Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mac Web in 2008

The "mac web", is the group of websites that cover Apple goings on, product expectations, review products, and so on. It was originally modeled on the MacWeek model of short, up-to-date reviews, coverage of predicted Apple moves ("rumors"), and a healthy dose of righteousness to keep the dwindling, passionate Mac users around. The old Mac Web introduced styles and silos of coverage that persist to this day, though thriving on a larger scale.

Old Mac sites were close to blogs, before people made that term up. The PowerPage, MacOSRumors, MacNN Reality, and others focused on putting together the most accurate possible picture of a given upcoming Apple product. (For the discussion, pretend the WWW was it for networked info sharing. User groups and BBSes were esoteric to say the least. Certainly, miniscule and niche in reach compared to today's Wired Cult of Mac ) Information sites included MacInTouch, xlr8yourmac, MacCentral, I, Cringely, MacKiDo, Apple Recon and sometimes Mac Addict and TidBITS.

The earliest Mac sites lacked contextual monetization options from Google, and so ran display ads that, though targeted well given the narrowness of the readership, did not pay the bills. Mostly, for readers, the sites competed on scoops. The site with the best news the most often would get hits. News could be outlandish mockups, crazy skill-set assertions, and so on.

The best rumor dish was on Reality, a weekly-ish rumor roundup, with new wrinkles debuted and the stories of the week given some flesh and momentum. Reality became Apple Insider, which was shut down and "reopened under new management." I believe this means the Reality writers do not participate in the Mac Web anymore, but I do not know. The new Apple Insider is very active and good, but rarely breaks the very newest information anymore.

MacOSRumors was, in my time, the oldest of the sites, and it had a tidbit 1 in 5 posts. The rest were lies, but the elaborated info was often dead on. Its founder, Ryan Meader, was trying to start a network of in-the-know issue-oriented blogs, but something (ineptitude, demotivation, legal concerns) got in the way. The Calacanis empire, just on dialup with no pre-configured blogging software. (Meader eventually hosted, then ticked off, Slashdot, and prompted them to get a new back end. You might have heard of them. Whoops.) MacOSRumors is no longer a good source or really the same people.

The all-time best first wave Mac Web site was Apple Recon, which was published by a Robert Morgan. He claimed to be ex-black ops, and wrote a for-pay stock newsletter about technology, with a focus on Apple. Some public Apple content was found at Recon on the site, and it was fantastic. Apple Recon was obsessed with the market-making status-quo-flipping disjunction of "convergence." Though about seven years too early to properly implement, Morgan was a "pound the table" bull on Apple throughout the days of the Pippin and Newton. Preposterous at the time, but the most accurate prediction for Apple I have read thus far.

Information sites, like MacInTouch, Xl8ryourmac, and MacKiDo, were clearing houses for Mac user tips, tricks and evangelism. The former two sites focused on implementation of Mac systems and troubleshooting, and MacKiDo ran opinion pieces on the intricacies of Apple and ASIC, CPU, and product design processes.

In general, times were dark for Apple, and the constantly rumored operating system overhauls and revolutionary new PowerPCs from Motorola/IBM (even Exponential) made the rumor/web an exciting place to read, but also lent a fatalism to the proceedings when all that was solid seemed to melt into air. The return of Steve Jobs would change all of that.

The Jobsian recovery of Apple, coinciding with Google monetization of search result clicks, has generated countless "Mac Web" sites and built them an echo chamber. Countless sites claim to have inside dirt, spew stock analysis, and fail to recall the Apple of 1977 or 1985. True core Mac Web sites, and second-wavers from the post-iMac period, like MacRumors, or MacSurfer, get it right most of the time and give a broad set of views. Think Secret had sources, but it meant pumping office noise into a dorm room and getting sued for blatant (but valiant, in the Bothan sense) misappropriation of trade secrets.

The amplification of nonsense these days is easily more problematic than ever, though, among the inexperienced, the over-read, over-linked, and over-stimulated third-wave Mac "mirrors." One offhand comment about WebKit from Steve Ballmer and suddenly Apple is co-doing a Windows compatibility layer in AJAX. IE going WebKit would involve massive complexities I don't understand. Windows Avalon is to IE as Quartz/CoreImage/CoreWhatever is to OS X. WebKit wouldn't let IE be a "browser with a new engine." I think, but do not know, if it would entail a Windows brain transplant. I neither condemn nor praise that model of browser tie-in, but my point is it isn't happening, no matter how many times people are able to cut, paste, and list something in your RSS feed.

Indeed, a $799 notebook is a certainty according to the parrots, but Jobs shocks with a new display, and raises prices! No one paid any attention to "new iMac housing" rumors that screamed "display update" to the trained eye and came from the same reliable Chinese manufacturing sources that nailed both MacBook types. Some mystical iPhonEEE is going to come out of Steve's watch pocket though, just you wait.

I encourage those who use the Mac Web to make decisions on a daily basis to trust some oldies and clearing houses, but ignore the fluff on sites with meager Mac-historical roles, or those that are more into AAPL than Apple. Rare exceptions can be found, such as www.daringfireball.net, which is almost a MacKiDo for today's Apple. In extremis whoever stays up on a swamped keynote day is another opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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