Since the 1980s many magazines for computer beginners were published. The famous Byte magazine is an early example, but Dr. Dobbs, IEEE spectrum or the “happy computer” have reached a large audience. But which of the former journals is the best? The answer is, that this can be answered only for the past. The idea that a reader identifies with one of the these magazines was typical in the 1980s and the early 1990s before the advent of the internet. It was the result of an economic situation. A certain user has carefully selected on of the journals, for example the Byte magazine, became a member of the journal club and every month the new issue came into his postbox via snail mail. If the user was interested in professional applications of computing, he wouldn’t select the “Happy computer” but the “Communications of the ACM”. It was a journal with a serious background, that means, that article are written for a professional / expert audience but not for beginners. The economic principle was the same. That means, the user subscribed the journals, paid the annual fee and gets the journal via mail.
The internet has changed the relationship between reader and journal. Today it’s not longer possible to decide for journal A and argue against magazine B. Instead the user has to read them all. This is possible with a fulltext search in the content. That means, the user is no longer forced to read a current issue from a certain editor, but the content is selected ad hoc. The day is not starting with the new of the Byte magazine, but with entering a keyword into the Google search engine and ask the complete internet which kind of information are available. If the result page has information for beginners, it is fine. If the results are focussed on professional programmers it is working quite well. The new situation is, that the reader is no longer part of a club which means to be not a member of the thousands of other clubs. Instead the reader comes with a concrete question and all the journals and article writers have to deliver their content. Not directly to the reader because this would overwhelming him, but to the intermediate called “Google search engine”.
The reading culture in the 1980s and 90s was dominated by a direct relationship between a reader and his publisher. A certain reader was a fan of a journal. He had a relationship with the content and didn’t like magazines with a different kind of style. This direct relationship is gone since the internet age. The distance between readers and journals is bigger than ever. Instead the newly founded fulltext search engine defines the relationship. That means, the computer journal has a relationship to Google, because Google provides him new readers. And the end user has a relationship with Google, because Google provides him information.
How exactly is the relationship between a user, Google and a magazine defined? Usually, the user enters a keyword into a searchbox. .This is equal to a filter. For example, the user want’s to know something about the Commodore 64, but not about the Amiga 500. What has changed since the lovely 1980s is, that today’s users have learned who to use the searchbox right. They are able to formulate a search request precisely. They would enter perhaps “Commodore 64 geos” to get some information about the grahical operating system for the 8bit homecomputer. What the ordinary user isn’t interested in, is to get information from a certain source. Instead Google decides, which magazine article is ranked on place 1, 2 and so on. The advantage is, that even the user doesn’t know the magazines name, he will find the information. This is sometimes called anonymization, because a longterm journal with a fancy name has no longer an advantage over an online forum or a blog. What Google is doing is to ignore all reputation somebody has collected and searches in the raw textfiles to search for words. If somebody is interested in information about a certain microprocessor and knows only the exact typenumber, Google is able to find all the information about it. Such a service wasn’t provided by the magazines in the 1980s, they were focused on a subject. That means, in the IEEE spectrum only high quality content was given, but no infomration about computer games. If a user had such interests, the IEEE magazine wasn’t helpful. He couldn’t and didn’t wanted to fulfill the users need.
The reason why Google is loved by the end user is, that Google works always and for everybody. No matter if somebody is interested in beginner topics, in advanced articles or in a certain subject, Google provides the information. Not because Google is a new exciting content producer, but because Google has indexed all the information in the internet.
The byte magazine or the IEEE spectrum can’t be called obsolete. Because the content is read by many thousands users every day. What has changed is the relationship between the journals and the reader. The formally direct relationship is no longer available. It was killed by the internet. That means, the journals have lost their readers and instead they have get Google as some kind of anti-reader who is not really interested in their content but is crawling all the content available. Getting Google as a reader for a magazine or a news website is the nightmare of every author. It’s not possible to argue with a search engine or explain something to an index bot.