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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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Comments about TidBITS Turns 27: Pondering the Future
(Comments are closed.)

Betty Fellows  2017-04-17 17:52
Great work. Congats on reaching your 27th anniversary. I hope you keep going another 27, or more. I've been following you for most of those years.

Have you thought of doing a combination site? A new site for the new information which would have links to the old site for the existing information? I don't know if that is possible but it would have the best of both options.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-17 18:43
Thanks, Betty! What do you consider the "old" and "new" information? Everything we've ever written remains available, and much of it is still accurate and useful, which is why we link back in the archive regularly. Just trying to figure out what you're suggesting...
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 09:56
When I was hired, TidBITS was 23, and I gave myself the goal of keeping TidBITS going for another 23 years. So far, so good…
Mike Vlasman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-17 18:17
Thank you for 27 years of great Apple (and tech) information. I hope TidBITS 2.0 is an even greater success!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-17 18:43
TidBITS: The Next Generation!

Clearly we need a new Enterprise...
Riley P. Richardson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-17 18:58
Happy to support TidBITS after long reading your articles, but not yet supporting. To borrow a much-overused phrase, "Sad."
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:17
Thanks for the support! It's always welcome.
Cindy Krueger  2017-04-17 20:04
When I first started reading TidBITS I would print a copy to take to the local Mac User Group meeting so I could share information. Not everyone in the group had email and it was the best way to get the word out on various topics. Thanks for all the great informational articles these past 27 years!
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 11:57
And TidBITS has strong roots with MUGs. When I was a senior at Cornell (in the Communications department), I did an internship with Ithaca's Mac user group (called MUGWUMP), helping with their monthly newsletter. Quite a lot of care went into the layout and typography of that publication, and I learned a lot. In fact, I am still in touch with all three of my "mentors" from that internship and I am even responsible for the marriage of one of them! TidBITS has always been good with MUGs using our articles in newsletters because I know first-hand how hard it can be to self-generate them from a group of volunteers.
daveg65  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-17 20:09
Adam, congratulations on 27 years what a ride! Although I am one of new subscribers over the last 5 or 6 years I value all that you and your team provides to all of us. Keep up the great work!
Harvey Barnett  2017-04-17 20:23
Thanks, I've been a Tifbits fan since your very early days. As an educator helping teachers to use technology to support student learning and their own lives I always find something useful.
Duncan Cameron  2017-04-17 20:27
Congrats to your son, your parents, and to you and Tonya for doing this wonderful site for 27 years, an eternity in internet time. Should you figure out how to do what you need to do, please share with which faces many of the same issues.
Chuck Reti  2017-04-17 20:59
Congratulations on #27. Thought this one would have come in the mail as a Setext, though :)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:12
You’re subscribed to the HTML edition, but the text edition is still setext. :-)

We use Markdown to write issues now, but since Markdown took many of its cues from our work on setext with Ian Feldman, TidBITS issues are still also properly formed setext.
Congrats on 27 years, and still going strong, for TidBits.

I hope to be able to read and support TidBits for years to come.
Suzanne R Brown  2017-04-17 22:13
How great your son is going to Cornell! I do remember when he was born! My own 17 yr old grandson will be applying to Cornell's Engineering school next year - his parents are Cornell Hotelies.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:15
Very cool! Tonya went to Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and I was in the College of Arts & Sciences...

