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TidBITS Turns 27: Pondering the Future

This article marks our 27th anniversary, with continuous publication from 16 April 1990 to today. I can barely wrap my head around that number. If it were a person, TidBITS would be old enough to drive, vote, drink, and rent a car. On the downside, it would no longer be able to piggyback on its parents’ health insurance and should really move out of the basement already.

Speaking of parents, Tonya and I have been publishing TidBITS for so long that our son Tristan, to whom many of you sent email to when he was born in 1999, is now an 18-year-old high school senior who will be starting the next phase of his life at Cornell University’s College of Engineering this coming August. We’re looking forward to stepping back from day-to-day parental responsibilities and once again setting our own sails — Life 2.0, we call it.

On the other side of the generation ravine, all our parents are now busily occupied by retirement. My most recent family tech support efforts went into helping my father and mother set up iCloud Photo Library so they could clean up their photo collection and run it as a screensaver on an old iMac that clings to life as a digital picture frame. They’re also deep into the project of digitizing many hundreds of older family photos in line with Joe Kissell’s recommendations in “Take Control of Your Digital Legacy.”

Chronologically, TidBITS falls between the passionate youngster charging off to challenge the world and the reflective retirees bringing order to the controlled chaos of lives long lived. But despite a healthy and well-trained heart that continues to beat regularly — the top-notch articles we publish every week — much of the rest of TidBITS feels increasingly creaky. We built our current technical infrastructure long ago, when homebrew was the only option, and while it continues to work as designed, expectations of a modern-day publication have evolved since.

This isn’t news to us; we’ve been well aware of the problems for years, and have long been trying to figure out how to bring all — or even parts of — our infrastructure into today’s world. But despite working with designers and developers, the enormity of the task has thus far proved too daunting, particularly while I have to write and edit articles and keep the business running. Starting from scratch would be vastly easier — I was able to spin up the membership-driven TidBITS Content Network site for Apple SOHO consultants in a few weeks.

Building a redesigned Web site that hosts 15,000 existing articles, a modern email delivery system for 20,000 subscribers, a membership management system for 2,600 TidBITS members, a content management system that enables fluid collaboration, and a collection of community discussion systems… that’s an entirely different ball of wax. Especially when I can’t throw a few hundred thousand dollars and a team of dedicated employees at the task, as is the modern way.

So I can’t promise anything in this respect, but as we enter into beta testing on Life 2.0, I hope I’ll be able to free up enough time and mental bandwidth to tackle these jobs. While it won’t be simple, I’m eager to get started because piecing together the blocks of technical systems that replace inefficient older approaches is one of my favorite things to do.

What I can promise, thanks in large part to the yeoman efforts of Josh Centers, Agen Schmitz, Michael Cohen, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, and other writers, is that the reason you continue to read and support TidBITS will continue unabated. Each week, we’ll keep bringing you articles whose topics we’ve selected for their utility, importance, and interest, and to which we’ve devoted significant time in developing, writing, and editing. That’s the heart of what we do, and as long as it remains healthy, we can rebuild everything else over time.

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