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YMMV: A New Beginning

by Brett Glass  1/26/1998

The call came on January 5, 1998, and I, still rubbing my eyes early on a Monday morning after a frantic rush of holiday celebrations, was utterly unprepared for the shock. The news: As of the first week of February, InfoWorld would terminate Help Desk, the long-running Q&A column which had garnered top reader scores from its inception in 1989.   

End of an Era 

The reasons for the disappearance of Help Desk, as explained by InfoWorld's editors, are as follows. First, InfoWorld wanted to replace the column with one that would raise the profile of its own in-house staff, positioning them as experts on technology matters. Also, the editors wanted a column which would focus more on large-scale networking and "enterprise" themes. (While I did cover these areas to some extent, most reader mail -- and hence most of my columns -- focused on maintenance of end user workstations, bugs in Windows 95 and NT, e-mail, mobile and remote computing, selection of peripherals and software, technical aspects of items in the news, and small business/departmental computing issues.) The column that replaces Help Desk will be written by InfoWorld's Test Center.   

Many long-time readers have written to ask if Help Desk was discontinued because it documented many bugs in Microsoft's Windows 95 and NT operating systems. Others wanted to know if the termination of the column was the result of my postings to the InfoWorld Electric online forums refuting Microsoft's arguments in its contempt case with the US Department of Justice. (Some of these, to my surprise, were copied and circulated quite widely; they were cited in articles in USA Today and on PC World Online, and were reposted to the widely-read mailing list maintained by Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology.) In short, I've been peppered with letters asking if Help Desk vanished, at least in part, because I ticked off someone at Microsoft. My answer: If this was a factor, I don't know about it. It would certainly be tragic if this were the case. I like to think much better of InfoWorld and its staff than this, and would certainly hope and expect that InfoWorld would stand behind its columnists if Microsoft attempted to have them ousted. 

In any case, as they say in German, "Macht nichts" (it doesn't matter). I decided that my best course of action would be to move on as soon as possible, and that very day began looking for a new home in print.   

Pounding the Virtual Pavement 

Alas, after a month of putting out "feelers," I hadn't found the right home yet. Many of my colleagues in the trade press responded to my queries by saying, "Brett, you're great; we'd love to take you on, but we just don't have the budget or space for more columns right now." In the computer trade press, money and space are both notoriously tight during the lean months of winter, when new budgets have just kicked in and advertising sales are at their annual low. I'm sure that many opportunities will come, but with ideas burning holes in the back of my skull, I wanted to do at least something new right away. What's more, recognition in the computer world is so fleeting that one cannot afford to be out of sight for even a moment. A month out of circulation, and a columnist may be well near forgotten! Hence, the renaissance of YMMV, a Webzine project I started in 1996 but put on the back burner due to lack of time.   

Why YMMV? 

YMMV, which stands for "Your Mileage May Vary," is an acronym used on the Internet to qualify advice, opinions, and accounts of personal experiences. It recognizes the fact that every situation is different; that sauce for the goose is often, but not always, sauce for the gander. YMMV's credo, "Tapping the Zeitgeist of Cyberspace," reflects the role I hope it (and I, as a writer and analyst) will play: fitting seemingly disconnected and chaotic events together into trends and sensible advice for the future. I'll use this virtual niche in Cyberspace to continue to write about technology -- in the form of essays, articles, links, and questions and answers. I don't expect to make money on YMMV. In fact, I'll be quite happy if it manages to sell enough advertising to pay for itself and buy me a good lunch once a week. The main goal will be to have fun and stay connected -- while keeping my community of readers connected as well.   

What's in Store 

Here's the initial lineup of the 'zine.  

YMMV's Daily Links will help readers to keep current on worthwhile news related to Cyberspace. If you only have 15 minutes to get current on what's going on in the world, these are the pages to read. Feedback (pro and con) and suggestions for links will always be most welcome. If you send a suggestion, be sure to include your name. If you're the first to point out a good article, I'll give you credit!   

One difference between YMMV's Daily Links and other such pages is that it will be updated after lunchtime -- at about 2 PM Mountain time. I'll be doing it this way for two reasons. First of all, it'll be able to include key news of the day. Most sites featuring daily links are compiled in the morning and therefore contain stale stories from yesterday! Second, as administrator of a local community network, I've observed that the time during and after lunch is one of the busiest periods of the day; it seems to be when the most successful and busy people do their browsing. So, I'll share the fruits of my morning's explorations with readers who might have very little time to find the best news on the Web.   

AFAIK (from the Internet acronym for "As Far as I Know") will be a selection of short opinion pieces, penned initially by myself and hopefully, in time, by other authors. The focus in this section will be on controversies which have no easy answers but which may have profound effects on the denizens of Cyberspace.   

Good Reads will have two parts. First will be a series of links to opinion pieces elsewhere on the Web that are well worth reading. When a columnist in another electronic venue does himself or herself especially proud, we'll recognize his or her work by pointing to it. (Again, suggestions for links in this section are welcome.) I also hope to publish excerpts from exciting technology-oriented books that have just hit the stands, so that readers can find them among the hundreds of new titles appearing weekly.   

If there's sufficient demand, I'll also do a Q&A column. Since InfoWorld's new column will focus primarily on network and enterprise issues, I'm inclined to focus this one on other areas: debugging and upgrading individual PCs and workstations, SOHO (small office/home office) computing, spam elimination, etc. Let me know what you think, and send questions!  

A Showcase for Modern Web Design 

A final, more general purpose of YMMV will be to showcase my Web design talents. (One of the things I do professionally is serve as a roving Webmaster and Web designer, and more work is ALWAYS welcome.... So this will be a place to strut my stuff.) YMMV will not be the most "gee whiz" site on the Web by any means. Rather, it'll be designed to feel comfortable, on a gut level, to visit and revisit. It'll be easy on the eyes and easy to scan, and users with high-resolution displays will be able to read it from a window that doesn't monopolize the entire screen. It will also be among the fastest-loading sites on the Web. 

Unlike many sites, YMMV will be 100% friendly to the blind and visually impaired; it will also be very easily viewable via any of the new crop of set-top boxes. Finally, YMMV will be 100% browser-agnostic. While we'll add hints for browsers with special requirements, these will be limited to tags and options that other browsers can safely ignore. YMMV will always be viewable on any browser that understands HTML tables.   

Votes of confidence, encouragement, and constructive criticism -- as well as correspondence from my long-time readers -- are always most welcome! (Please use the "Feedback" link below.) Advertising, or leads to possible advertisers, would also be much appreciated. (I'm a technologist; I've never sold ads. But I do need a few to make this project break even.)  Thank you! 

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