It seems like everyone has written a retrospective in light of AOL shuttering The Unofficial Apple Weblog except for me. Odd, considering I owe just about everything I have now to TUAW. So here’s mine.
I was in the midst of crashing my own small ad firm when I started reading TUAW. I had been a lifelong PC/Linux fan and even a Mac-hater, but when I started my new business I purchased an almost entirely Mac-based setup. I’d used Macs in art school, and the job I left before this venture had only had a Mac available. This was Tiger-era, and it was the first time I’d seen OS X in action. Discovering the Darwin subsystem and almost instantly realizing the power of the platform, the conversion began. TUAW was the first site that was recommended to me as I began exploring this new-to-me platform.
Apple wasn’t huge at the time. Not the way it is now. It was still the domain of designers and creative professionals. A site like TUAW which catered to both newbies and tech-heads was a perfect blend. A site dedicated to Apple and Macs mattered more then because Apple mattered less to the general public and more to a niche audience.
While reading TUAW one day, I found some comments in an article that expressed a desire to post to both Twitter and Facebook at the same time. This seemed like a chance to dig into Mac automation and scripting to see what I could learn. The result was MoodBlast, though initially it was just a combination of Applescript and shell commands in the form of a QuickSilver action called MoodSwing. Back then APIs were easier and oAuth wasn’t an issue.
David Chartier, at that time a TUAW writer, noticed this project and started blogging about it on TUAW. We started corresponding. He followed it all the way up until it became MoodBlast and could update Adium, Skype, Jaiku, Pownce, Twitter, iChat, Facebook and more. He watched my madness begin as I added command line syntax, current weather, current iTunes song, and an endless list of bloated features to the little app.
One day he asked me if I’d like to write for TUAW. He was on his way out, on to writing for Ars Technica, Macworld, and more, and he’d been asked to provide some contacts for potential new writers. I was blown away, having never thought about writing on a platform that got more than 200 hits a day (which was about what our agency blog, The Circle Six blog, now defunct) was seeing. I accepted the challenge and met Victor Agreda Jr., signing on to write for TUAW.
I think I wrote four or five posts that first day. I learned about style guides, multi-writer blogging, content editors, proper attribution, and asshole commenters all in one day. It was a roller coaster for me. I was suddenly talking to a lot of people and learning fast. Mike Rose did his best to shape me into a decent tech writer, and I think he did well.
The CMS was annoying to me, though. I had been hacking my own WordPress tools for a while, and certain limitations of the AOL CMS drove me to start building tools on top of it (and beneath its skin). My Blogsmith Bundle soon became a standard tool among many of the bloggers. It eventually caught the notice of the engineers of AOL Tech, the parent division in charge of TUAW.
I got an offer for contract work with AOL. That turned into a salary position within a year. Then the Verge happened, and people started leaving, including my supervisor. I was asked how much I’d require to take over as lead developer for AOL Tech. I wrote down a number I still don’t regret, and after 24 hours of nervous waiting was told I had the gig.
I really loved working for AOL Tech, and continued to write for TUAW, albeit sparingly because they weren’t allowed to pay me anymore in my new position. Engadget was our primary focus, but TUAW was my favorite site in the family and I funneled as much of our dev time to it as I could.
The crew at TUAW became my closest friends in the industry. Victor and Mike, Scott McNulty, Dave Caolo, Christina Warren, Erica Sadun, Doc Rock, Nik Fletcher, and many others helped me continue to grow as a writer and build my own name within the little “bubble” of the tech world we live in.
My TUAW work led to my first trips to Macworld and WWDC. The people I met there over the years I attended made me who I am. I even had a couple of opportunities to speak at Macworld. The side projects that this community helped me promote eventually gave me the income (and courage) to quit my job at AOL and become an independent developer. None of this would have happened without TUAW.
TUAW’s relevance has fluctuated over the years due to many factors. They didn’t get the invites to events that Engadget did. They scrappily pseudo-liveblogged Keynote events in a manner that made them a go-to site during big announcements. Voices like Steve Sande and Erica Sadun lent heavy credibility to the opinions that TUAW was able to add to announcements.
Then Apple Keynotes started being broadcast, first through “pirate” recording devices, and then by Apple themselves. The liveblog that was a huge source of traffic became less important. It didn’t stop them from reacting with heroic response times to everything that developed in the industry.
And then Apple was big. Apple was mainstream. The niche TUAW had been serving was suddenly more than a niche. Competition showed up in the blog world, but TUAW kept going, fueled by years of credibility. However, from a business standpoint, they were still one of the smallest fish in the AOL Tech pond. They never got the attention (read budget) that they’d need to expand their reach and really shine within the content division they were housed in.
AOL’s ultimate decision to cut them out is frustrating. I don’t believe TUAW was losing them money. AOL likely just wants to dedicate all their investments into more specific targets (Engadget and TechCrunch) in an effort to regain the tech-world domination that AOL Tech has slipped away from over time.
TUAW was more than a “large tech site.” It was truly a collection of individual voices, and one of the few sites I’ve ever paid attention to every byline on. The cast of writers behind TUAW over the years has been a goldmine of talent.
I owe a lot to TUAW, and I will miss the site dearly. I’ll miss the voices more, though. I hope to stay connected to everyone I’ve met through that blog, and I wish every single one of them well in their future endeavors. Thanks for a decade of great memories!