If your grandson really wants to go to Cornell, I recommend applying early decision, since the odds are better and they take legacy into account, which they don't do for regular admission. Cornell got something like 47,000 applicants this year and took 5900.
GENEVIEVE SEGOL  2017-04-17 23:48
Congratulations--particularly for your splendid TakeControl book collection. I own two dozens of them. But your website does need work. A retro look-and-feel has its charm, but not in your line of business. The longer you wait, the harder the task. You can do it :-)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:16
Thanks — the design is almost the easiest of the problems. It's dealing with all the services underneath that's hard!
Harmon Abrahamson  2017-04-18 00:17
I have enjoyed reading TidBITS from the beginning. It is one of my go-to authoritative sources for things Macintosh, along with Ric Ford's MacInTouch. I can't remember whether I learned of you from him, or vice versa!
Henry Larsen  2017-04-18 00:34
I too have been reading TidBITS from the beginning, from the days -- which neither you nor anyone else has mentioned yet in this thread -- when it was distributed as a HyperCard stack! Thanks for all the good info over the years but, yes, the format is due for (another) update. :-)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:17
Maybe we should go back to HyperCard! :-)
Don MUNRO  2017-04-18 01:52
You've been doing a fantastic job ever since I hitched up about 23 years ago, and I have no doubt you will continue to do so, whatever the medium. Happy 27th!
Carol Weaver  2017-04-18 03:44
Happy Birthday to you and your team of writers. Thank you for continuing to do it.

Darrall Cutting  2017-04-18 05:04
After getting the Apple IIc in 1984, I graduated to a Apple IIGS system in 1989 for the princely sum of Aus$3060 plus a 100Mb hard drive for $1200! Hypercard was an amazing program for its time and I remember getting a monthly Hypercard magazine delivered on 2 floppy discs before getting dial-up to the Internet and subscribing to the new Tidbits. I have subscribed to Tidbits one way or another ever since and still read it keenly. Keep up the good work, Adam.
Kees Wisman  2017-04-18 09:40
Thanks Adam for all what you accomplished sofar. It's almost like having family. So keep it going!
Philip Davis  2017-04-18 09:45
Happy 27! Keep up the good work and the publishing of valuable information. Good luck with the update -- looking forward to TidBITS 2.0!
John Baxter  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-04-18 10:44
I still miss the Saturday afternoon gatherings in the depths of Renton ("Ahead of the Curve") and on top of the Tiger.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 10:57
Ah, now that's a rarified experience — the Seattle TidBITS parties. We never managed to recreate those in Ithaca. Things were just different somehow.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 11:59
Those truly were the good old days. :-) There is more good stuff now, but I don't think we realized then how special those gatherings truly were.
David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-18 11:44
When does Tristan take over?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 17:13
Tristan remains absolutely befuddled that one can make a living doing what we do because as a teenager, he cannot fathom paying for content. You can imagine the dinner table conversations... :-)
Randy Spydell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2017-04-18 13:06
Congratulations and thanks for all the years . . . As one who enjoyed (survived?) an Ivy League education at a smaller school than the one in Ithaca, I can oh-so-vividly remember time-sharing, paper tape, Model 33 teletypes and punch cards. I also remember wearing a t-shirt with a fist in protest events of those days, and now I am doing that again -- different edition t-shirt and slightly different issues. There was also the mantra back then of "never trust anyone over 30." How should we evaluate that assertion in light of 27 years of great work? Is the 30 year milestone a paradigm whose applicability has expired? Or will expire in the next 2 years and 11 months? Cheers to all who have participated with the TidBITS effort over the years (now decades!) and keep up the great work. Life 2.0 is well-deserved.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 17:14
Oh, man, I hadn't considered that TidBITS might have a hard-stop at 30 years because you can never trust anyone over 30. :-)

Thanks for the kind words!
Howard Chansky  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2017-04-18 13:40
Congratulation on TidBITS anniversary and thanks fro the great content over the years. Congratulations to you both and to your son, my son is also starting at Cornell engineering this fall.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 17:15
We'll know it's a really small world if they end up as roommates. :-)
george rubin  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-04-18 13:54
The Naples Mac Users Group appreciates all the hard work of both you and Tonya and your great staff.
Thanks for everything you do.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 17:15
And thank you too — the Naples MUG is one of the shining lights of the user group community. It's great to see a MUG doing so well.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2017-04-18 16:00
I've been subscribing to TidBITS since I don't know when. And been a paid subscriber for years. In that time many Mac ezines have disappeared and magazines like Macworld have deteriorated badly, even on the Web, where ads now dominate content. The career paths of many Mac tech writers have wandered all over the place in that time as publishing enterprises came and went. You and Tanya have managed to keep your flagship project going while other, more flashy undertakings have fallen by the wayside. Somehow you've managed to avoid being coopted by the corporate big boys like those who obliterated MacFixIt and Version Tracker.

