A Decade of MyMac.com – 1995 – 2005 Part 1
During the New Years celebration, many people reflect in the year past, and look ahead to the coming year with hope of a better future. 2005 will mark ten years for me as publisher of MyMac.com, and as such I will spend a few moments during the coming year to look back at the history of this site and the digital magazine that preceded it. In this first column, I look back to where it all started, 1995.
At the beginning of 1995, the Internet was still an unknown. While few had direct access to the Internet as we know it today, online services were all the rage. America Online was just shaping up to be a major force, but most hard-core computer users were using CompuServe. Apple Computer had their own online service named eWorld using the same basic software as AOL, but done right. I had an idea to publish some software reviews using a program called “DocMaker” that would allow me to use pictures and text and distribute the digital magazine electronically over the various online services, as well as many BBS’s around the world that I had memberships at.
A few other online companies also got their start in 1995, including Amazon.com and eBay. I wonder what ever happened to those sites?
Few had their own web pages in 1995. Most Internet and online users connected to the Internet via modem, either with a 9600-baud modem, or the very expensive newer 14,400-baud. At those speeds, any website which featured more than simple text would take way longer to load than most computer users were willing to wait. And most websites at that time were just that, text pages. All the good content, it seemed, was to be found on the online services.
The big news for most computer users in 1995 was email. There was no spam to speak of, but most online services would only send and receive email from within their own service. In other words, if you were an AOL user, you could send email to another AOL user, but not to a CompuServe member. Most BBS’s at the time would allow their users to buy email accounts, and many would allow email to be sent over the Internet.
My idea of distributing an electronic magazine was neither an original idea, nor a particularly smart one on my part. While always creative, I had never undertaken anything of the like before. I had no idea of what I was getting into, nor that it would eventually change my life completely. A decade later, and the impact of my hobby from 1995 are still being felt, perhaps stronger than ever before.
At the time, I was using a Macintosh Performa 410 running Mac OS 7.1 with a 12” color monitor and a StyleWriter II printer. Running at a blistering fast 16 MHz, with a 80MB Hard Drive and 4MB of RAM, it was a simple machine that at the time did everything I could ever think I wanted to do. It was that machine that did more for my typing skills than my 8th grade typing class. If anything, the thing I miss most about the Performa 410 was the keyboard. I loved that keyboard.
The first issue of My Mac Magazine would be released in June 1995. Originally uploaded to the Great Lakes Free Net only, in the Macintosh software forums, it was downloaded a whopping thirty-five times! That seems like a small number today; our website gets that many unique visitors in one minutes by comparison. Still, that first issue was small, and a lame first effort if I may say so. But it was addictive for me to get feedback on the issue, warts and all. To have people actually reading what I wrote, to see the pictures and layout as I meant for it to be seen. It was intoxicating to say the least, especially those comments and emails from readers who learned something new from what I wrote.
Speaking of what I wrote, the original premise was to create a resource on mostly shareware. What was worth downloading and paying for. What programs were out there that people should be looking at or using on their Macintosh. I also wanted to write a “how-to” section in which I went step-by-step on all things Mac.
After a few days, I also uploaded that first issue to AOL and eWorld, without any expectations. The level of interest many people had in that issue, and the subsequent issues surprised me in that first year. It seemed that, though my magazine was chock full of grammatical or spelling errors, it had hit some button in a lot of people who were looking for this sort of content. While I knew the errors were there, I spent less time actually writing and editing my words than I did actually creating the issues themselves, from the graphics to the layout. I became more interested in the esthetics than the writing. And it showed.
As the popularity of My Mac Magazine grew, so too did the problems. I very quickly realized that there was no way I could keep producing these issues without help in the writing department, so I went and actively sought writers from wherever I could find them. The first writer to help out was Pamela Wilson, another Great Lakes Free Net Mac user, in the second issue. That issue also marked the first letters page, and the first mention of Pete Miner, who would later go on to be one of our most popular writers.
Michael Rio, a technology teacher here in Battle Creek, was the third writer added. Like Pam, Michael was also a GLFN alum, and his addition to the magazine paid dividends right away. Smart writing with a Mac focus, he was a treat to read.
