Monday, March 20, 2006

In Re "The Imminent Death of Developer Magazines"

This is in response to a posting on Larry O'Brien's Knowing.NET blog, in which he discusses the decline of dead-trees magazines aimed at software developers, theorizing that the reason these mags are getting blind-sided by the Web is that they're all put together by "old folk" like Larry. He observes that he only feels old when he plays Ultimate Frisbee. Still, since he's five years younger than me...ouch.

This started out as a comment posted on his blog, but as it accumulated enough mass to bend the orbits of comets, I finally decided to just post it here instead.

At least you *can* play Ultimate Frisbee, Larry.

Then again, I'm still snowboarding at 47--on the white linoleum we Midwesterners call "snow"--so I guess I'm not complaining. (Except when I sit wrong on my putatively-broken tailbone. Ow ow ow.)

I had never seen Code magazine until I picked up a couple of issues at SD West last week.

Oh. My. Gawd.

Maybe I was just depressed (the announcement of SD's demise, the Benny Hill nurselets that the PR firm used to hawk the new DDJ, whatever). But when I tried to read a few articles in Code, I wound up tossing it aside. "Maybe it was just that one issue", I repented. "Here, let's go through this other one, maybe the editors just had an off week." Two minutes later, there was a fluttering thump as that one hit the wall of my hotel room, too.

There may have been some good stuff in there, but I couldn't make myself wade through enough of the extraneous goo and tortured sentence construction to find it.

Yeah. Me, the Goo-Meister, complaining about extraneous goo. (The code itself wasn't bad. But the English supporting it was just awful.)

Perhaps you have put your finger on the reason why SD had "a feeling of discovery" for me, at least from, say, 1998-2003. (OK, partly it may have been the feeling of discovery that I could harvest some cash by writing for it.) But certainly Alexa, Tami, and Laurie were never convinced they knew everything, because frankly they didn't. Alexa bulled her way (as in "strong like a bull", not as in "bullshitted") her way to at least beta-geek status on sheer chutzpah, a pretty damned good team of technical advisors (such as yourself, if I may be permitted to say so), and ravening intellectual curiosity. Laurie wrote some really solid features, despite her self-proclaimed ignorance of matters technical. No, they weren't technically deep articles, but she did her homework and turned in good, thought-provoking stuff. And Tami saved my ass numerous times, just by applying her formidable logical talents to the words on the page. To say nothing of untwisting the kinks of my logorrheic torrent.

The worst thing about content on the Web is that it's not going to have people like this looking at it before it goes up. More Code, less SD. I know of very few people who actually take the time, or have the talent, to write clearly and succinctly about technical issues without heavy editorial support. I read these blogs, and eschew the others.

It's the Wal-Mart tragedy of our times in yet another medium. The new model is almost as good, and it's quite a bit cheaper. So let's dive for it, swimming hell-bent in a race for the bottom. I know that the canonical answer is a sort of "publicational Darwinism": Publish 'em all, and let God sort 'em out. But it's so easy to publish on the Web that there's very little incentive to achieve that extra polish in the first place.

Perhaps nobody cares but me, and the aforementioned few craftsmen who can write to my reading standards. In that case, be damned to the rest of 'em, and I'll just be an old crank. Language matters!


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