dr. dobb's desceased

I received a notice in the mail today that Dr. Dobb’s Journal will, as of the February 2009 issue, no longer be providing the hardcopy magazine. Instead, it will transition to an all-online publication. There will still be some DDJ print appearing the InformationWeek once a month. This was a big surprise to me though it seems it’s been common knowledge for a while.

DDJ was one of the few independent technical publications I subscribe to as it is, in my mind, one of the best produced. I carried the issues in my bag for weeks and read an article when I had a short break in the day. I usually read most of it, especially the regular columns.

I find the cancellation as disturbing as when I found out Software Development was no longer to be printed and was absorbed by DDJ. I viewed DDJ at that time, as I do now, to be a great publication but it wasn’t Software Design. They overlapped but definitely hit different niches.

It’s similar, too, to when I was deemed no longer eligible to receive Embedded System Programming, which apparently is now Embedded Systems Design, for free. The subscription rate isn’t horrible ($55 as of today) but, for me, it was more the principle. I’m not actively working on embedded systems anymore and really would have no reason to purchase products from the advertisers so I can see the reasoning.
The cancellation is just unfortunate on a number of levels.

While I certainly enjoy the online access to articles I want to reference, having the material appear solely on the web will significantly dilute what DDJ had to offer. Sure, the articles will be of the same quality and the ability to provide even more to the reader will be attractive in some ways but the print offered something special: limited space.

The fact that the print version could only include so many articles to span so many pages meant that article quality had to significantly enter the equation. Having effectively infinite space to store and offer content means that there there is less incentive to not publish articles. I have a hard time believing that the average quality won’t diminish. The other thing about the limited space is that there are starting and ending points and a very simple way to navigate the content. Reading the magazine left you with a sense of accomplishment when you finally read that last article.

The bundling of a small number of articles is not to be taken lightly. The editorial staff would have to find balance among the content or weave together articles that offered a common thread. I think this is important. You can’t replace the collective works of Vonnegut with a compendium of a handful of chapters from each book he wrote. A book contains coherent, logically related content that makes little sense when read only in pieces. I feel the same way about CDs. While I can see the attraction of to scouring iTunes and buying a handful of singles, I think it does the artist an injustice. As with magazines and books, the artists, or so I would like to think, decide on a subset of their creations bundled together to convey a story or a set of emotions. The songs gain meaning from their neighbors.

There is another added benefit to the hardcopy. As I spend most of my day interacting with my machine, staring at LCD renderings, listening to fans and disk grinds, I find it a well-needed break to pick up another form of media. With a printed magazine, I am able to tuck it under an arm and go anywhere to read. I can move it closer or farther away. I can write on it. I can rip things out. I can share a tangible thing with another human being. I am unshackled from looking at the immense world through a tiny little window.

I also like the fact that most print journals tend to be uncluttered and certainly free of moving, talking and expanding ads. There are times when the ads get in the way but for the most part, they are benign. The real focus is the content.

Aside from the print/digital conversation, there is also the issue of DDJ appearing as a subset of InformationWeek. As DDJ and Software Design had different audiences, it’s even more the case between DDJ and InformationWeek. I also think that InformationWeek just doesn’t offer the depth in its articles that DDJ did with theirs.

Though the print version of DDJ has met its demise, there are still many other publications that remain and are worth a read. One of which is the Communications of the ACM. It recently underwent a transformation in terms of its content and presentation and it was a marked improvement. I couldn’t be happier with the results; it might be that it hearkens back to the days Software Development (for me anyway).
So it goes. I’ll always have the back issues that occupy half of a shelf in my office.

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