In issue #5, I wrote a review on the program Kick the Can. I was not nice in the review, tearing it up and calling it what it was, useless and a waste of time. Turns out that a young teenager wrote the program, and his Uncle was very displeased with my review. I received my first really unpleasant email because of that review. Not that my review was not factual or accurate, but because his Uncle felt that my review would discourage his nephew from further writing software. That kid went on to create eBay. HA! Just kidding! But it did teach me that for every negative review I write, there is a real person on the other end who spent a lot of time creating the software. There is a human element that cannot be forgotten when you write a review, and that has to be taken into consideration in what you write. I was more brutal in that review than I really needed to be, and I have tried to learn from that.
Of all the things that made My Mac Magazine so hard every month was the subscriber list. Back in the first few years, I had subscribers whom I either emailed each issue to, or sent a notification to that the new issues were available. The major hassle was when people changed email addresses. Today, sending a 300K document via email is nothing with broadband, but when you are on a 9,600-baud modem, and twenty of those emails (With the 300K document included) are returned to you, it takes hours. Eventually, the email list of subscribers was done away with, but for years was the major drawback to publishing the magazine.
One of the most significant events happened between issues five and six. Russ Walkowich joined the magazine as editor and writer. Fool that he was, he actually volunteered to do it! Had he known back then what he was getting into, I doubt he would have undertaken the task. Russ became one of my closest friends and confidants, and it is a friendship and working relationship that lasts to this day. If I am the mind behind MyMac.com, Russ is its heart. Most people, even the staff, have no idea how much Russ does behind the scenes for little or no credit. I know, however, and will be eternally grateful.
Every issue in that first year looked completely different than the issue before. I was enamored at creating graphics for the magazine every month, and while you would never know it to look at them today, I actually spent hours just toying around with the layouts and graphics. My main motivating factor back then was the other excellent digital magazines that were also out there, all of which had better graphics than mine. At least I thought so. But the exercise of changing and creating graphics and layouts month after month honed by Macintosh abilities to a fine edge, which would pay off huge in the years to come as an Information Technology Manager. When you tinker with everything as I did back then, things tend to break often. And I pushed that poor Performa 410 way past anything it was ever designed to do, thus I spent countless hours trying to undo my latest brainstorm.
Issue #7 was the first for Pete Miner. Pete is a truck driver in Seattle, and had an uncanny writing ability. He became at the time our most popular writer. His style was crisp and funny, and we received more email applauding his columns than any other. It was like we had our own superstar that any other magazine would be lucky to have. His debut column raised some eyebrows back in 1995; Why I Hate My Macintosh.
One of the most significant events that year was Apple closing down eWorld. This was a sad time for many Mac users the world over. While the online service is mostly forgotten today, at one time it was THE place for Mac users to be. The sense of community and comradely was almost beyond belief. eWorld shut down on April 1, 1996.
In our December 1995 issue, I ran a poll asking our readers what Mac or computer related items they would buy if money were not an issue. The results were:
#5 – 28.800 bps modem
#4 – PowerMac 9500
#3 – Scanner
#2 – Large Monitor
#1 – Color Laser Printer
During the same time I was writing and creating MyMac, another fellow named Mike Wallinga was creating a similar magazine titled “Wall Writings” I loved Mike’s stuff, it was fantastic. We communicated back and forth often, and were fans of each other’s magazine. While I had seen the writing on the wall and actively sought new writers, Mike continued on his own. He eventually gave up and joined MyMac in January 1996, our ninth issue, and I gave him the back page every issue. In fact, current writer Chris Seibold very much reminds me of Mike Wallinga’s style.
Our January 1996 issue was even more significant than I knew at the time. It was the issue in which Adam Karneboge joined the staff, as a product reviewer. Adam would go on to become as important to MyMac.com and My Mac Magazine as either Russ or myself. Today Adam is our Webmaster, and he and I communicate almost every day. Looking back at that ninth issue, it was a real turning point for us, though at the time I did not see the significant of it. Of all the people contributing at the time, including Mike Wallinga, Evan McCarthy (then webmaster of MyMac.com) and Pete Miner, three people are still here, a decade later. (Russ, Adam, and myself) That is unheard of for any publication. In fact, go back and look at Macworld Magazine from 1995 or 1996; how many of those writers are still there?
Issue #12 would mark the last time I would be forced to create a cover for the magazine. A month later, artist Mike Gorman would join our ranks and give our magazine a style unheard of before. Also in issue #12 would be our first attempt to try and make back some of the money it cost us to produce the magazine in the form of a Deluxe edition. This deluxe edition would be shipped out to readers on a floppy disk, contain all the shareware reviewed in that issue, plus other goodies like desktop pictures, custom icons, and the like. It was a disaster, and died a quick and painless death.
To be continued…