Mac Musings

10 Years of Low End Mac: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Dan Knight - 2007.04.06 - Tip Jar

Has it really been 10 years since I first posted two dozen pages about old Macs on my personal website? Yes, it has.

The New Low End Mac User

Low End Mac began life as The New Low End User Site on April 7, 1997. And, yes, the word "New" was in red for the first several months of our existence.

By June we had added Mac to our name, becoming The New Low End Mac User Site - just something we did to clarify that we were looking at the low end of the Mac universe. We soon shortened that to Low End Mac.

Recognizing a useful resource, Jason Pierce approached me about moving my fledgling website to his server and making it part of his MacTimes network. We might even make a few bucks! And in November 1997, we made the move. I still remember the thrill of that first $42 check received a few months later.

Today I make my living publishing Low End Mac, and I've loved almost every minute of it. (A couple encounters with Apple Legal were another story.)

The Low End Vision

LEM began with profiles covering the oldest useful Macs, which in my opinion meant nothing older than the Mac Plus, which coincidentally had been the first Mac I had ever used and later became the first Mac I ever owned. We set out "top end" with the 40 MHz 68030-based Mac IIfx, since there was decent coverage of the Centris and Quadra models back then.

We eventually expanded coverage to include the 040-based Macs, PowerBooks, the earliest Macs, and Power Macs, as well as the primary clone lines, Apple's Lisa, and Jobs' NeXT Computers. The only Apple computers we didn't profile were the Apple I through III, the Newtons, and the Apple Network Servers (none of these ran the Mac OS).

Over the years we have done our best to promote computing value - using older computers as long as reasonable, upgrading as necessary, buying refurbished or close-out or used when possible, and generally steering people away from the leading edge speed demons, since they tended to be overpriced for a small premium in speed.

Editorial Content

We began publishing editorial content in July 1997 and added our first writer, Evan Kleiman, in January 1999. Charles W. Moore brought his Miscellaneous Ramblings column to LEM from MacOpinion in Sept. 1999 and has published weekly ever since. Jeff Adkins has been writing Mac Lab Report since May 2001, and Alan Zisman has been publishing content here since Dec. 2001.

Those are just a few of perhaps 30 writers who have made Low End Mac their home for a while. And in all that time, only two women have been regular contributors. Julie Fugett was a regular Mac Daniel contributor, and Beverly Woods, now a nanny on several of our online groups, wrote Acoustic Mac from April 2001 through August 2002, then came back to post a few more articles in 2005.

Growing Success

Mighty oaks grow from small nuts, and Low End Mac's story isn't much different. We estimate that we served about 20,000 pages in July 1997. In March 1998, we passed the 100,000 page mark for the first time, and we served over a quarter million pages in August 1998.

By 2000 we were consistently breaking 400,000 pages per month, and we broke the million page mark for the first time in January 2002. Traffic levels were pretty steady for three years, and in October 2005 we began to consistently serve over a million pages per month.

Our second-best month was January 2006, when we served 1.73 million pages - and we passed that last month, when we came just shy of serving 1.8 million pages. We now serve about 15 million pages per year.

Things Change

Way back when, the best thing in the world was getting linked by MacSurfer, the headline news service that kept many a website going in the late 90s and early 00s. We got Slashdotted a few times, bringing in tens of thousands of hits to a single article.

But we've seen some big changes over the past six months with the "Web 2.0" thing. In particular, we're suddenly seeing a lot links to specific articles through Digg and a lot of traffic in general from StumbleUpon (which doesn't support Safari, the Mac's default browser, or Camino, my browser of choice). And we're still seeing quite a bit of traffic from MacSurfer.

On the search engine front, there's just one thing to say: Google. That search engine accounts for over 90% of our traffic coming through search engines, a stunning achievement.

Finances

One of the keys to Low End Mac's success is sharing the workload. We have quite a cadre of writers, and the guys at Backbeat Media have done a wonderful job of selling ad space on the site.

For those who remember the dot-com bust, the key to survival was traffic, as ad rates plummeted. Even though we only see a fraction of a penny in ad income for each page served, multiplying that by a million pages a month turns it into real money.

We no longer ask for donations, although there was a time 4-6 years ago where it made the difference between sink and swim. And we're no longer interested in offering subscriptions for ad-free access to LEM. While we once thought the future was bleak for ad-supported free websites, we were wrong.

Going Forward

We're refreshing the site today - a new color scheme, slightly smaller column graphics, moving from the Roman version of the Eaglefeather font to italic, and a few tweaks to the navigation system. I've been working on this for a couple months and hope you'll like it.

We stopped designing for old browsers a few years ago, as 99% of our visitors use modern ones. We do try to make sure things work in Camino (the #1 browser at LEM headquarters), Firefox, Safari, and IE 6 on Windows. We also test with Opera, iCab 3, and some Linux browsers on occasion.

We oversee about 40 Google Groups covering almost every aspect of Macintosh computing, and we're indebted to our volunteer list managers for keeping things running smoothly there. We started our first email list in 1997, and they've become an excellent user-to-user resource.

We're phasing out some of the lower-end Macs in our biweekly price trackers. There aren't a lot of used clamshell iBooks out there any longer, and too many apps call for a screen bigger than 800 x 600, so that one was retired. We've stop tracking Kanga prices, as it has never been supported by OS X, and WallStreet notebooks may not be far behind. The beige G3 and tray-loading iMacs are on their last legs with Tiger, and we don't expect to see them supported at all in Leopard (OS X 10.5).

Low End Mac has always tried to make light demands of your browser and your Internet connection. We use a lot of optimized GIF headers, and we tend to resize graphics so they'll load quickly - when practical, we keep image files under 10 KB in size. We've also avoided popup ads, Flash content, and sound. And thus far we've held off on those nasty contextual ads that pop up over your text if your mouse gets too close to the double-underlined text.

We've been working on a new project for a couple months now, something we hope to reveal next week.

I'm still amazed at what Low End Mac has become. What started out as a public service, a way to learn a bit more about the Web, and a way to share my years of Mac experience has grown from a hobby into a dream job. Thank you for being part of our community and our success.

Here's to the decades ahead!

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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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