Mac Musings

The Breadth of the Mac Web

Dan Knight - 2002.02.18 - Tip Jar

Johannes Jan Knegt was born in the Netherlands in 1911. There he met Geertje Weeda, whom he married. Their firstborn, my father, was born in the Netherlands during the 1930s. Their family was one of thousands that left the Netherlands for Canada around 1950, bringing their language, their norms, and their religion to a new land.

My father and grandfather were immigrants, as were my mother and her family. John and Gayle met and married in Canada. Each of their three sons was born in Canada. Our family left Canada for the States in the early 1960s, determined to speak the language, bridge the norms between their cultures, and hold fast to our religion.

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where our family attended church and we children attended Christian schools. Each of us found a different path in life.

Dave, my youngest brother, understands computer aided design, tool and die, and engines. He's done some cart racing, has been restoring an old motorcycle, is putting a new addition on his home, and still hangs with a bunch of friends from high school.

Wayne, my younger brother, is also comfortable with car and motorcycle engines, has done a fair bit of woodworking over the years, spent a decade as a paramedic, and now pastors a church in Montana.

Dan, the oldest brother, is completely out of his element under the hood, has little aptitude for tools, but feels very comfortable ripping apart and rebuilding Macs or writing and editing content on the Mac Web. Dan has always been something of a hardware geek - first cameras, then audio equipment, and now Macs.

One father, three sons, three different paths. Each of us is our father's son, yet each is an individual. I share a passion for history, writing, photography, and graphic design with my father. Wayne shares his passion for the church, the people who make it up, and practical communication. Dave shares his ability to visualize solutions and maintain good friendships over the years.

All different, all on different paths, yet all part of the same family, all tied to home and church.

Mac and Church

That's a lot like the Mac Web.

As Rodney O. Lain and Guy Kawasaki have pointed out, the behavior of Mac folk isn't unlike that of religious folk. We even have Mac evangelists. And there's something almost spiritual that binds us to those with Apple logos on their cars and T-shirts, a kinship somewhat like that shared by sports fanatics.

Like a church, the Mac community is composed of a broad cross-section of society. We have Mac users in grade school and Mac using retirees. We have some professional Mac users and professionals who use Macs. And the vast majority are just Macintosh users.

The Mac Web is composed of hundreds of Mac sites ranging from professional sites published by long-established magazines to hobby sites hosted on free Web servers. A few got into it for money, but the vast majority of us write about the Mac because it is our passion - and very few make a living doing that.

I was fortunate to be one of them for about half of 2001. (The other half-year I also worked part-time at a local camera store to help make ends meet.) In an article about online subscriptions, I observed,

...we depend on the income from our site, as do some of our writers. Unlike . . . many hobbyist sites, we don't run Low End Mac as a spare time operation. This is my livelihood....

Fighting Words

That evoked some pained/angry/defensive words from the publisher of another site. He didn't like his site being typified as a "spare time operation." He assured me that he invests 40 hours a week in his site. I reminded him that he earns his living at something else, and a bit of a pissing match ensued.

While he gets defensive about the amount of time he invests in his site and the caliber of his staff, I get defensive when he writes about my

complete ignorance of what [his site] is all about and what the Web is all about. Let's face, sites like LEM are out of their element on the Web . . . [site name removed], which is run by pros, written by pros, has the best content bar none . . . I have been working 40 hours a week . . . building a truly professional which is NOT a business.

We will see in year [reduced to six months in a later email] who is left standing and who is viewed as a professional . . . Let's face it, we have the best educated, most professional writing staff on the Mac Web, we have more professors, technicians and artists that anyone else, with more degrees than any can shake a stick at - we are not hobbyists; we do not have kids writing here, or nonprofessionals doing any of it, and give that I work so hard on it it's hardly a spare time operation. I suggest you remove that line. <snip>

Dan, a word of advice - please don't take yourself so seriously. The Mac Web is . . . a place to exchange ideas and information and build relationships in a civilized manner.

I thought that's what we were doing with Low End Mac, and it pains me to have another Mac webmaster calls me ignorant, state that I'm out of my element, and imply that Low End Mac's writers aren't educated enough. The quarter-million readers who visit LEM must be buffoons not to see it. His three emails on this subject make me want to take a lot of cheap shots.

But Low End Mac is one of the best known, best respected sites on the Mac Web - in the opinion of readers as well as of many Mac webmasters - and we didn't get there by attacking other sites, their publishers, or their writers. We are in our element on the Web and were for years before the writer of the above words launched his site.