I remember when your Take Control project was an early experiment in electronic publishing (I have some Panther volumes from 2004). Formats have multiplied since PDF was the default standard, which hasn't made your jobs any easier but has, no doubt, helped broaden readership. Like others, I have dozens of Take Control books in my library.

I regret being the single grouch in this large group of grateful fans, but it seems to me the Take Control project has diluted or distracted from your efforts on TidBITS, whose content seems more sparse than it once was. Or it could simply be that there is less Apple news than their once once. Certainly the Mac has suffered from Apple's preoccupation with iOS gadgets. Maybe it's just that I don't own an iPhone, iPad, Apple watch or Apple TV. But then I am an old fogey. Still, I own a good iMac and recently upgraded from Mavericks to Sierra to stay in Apple's security zone.

Anyway, despite my grumps, I wish you well and hope TidBITS continues to prosper for many years to come. As an old timer I don't mind the dated format of the website. Then again the clunky tech behind the scenes doesn't affect me directly. I still get your e-mails regularly and read your content online without difficulty. Hopefully, if and when you modernize your operations you won't throw out the baby with the bathwater, as so many others have done. From my side of the fence TidBITS "just works."

By the way, I use a shortcut in TypeIt4Me to spell TidBITS properly, and TypeIt4Me as well. ;-) Like TidBITS, TypeIt4Me has been around since Mac OS 7.x and still gets the job done.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-18 17:25
It's actually quite interesting to go back in our archives and read previous years' content. We're definitely not writing less (far from it — for years we had a 30K limit, and we almost never go under that now).

But the world has changed radically and with it the kinds of things that qualify as interesting for TidBITS. We used to cover a lot more large company business news, but there aren't as many of those companies in the Mac ecosystem anymore, and those that remain (Microsoft, Adobe, HP, etc) don't seem to produce products that generate the kind of widespread interest they once did (even if they continue to sell well). Things like Office and Photoshop and printers are just tech that's taken for granted now.

Plus, fewer of our readers are using just Macs and just for work these days — most people now have iOS devices and use them for personal tasks. That's where most of the innovation is today, so that's what we end up covering a lot of the time.

The other big change is that there are a vast number of other publications covering the same ground, so there are times when we punt on an article because someone else has already done a fine job. That's what we use ExtraBITS for.

Finally, I'll just note that it always seems like things were better in the past. :-)
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2017-04-18 18:46
I admit that I'm an old fogey. I don't need a lot of the new tech, though I understand that most others do. And, frankly, I don't learn the new stuff as easily as I once did. To learn something new I have to forget something old to make room for it. And, frankly, it's true that the Mac has declined among Apple's priorities. Most of the innovations in the macOS for a long time now have been made to accommodate iOS. Though it's interesting that iOS has now gotten a serious upgrade of the file system—to accommodate coming changes in the macOS. It's anyone's guess where that will lead. I'm sure you'll be on top of those changes as they come along.
Andy Suhaka  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-19 03:11
I'm almost 70. I've been married to Mac since 1984. I really love our children iPod, iPad, iPhone, & Apple Watch (sorry about the baby's name, it was an old family name). They say change is good but, Cousin TidBITS has been consistently brilliant for a long time. Turning him into a punk rocker might not be the best thing. Whatever happens, I'll love him either way.
Layne Hoppe  2017-04-19 15:51
While nostalgia has its charm, I would venture that re-direction is more critical than just updating. Your reader survey from a few years back made that painfully clear to me--we old-timers will pass on soon enough. It may be that the TidBit torch is what needs passing--to your son's generation, in some form. Paradigm shifts happen.
Eolake Stobblehouse   2017-04-20 15:40
TidBITS is the only publication I've been reading for 19 years or so.
I'm thankful it's there.

