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More Cocoa, More Stuff: Results from the Mac DevCenter Survey

by Derrick Story
05/06/2003

Mac DevCenter readers turned out in full force to complete the first online survey for the site. More than 1,300 respondents completed the questionnaire that was available online for less than a week. This turnout was more than double compared to equivalent surveys offered by O'Reilly on the Java, XML, and ONLamp sites.

Who Are Those Guys?

Before reporting on the suggestions and comments from the survey, I want to give you some figures about who your peers are. Here's a quick overview.


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Here's some more interesting stuff. More than a third of you have less than two years experience developing for the Mac platform. Another third have between 3 and 15 years experience in Mac development. And the rest of you are potential developers. I think Mac OS X has a lot to do with these percentages for our readership. Apple corporate spends a lot of time talking about Windows users moving over to the Mac. But the real success story seems to be among developers who've added programming for Mac OS X to their skill set. Our results seem to support an important shift in the developer community.

What About Mac DevCenter?

To frame some of the survey results pertaining directly to Mac DevCenter, I want to tell you that average daily page hits have doubled in the last 14 months. The survey helps explain some of the reasoning behind that increase by showing that one third of you come by daily, with another third visiting more than once a week, and a little less than one third dropping by weekly.

This explains why so many of you say that you like the content refreshed daily (which it is). I've sensed this for some time and want to spend a minute reviewing how the home page is structured.

The right column (with What's New at the top) is refreshed daily. What's New is changed in the mornings around 8 a.m. PDT, with More News getting refreshed at least twice a day during the week, and once a day on weekends. I handpick those stories from a bucket of RSS feeds. So if there's a feed you want me to add to the mix, just mention it in the TalkBacks at the end of the article. (Don't forget the URL for the RSS feed!)

The Mac weblogs follow the daily news bucket in the right column. Many people commented in the survey that they would like more weblogs, and I think that's a good idea, too. So I'm going to work with our contributors to increase the frequency here. My goal is to publish five new ones a week.

Down the middle column is our feature content. Our publishing minimum is two features a week, on Tuesday and Friday evenings. Lately I've sometimes published two features on Tuesday depending on budget and content on hand. As you know, this is original writing here, not pick-ups from other sites. We pay for these articles, and if you have something interesting to contribute, send me an abstract via email. I promise I'll look at it.

We use the left column to help keep things organized. Our content categories are at the top, followed by ADC headlines. Then there's the current Mac newsletter, originally delivered via email every other Friday, then posted on Mac DevCenter a few days later. If you're not a newsletter subscriber now, I urge you to consider it. The Web version that we publish on Mac DevCenter doesn't include the special offers and inside scoops. It's mainly for archiving and reference. You might want to sign up for our twice-a-month Mac newsletter so that you're part of the crowd that hears things first.

Before I move on to reader suggestions, I want to mention the Mac Open Source Software Directory. It's a good idea that hasn't received enough attention. But a renovation is definitely on my To Do list for this year.

Reader Comments and Suggestions

One of the first things that jumped out in the survey comments was that many of you have noticed that Mike Beam has been off writing Cocoa in a Nutshell with James Duncan Davidson instead of publishing his Programming With Cocoa columns. Well, I have good news on that front. Mike has finished the book and is working on his next column. Plus, I'm working on more Cocoa content since that was a popular request from the survey. Mike will be back online very soon.

According to you, other technologies where we need to beef up content include PHP, AppleScript, Unix underpinnings, Rendezvous, Aqua, and system administration. We seem to be hitting a good mark with Java, digital hub, Web serving, and general Mac OS X topics. One bit of a surprise was the number of comments reminding me that Mac OS X is beginning to thrive in the life sciences, and more content in this area would be appreciated. I think that's a good idea, too. Even for those of us not directly involved in life sciences, it's a good read.

A few of you suggested that we tighten up the amount of time between our serial articles. I agree. "Things happen" because everyone is so darn busy these days, including me. But I'm leaning toward having two installments in hand before running the first one. And I'll work harder at getting stuff turned around once I have it in hand (darn managing editors!).

As a side note, some of the more entertaining comments and suggestions came from the Brits. Thanks Chaps!

I think one of the more challenging areas we face in content is balancing heavy-duty developer tutorials with broad-topic Mac OS X articles. There was quite a bit of conversation about this in the comments field, and I should address it here.

Generally speaking, we seem to be providing a good balance. One interesting theme that surfaced was from readers who were originally attracted to the site by some of its broad, general articles, then as they grew comfortable with the Mac OS X technologies, commented that they now want more in-depth information.

I'm going to continue to walk the line best I can. We will always publish tutorials for working developers and serious under-the-hood types. That's just our nature here. But I'm going to continue with the broader stuff too. I have a number of reasons for this thinking, but a primary one is that being a developer for Mac OS X is a little different than for other platforms. Successful Mac developers are not only good at their specialty, such as Brent Simmons in managing RSS, but they tend to have an overall understanding of what's going on with their platform.

Having a handle on Rendezvous, digital photography, X Window, ACC, Java, artist and developer rights, bioinformatics, and QuickTime authoring, just to name a few, helps us understand the interests of the people who support our ideas and our software. I'm not saying this is exclusive to the Mac platform. Certainly Larry Wall is a Renaissance man. But I think this trait is more common in the successful Mac developer than maybe on other platforms. That's why we mix the content the way we do on the site.

Plus, a variety of articles introduces all of us to new areas of computing within our platform. And it brings new readers to the site. We currently have a diverse, vibrant developer community here, and I want to help it grow as much as possible, while having as much fun as possible. That's one of the main reasons we use Macs, right?

As for our tutorials, they usually come from members of our Mac community, tech-reviewed by other folks who follow the site. So if you have an expertise, or know someone who does, then run the idea by me. Developers who share their ideas and discoveries are a big key to the success of this site.

While I'm on the subject, another great way to get involved is to submit a paper for our upcoming Mac OS X conference in Santa Clara, Calif. You can see from the survey results that a bunch of your peers are planning on attending, and wouldn't it be great to be a speaker there?

Final Thoughts

Overall you've indicated that you want more content. In all honesty, I can't promise too much more daily and weekly content, but I'll do my best to pump as much good stuff through the pipe as I can.

We're all fortunate that Tim O'Reilly is committed to publishing original Mac articles on the Web, even in an economy that doesn't financially support it. Our online advertising revenue, like everyone else's, has dropped dramatically in 2003. Yet, I've been allowed to keep up my regular editorial schedule, even though I've had to be a bit more creative in doing so.

Also, I want to acknowledge the continued support of Apple Developer Connection (ADC). They have been with us from day one helping to underwrite the site. And there's been no strings attached. They've never intervened in our editorial process. Not once. ADC has been the ideal sponsor. And if you've ever worked with big companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sun, Adobe, and Macromedia, you know how rare this type of long-term support is.

But you're a big part of the solution, too. Because so much of our content is contributed by readers--and very smart ones, I might add--we're able to endure rough times better than some other publishers who have to solicit content from outside their audience. So, for us, it comes down to communication.

Let me know what you want to do, and I'll do my best to listen and keep you posted. I learned a long time ago, when I was managing editor for Web Review, that the site belongs to its readers. We editors just hang on for dear life. So far, it's been a great ride.

Oh, And Just One More Thing ...

The five winners for the book drawing have been contacted via email by Jessica, our marketing and advertising coordinator. Congratulations to all who won!


Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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