Low End Mac was created on and for the Web. How could it not be our element?

What Is the Mac Web?

The Mac Web is a pretty nebulous concept. There is no defined set of sites that make up the Mac Web, and sites appear and disappear regularly. It's like asking how many Christians there are in the world.

  • Do you consider Catholics (or Protestants) Christians?
  • What about this cult or sect?
  • Do you mean baptized members or active Christians?
  • Are you just talking about saved people or everyone on the rolls?

There is no single answer - there are many ways of dividing and counting things.

Professional and Hobby Sites

This is the one that set off the writer quoted above. I define a professional site as one that is run as a business and pays its staff; anything else is a hobby site. Hobby sites may earn income, but they are not a primary source of income.

Professional and Amateur Writers

Here's another place where we disagree. I define a professional writer as a person who makes a living by writing, but there are a heck of a lot of equally good writers who don't make a living at it.

The best writers tend to be amateurs (by the original definition of the word) - those who do something because they are passionate about it. It's a great thing when someone can combine their passion and their profession.

Professionals Who Write

I don't make a big deal about credentials. I've never taken a class in computers, nor do I have an advanced degree in anything. (My B.A. is in English, history, and philosophy - a bit remote from Macs and Web design, and I quit my M.A. program to run Low End Mac.)

Like my father, I don't have a string of degrees behind my name. We both write and edit, know how to handle a camera, and think visually. We've both made a living in areas where we don't have college degrees (he as an editor and in advertising, me as a book designer and Information Systems manager). We get by quite nicely thanks to a broad education, a desire to keep learning, the use of our talents, and a willingness to let others shine in their areas of expertise.

I have several writers with a lot less credentials than that - college students and high school students among them. I appreciate their ability to grapple with issues and communicate their thoughts. Several of them write for free because it's what they love to do. We let their content speak for itself, whether penned by a middle-schooler or someone with a string of degrees.

The other webmaster seems to put a lot of stock in degrees and credentials. If you have a Ph.D. or teach a course in Web design - does that automatically make your writing more valuable than that of a high school student or someone with a B.A.? I've known a lot of academics who are excellent communicators, but also some who are weak in that area.

Yet this is precisely the area where he claims his site excels.

I think his site excels because of the quality of the content, which may or may not be linked to the credentials of those doing the writing. I've known grad students who had a hard time writing a coherent one-page paper; writing talent doesn't necessarily flow from credentials.

Professional Quality

Low End Mac has a wealth of writers but only one designer, one editor, one publisher, one promoter, one manager. We have no masthead; I wear all of those hats; I am the sole employee. The rest of our staff is volunteers and freelance writers.

I've been doing graphic design since middle school, creative writing since third grade, and editing since high school. I learned computers by the seat of my pants and earned my stripes on the Web the same way. I don't have any training in HTML or Photoshop; I'm a Mac user - I just do it. I've learned a lot the hard way.

I'm happy that other sites may have "professors, technicians and artists" on staff. The Mac Web certainly needs more people with design credentials - some sites are downright ugly.

But quality isn't determined by degrees or credentials; it's determined in the doing. I'd never think to call the design of Low End Mac professional. Form follows function. It's a very simple design intended to load quickly and work well on pretty much any browser out there. I don't want the design to detract from the important content, the writing.

That's where most of us on the Mac Web see eye-to-eye. We may disagree about OS X, the place of rumors and rumor sites, the importance of the Megahertz Myth, the need for strict HTML 4.0 compliance, and which program is best for designing our content (we still use Claris Home Page 3.0), but we all agree that content is king.

Amateurs

The best content comes from those who are passionate about their subject, know their subject, and are able to communicate well.

Passion without knowledge or good communication has resulted in millions of amateurish personal sites all over the Web, including several sites on the Mac Web.

Knowledge without passion or good communication skills leads to the driest academic and technical journals in the world.

Good communication skills without passion or knowledge - let's not even go there.

Without passion, knowledge, and skill, any site - hobby or business - quickly becomes marginalized. Passion may come and go, but knowledge and skill usually increase with experience. By working with those who are passionate about the Mac, we help them grow as their writing helps others increase in passion, knowledge, and skill.

That's what the Web is all about, and I take it very seriously.

Had he lived to see it, I'm sure my grandfather would have been very pleased to see what his grandchildren have accomplished in a wide variety of fields. I know I'm proud of what this immigrant kid has done to build community on the Mac Web.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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