Web Informant #261, 6 September 2001:
Why we don't read the trades anymore


The number of tech pubs and folios continues to drop. While many of us are quick to blame the situation on the current dot-bombs, I have a more prosaic reason: IT people don't have time to read anything these days. This is a comment from a friend of mine, Dale Hobart, who is the Manager of Instructional Technology at Ferris State University in Michigan:

"I'm being called on to provide my expertise in so many meetings and projects that I no longer have the time to do the things that made me an expert. I don't seem to have the time to read and muck about with stuff that I used to and it was those very 'time wasting,' 'unproductive' things that kept me on top of things."

So we have cause number one: too many meetings. Many of us remember the glory days of IT, say from the mid to the late 1980s. We were masters of our own domain, we pretty much could do what we wanted and recommend what we thought best for our users. (I was there at ground zero, working for Transamerica and putting in PCs by the truckload at the time. It was a lot of fun.) Back then, only a few end users read the trades and had any clue about technology, and usually we could steamroll them into our way of thinking and convince them to buy the right gear. We didn't have to worry about wasting time at meetings because we never had any meetings. Back then we had little contact with the outside world beyond our inner sanctum of the computer department.

Those days are over. Between staff cutbacks, better general computing knowledge, and users getting IT advice from their neighbors and even their teenage children, the inner sanctum is gone forever. But there is more trouble. Back to Hobart's comments:

"Seems I used to be able to read several magazines cover to cover and now I just skim contents and titles, and occasionally read part or all of an article. I hardly ever look at the ads anymore, particularly all the small ones at the back that would often have cool little things in them. The problem is the magazines themselves. Everything seems the same. They all write about the same stuff and in the same way."

So cause number two is a lack of differentiation among publications. Who can remember all the Internet-related titles and tag lines of the past few years? Everyone jumped on the bandwagon. PC Week gave up a perfectly good name for this cause, and look at where their folios now.

Finally, there is plenty of consolidation within our industry as well. Hobart again: "Some of the blame lies with industry too. Instead of lots of small companies trying all kinds of solutions there are just a few and they all provide similar solutions. And anyway, there are very few choices left anymore, change is incremental and not earth shaking."

So cause number three is that evolution is much harder to write about than revolution, and unfortunately this will continue. I predict that even Microsoft will find it a hard sell to convince corporations to shell out big bucks to migrate people to Windows XP when Windows 2000 (or even NT, gasp!) is a perfectly adequate operating system that will do just fine for 85 % of the user population. Sure, XP does some pretty snazzy stuff. But who really cares? I don't think people will be camping out in front of CompUSA when XP goes on sale, like they did six years ago to be the first on their block to buy Windows 95.

All this means that there is going to continue to be consolidation among the tech pubs and web sites, especially as advertisers realize that they don't have to go to PC Magazine or Computerworld or whomever (not to pick on those books in particular) but can get the same kind of buying audience if they go to the Boston Globe or Newsweek or the Wall Street Journal (just to name a few random pubs). This is because the IT department isn't the sole purchasing authority any longer, and hasn't been for quite some time. And we never will go back to those glory days of the late 1980s either.

Here is a good case in point. My wife's company bought all of their sales reps digital cameras, so they could send pictures back to HQ about any problems they encountered in the field. My wife uses a Mac. The camera software that came in the mail only runs on Windows. Did anyone ask her before this corporate standard was implemented? Nope. Did the person doing the buying choose the cameras based on anything besides price? Probably not. Did the person read any trade pubs before making this purchase? Doubtful. Granted, this isn't some multi-million dollar ERP system, but still, this is the way things are getting done in the tech world c. 2001.

Don't get me wrong: I'm sorry to see The Industry Standard et al. go away, especially as it makes it harder for me to make a living selling freelance articles when there aren't freelance budgets to pay me to write them. But the world has changed. People don't read any more. And the tech trades are going to have to find some way to distinguish themselves, or join the rest of the dot-bombs.

Now, it is great that cities like Chicago and Seattle have tried to inculcate lots of readers by having gigantic read-a-thons: Chicago these days is reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" by the thousands. Maybe it is time we tried the same thing for the IT staffs in a city. Of course, finding something that is relevant to everyone's jobs will be a challenge. Unfortunately, the only book I could think of is "What Color is My Parachute?"

Self-promotions dep't

This is back to school week for many children, and I have taken up two new part-time jobs in local classrooms. In our high school here in Port Washington, I will be teaching the WestNet/3Com NetPrep class on TCP/IP. It is a down and dirty, detailed examination of how to build and troubleshoot IP networks, and I am thrilled to be doing this. My first class was yesterday, and you'll be hearing more about my experiences I am sure.

In a nearby college (CW Post of Long Island University), I will be teaching an introductory course to management information systems. That class starts next week.

For those of you that live in the New York City/Long Island area and are interested in volunteering as a guest lecturer or to have my students come visit your company for a field trip in either class, please let me know. And if you have some interesting networking gear that you'd like to donate to our high school lab and have me incorporate into my IP class, also let me know.

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David Strom
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