I sold my own lots-of-content site three years ago, and it too them over half a year to update a manually run site to a modern one! I'm actually rather shocked that it's has become more difficult rather than easier to make and run a web site.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-20 17:02
I was just chatting with a Web developer about this today, in fact, and he was saying that modern Web development really provides a lot of great stuff to developers when it comes to efficiency and reliability. And of course, on the low-end, you have services like Squarespace that make it super easy for someone who is non-technical to put up a good-looking Web site.

The problem comes in the middle, where we are. I know HTML and CSS, and I can run a server, but nowadays that just makes me dangerous. I don't have the programming skills to create a "real" Web site, but I want a lot more flexibility than a service like Squarespace could ever provide. I don't know what the solution is for people like me.
jmillr  2017-04-27 10:33
I would like to suggest that you crowdsource ideas. There is a lot of collective wisdom among your readers. Perhaps as a group we could come up with the 'critical path' (Bucky Fuller) to get your system modernized in a way that you are comfortable with.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-27 10:45
I'll be sure to write more about the process as it gets underway so as to collect more wisdom from the crowd.
Kimberly Andrew  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-04-20 19:37
Another who has read from the beginning. I've enjoyed the adventure of learning from TidBITS as I learned all the new versions of the Mac OS. Here's to another 27; and I miss HyperCard!
Brian Caswell  2017-04-21 10:07
Congratulations from the UK, Adam, to you and Tonya and the team! I discovered TidBITS in 2008, soon after switching to Apple, and your emails and ebooks continue to be essential reading for me. By the way, I'm still using my original iMac, which runs El Capitan rather slowly but otherwise performs well.

All good wishes, and keep up the good work!
Mike Warren  2017-04-25 08:03
I loved playing with HyperCard but preferred reading TidBITS in setext format. I started to say, bring back setext and remembered it never went away. Perhaps Tristan's first engineering project can be a setext reader for iPad.
Walter Ian Kaye  2017-05-02 05:57
Indeed, I loved reading the setext TidBITS in, uh, what was it called....... ah, Easy View!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-05-02 11:43
Yes! Easy View was written by Akif Eyler from Turkey. You can read more about him in our archives.
Ashley Ward  2017-04-25 16:47
I'm not sure when I first came across TidBITS, but I purchased my second Mac on 31 Dec 1999 (!). I retrieved the first, much-loved one from a skip ("dumpster"?), years earlier with some help from a Mac-loving friend.

For me, TidBITS has always stood out as "proper journalism" in a sea of basically tabloid stuff.

I think that comes from the quality of the writing, the maturity of the thinking behind it, the way you give proper context to things. The words shine, even if the presentation isn't flashy - and I don't want flashy in this context: I want to read the words.

Perhaps the collaborative back end stuff could be improved, but I'm pretty happy with TidBITS from where I sit - please keep it up, good luck, best wishes!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-26 10:23
You've just made my day, Ashley, thanks! It's nice to know that our efforts don't go unnoticed.
Mike Jefferson  2017-04-27 23:24
Congats on reaching your 27th anniversary. Wish you good luck and success!

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Dr Jacqui Cyrus  2017-04-29 06:47
Gosh! It was in Jan 1995 that I created my first website and bought your book that included a floppy disk with lots of software, including my first email account — Eudora. Congratulations on 27 great years!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-29 10:52
Simpler days, in so many ways! Glad to see you're still reading TidBITS.
Congratulations on reaching the 27th anniversary. I think I've been reading so long I remember when Hypercard stack delivery was the "new" thing!

I'm still reading. :)