I was hoping that the ugly rumors were false. But TUAW—The Unofficial Apple Weblog, which has long been one of the most dependable sources of Apple news—has confirmed that its owner, AOL, will discontinue it on February 3.
(It's also official that AOL is killing Joystiq, a videogame site which, like TUAW, was founded in 2004. TechCrunch reports that AOL will be laying off about 150 people in total, mainly in sales, and merging TUAW's and Joystiq's content into its flagship tech website Engadget. The only reason I'm not waxing nostalgic about Joystiq here is that its subject matter meant less to me than TUAW's did.)
I'll miss TUAW in part for the simple reason that it's on my short list of favorite Apple sites. But it's also about something bigger. Losing it feels like losing one of the last vestiges of the original era of gadget blogs, which began with the founding of Gizmodo in 2002 and TUAW's sister publication Engadget in 2004, both edited at first by Peter Rojas. They were striking departures from the tech sites of the time, and hugely influential.
Engadget and TUAW were part of Weblogs, Inc., a company formed to launch gazillions of special-interest blogs. Among the dozens it spawned were sites about cars, Photoshop, Google, Yahoo, open-source software, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, downloads, TV, babies, and mortgages.
Selling advertising on highly focused blogs without enormous audiences didn't turn out to be all that easy. Most of Weblogs' weblogs didn't last all that long, especially after AOL acquired the company in 2005. Engadget thrived by getting more and more ambitious, adding full-blown product reviews, subsections and spinoffs, and multimedia efforts until the term "gadget blog" was a hopelessly insufficient definition of its aspirations. Gizmodo, while not resembling Engadget all that much, also got outgrew the original gadget-blog template.
TUAW, meanwhile, just kept on being TUAW—a concise, smart, useful guide to the Apple news of the day, with contributions from a bunch of knowledgable folks. (Its editors at the end included Victor Agreda, Jr., Michael Rose, and others.) If the site got more far-flung over the years, it was mostly because Apple kept entering new product categories, not because the original concept had grown stale.
TUAW went through occasional redesigns and got a little fancier over the years, but overall, I'm startled by how consistent it stayed in tone, presentation, and mission. Here's the site as it looked in 2004:
And here's what it looks like right now, with the sad news as its top story:
As a subject for a media property, Apple has long been an iffy proposition. There are plenty of folks who want to read about the company. But there aren't enormous numbers of deep-pocketed advertisers who want to spend big bucks to reach those people. It's not shocking that a big public company like AOL lost interest in TUAW, and it's probably not entirely coincidental that it met its demise only a few months after IDG killed Macworld's print edition and downsized its web operations.
The Apple beat isn't going to suffer from lack of coverage. iMore, for instance, is excellent—just several generations removed from the early days of tech blogging in its approach. Even if TUAW's writers land elsewhere, as I assume and hope they will, not having the site as part of my daily regimen is going to be disorienting.