs than we can count, the arrival of Macintosh clones, the continuing ascendancy of the Internet, the hyping of Java, and the change in fortunes of industry luminaries like WordPerfect, Aldus, Borland, Ashton-Tate, and Lotus.
You could argue that the world has changed completely since we began, and in many ways it has. Heck, even some of our April Fools jokes (such as in TidBITS-052) have come true. But, just as everything continues to change at an increasingly fast pace, there’s also a case to be made for everything staying much the same. Microsoft still calls many of the shots in the computer industry. Apple still gets bad press even when it’s undeserved. The Mac OS is still the easiest operating system to learn and use. Macworld Expos are so similar that it’s almost impossible to remember what happened at any given show.
Some Numbers — Even TidBITS embodies this dichotomy (and we’ve never been afraid to use the occasional word that might require a trip to the dictionary – think of it as expanding horizons). Our format has stayed extremely consistent since the switch from HyperCard, and we’ve stuck within our informal limit of 30K of text per issue without fail (other than a few special issues). And yet, the number of people reading TidBITS continues to skyrocket. Our English-language mailing list (originally run thanks to the generosity of Rice University, and now run on a Power Mac 7100 and StarNine’s ListSTAR) served about 19,000 people in April of 1995, 37,000 in April of 1996, and 46,000 today. In April of 1995, TidBITS went to 65 countries; today that number has hit 106, including a number of countries that weren’t on the Internet two years ago (or weren’t even countries). Want to help those numbers? Tell your friends they can subscribe to TidBITS, for free of course, by sending an email message to <[email protected]>.
We’ve found it difficult to estimate the number of TidBITS readers, thanks to redistribution lists and popular areas like the comp.sys.mac.digest newsgroup, which can’t be tracked well. Nonetheless, we’ve always committed to publishing in as many ways as made sense, so we’ll continue to make issues available via email, FTP, Usenet news, and of course the Web. Check our Web site for the latest issue and links to every past issue of TidBITS.
The Top Seven — Leading the pack in number of English-language subscribers in the country category are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden. The top seven Internet providers are AOL, EarthLink, CompuServe, Netcom, MindSpring, Northwest Nexus, and AT&T WorldNet. The top seven non-ISP companies (many others have internal distribution lists we can’t track) are Apple, Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, Microsoft, DuPont, McDonnell Douglas, and Schlumberger. The top seven educational institutions are University of Minnesota, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Cornell University, University of Washington, University of Texas, and Harvard University.
In my mind, our most impressive achievement is that we’ve published on a regular weekly schedule the entire time. In the early days, a weekly schedule and a shorter lead time than any paper publication put us on the edge of speedy computer journalism. These days, it’s hard to avoid being inundated with poorly-written, poorly-researched daily news (though there are notable exceptions, like Matt Deatherage’s MDJ and Ric Ford’s MacInTouch). We try to do more than merely report the news, and instead try to offer some context or analysis so you can get a better sense of what it all means. And, sometimes we ignore events because we don’t want to clutter your brains with useless information. I believe that’s what sets a publication apart from a stream of raw data.
Finances — I’m pleased that we’ve kept TidBITS completely free all these years. I won’t pretend that TidBITS has made us rich, but we’ve never lost money (in fact, we made about $900 million more than Apple last year, if you want to talk bottom line). Most of TidBITS’s income comes from our sponsors, and it has enabled us to contract with Geoff Duncan and Jeff Carlson, our Technical and Managing Editors. Without their help, we’d never be able to keep up our schedule and quality, both of which are important to us. As much as TidBITS remains an idealistic venture, it must also remain a viable business.
Interestingly, we started the sponsorship program back in July of 1992, before the Web had appeared and years before advertising on the Internet was even acceptable, much less commonplace as it is today. Although a few of our early sponsors have been acquired or are no longer around, most current and past sponsors have proven to be the stalwarts of the Macintosh and Internet worlds. Among this group are (in order of appearance) Nisus Software, Dantz Development, APS Technologies, Northwest Nexus, PowerCity Online, Hayden Books, InfoSeek, Power Computing, America Online, EarthLink Network, Aladdin Systems, Small Dog Electronics, and our most recent sponsor, StarNine Technologies.
Any Macintosh or Internet company that’s interested in supporting a high-quality, free resource like TidBITS and reaching a few hundred thousand readers each week should contact Tonya at <[email protected]> for more details. Who knows, one of these years Apple or Claris might even sponsor us.
Translations — 1996 also marked the year in which TidBITS translations came into their own. The Japanese translation team has done a wonderful job since TidBITS-281 (and has amassed their own mailing list of over 8,600 people), and the other five language teams (Chinese, Dutch, French, German, and Spanish) basically all appeared in 1996. Thanks to our early status as one of the few sources of timely information for readers in other countries, and our efforts to not ignore international concerns, being able to publish in six different languages has been a real treat. As always, if you’re interested in helping the volunteer translation teams by translating an article every so often, check our Web site for the address of the appropriate coordinator. We’re always happy to have more help with translations.
Further Reading — If you’re interested in TidBITS history, you might want to browse our past anniversary issues. Check out TidBITS-001, TidBITS-120, TidBITS-173, TidBITS-222 (the most detailed history so far), TidBITS-273, and TidBITS-324. We’re proud of the fact that every single one of our issues is available online. Two conversions were necessary for that to be true. In 1992, my sister Jennifer Engst converted the first 99 HyperCard issues into setext, and toward the end of 1996, our Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg converted the first 275 setext issues into HTML to flesh out our Web presence. Everything’s available on our Web site, so feel free to browse.
In the end, I feel that TidBITS is entering its prime (after a year of being divisible by two and three). There’s no telling if we’ll make it to the next prime number in four years, but we have no plans to stop.