As one of the first people on the internet running a daily technology news site, Jim Dalrymple has been around for a long time, but don't think for a second he's any less brilliant now than he was back in 1994. Adam Haworth caught up with Jim to talk through his career from 1994 to the current day.
If you’re a technology maniac, you’ve probably heard of Jim Dalrymple before. If you haven’t, you’re probably not a technology maniac. And certainly if you’re a reader of Macworld then you should have heard of him. Back in 1994 two friends decided they wanted to break the mould whilst working for themselves.
Journeyman starts a journey
“My friend and I really didn’t want to work for anybody else. That’s what really started it and that was in 1994.
“We really stumbled into it. At the time it was more about doing something that we really liked to do as opposed to just working for a corporation, a company.” Jim noted, in his homely Canadian twang. “We decided that if we were going to start writing, or start a site really, we should do something around the Mac, because we were really into the Mac. We really liked it. We started the site and the writing just sort of came.”
As you can imagine, the world was a lot different then. The Channel Tunnel had just opened, Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna died in an accident and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president. More importantly in this case, the internet was still realising its potential.
“In 1995, we were maybe the first or second daily news site on the Mac and at that time we were getting press releases through snail mail. Up to date breaking news was a week old at that point but a lot of companies at that time really didn’t have a web presence either. It certainly evolved quickly.”
But Jim loved it. Reflecting back on the formation of Mac Central (which was later acquired by Macworld in 1999), he said: “When you look at how things start, it’s not always the purpose of ‘we’re gonna do this’.
“We didn’t start with that purpose. I had no idea that 20 years down the road we’d still be doing what I did then. I think the most important thing that came out of that, looking back, is to do something that you love to do.”
The most successful writers are the ones that write with some passion.
Jim is evidently passionate about providing people with information and advice that he’s acquired over his long career and certainly here he provided young writers with a lot to think about. “I think if you have a love for writing then that’s a great thing. The other thing you have to figure out is what you have a love of writing about,” he said.
“My son for instance is going to go in and take a journalism course but he doesn’t want to do the type of writing I do. Ultimately he wants to write novels. So I’m not going to force him to go in and say you do the type of thing that I do because if you don’t love what you write, you’re going to hate getting up every day and trying to do it.”
“The most successful writers are the ones that write with some passion and they write with some knowledge and history of what they’re doing and if you love something even though you may not have been writing about it for a long time, if you love it you’ve probably studied the history of that topic. If it’s Apple or if it’s archaeology or whatever, you’ve studied something to do with that so you know a bit of the history. ”
Living in history
For some context to Jim’s relevance and significance, he was at the iPod launch, the iPhone launch and the iPad launch: three of the most game-changing devices in the technology world in recent years.
“I’m very lucky to have lived most of that history, with Steve Jobs coming back and launching the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad. I was at those events,” Jim said. “You can still have a voice and speak to some history by studying that. It’s not work when you love it. It really isn’t. I enjoy getting up every day and doing what I do.”
If you don’t see those traits in a writer, he says, said writer is “probably in the wrong business.” He makes no mistake about getting to the point.
Having founded Mac Central with his friend, Dalrymple stayed with Macworld through their troubled times in the early 2000s. He survived through every round of redundancies until the last one, when he decided to up sticks and try something different in 2009.
“I wanted to spice it up a bit,” he says defiantly. “It was about three weeks until my ten year anniversary there and as soon as I left, I knew that I wanted to just do this again but I didn’t want to do the same thing that I had done at Mac Central or that I had done at Macworld.
“I wanted to do something different, and that’s when The Loop came up.”
Things in life tend to be difficult and the early days of The Loop were no different.
“When I first launched The Loop, it didn’t look anything like it does now. It was actually a pretty poor design, it was awful. That’s the only real way to put it,” Jim admits. “When you come to your own site every day and hate it, you know that there have to be some changes done.”
“It took a while to do it, but I finally decided to cut out all of the advertising — which is a difficult thing to do. I have a family, I have university and all that kind of stuff that I need to pay for so it was a difficult thing to call your advertisers that had been with you for a couple of years and say I’m going to stop advertising.”
Jim looks to his fellow writer and some-time light hearted rival, John Gruber, for the inspiration of the design of The Loop. But he says it was his voice — authoritative in its nature (although friendly and encompassing in real life) — that allowed The Loop to thrive.
I didn’t want any tricks to make them stay. I wanted them to stay because they liked what they read.
“I just wanted to get my voice out there and my words out there. I knew that I had the voice. I had a name in the community which is part of the success I think,” Jim affirms. “I wanted to be able to express that in a site that was clean and easy for the readers to come and read and leave. Or stay. I didn’t want any tricks to make them stay. I wanted them to stay because they liked what they read.
“I think that writers have a responsibility to their readers and that is the only responsibility they have. My responsibility is not to my sponsors. It’s not to an advertiser; it’s not to anybody but the people that are reading the site. That frees you up in a lot of ways.”
Dalrymple has utilised the use of the link-blog format, which is starting to become popular amongst other writers looking to imitate the success of The Loop and Daring Fireball. He once again iterates that writing is about voice.
“What I find really comes to the top are the people that have that voice. Like Gruber’s voice. When he says something, people will listen to him and when he makes a joke about a link, people will listen to that and laugh along with him. It’s not because he has a link blog, it’s because he’s John Gruber.”
“For a blogger starting off, it’s probably a really easy format to adopt because there’s not a lot you really have to do with it,” he continues. “You have a lot of people who try to have a link-blog and be like Gruber and that doesn’t work without the voice.
“If you have a voice, you can do any type of blog you want. John Gruber could do anything and people would still listen to him. That’s the part that I think people are missing. Without that voice, it doesn’t matter what type of blog you have.”
Your mind-set should be to write the best material that you can and let the page views come where they may.
Two types of guessing
But it isn’t only link-blogs that Dalrymple sees a possible issue with. The infectious laughter that preceded his answer about the state of technology news and blogging perhaps goes some way in capturing Jim’s thoughts on the matter.
“Websites make stuff up or re-purpose a false news report because it will get them page views. That’s not really where your mind should be. Your mind should be to write the best material that you can and let the page views come where they may. I don’t get paid based on page views, so I could care less about page views.
“As an ego-point, it is very nice to see when you get over a million page views a month but I can’t take those million page views and say ‘now I’m going to charge you more’ — that’s not how my site works,” he said.
“In August we had the largest page view month, ever at The Loop. That to me, and for Peter, is a great thing. It’s a great thing to be able to say, ‘OK — people enjoy the content that we’re writing, they enjoy the voice we have and they are willing to come back’. That feels good.”
But rumours aren’t all bad. “There are good rumours and bad rumours, I think. The people that write a rumour based on an opinion and speculation — like Gruber did a couple of weeks ago with having two [Apple] events — that was Gruber reasoning it out: ‘OK, I don’t think they’re going to do this because it doesn’t make sense to share the stage with the iPhone because the iPhone is the big product.’ That’s fine,” he insists.
“That’s based on years of experience. It’s based on some smart thought and it’s not just saying ‘Sources close to the matter say that…’ — he reasoned it out.”
“That is good writing. That’s the kind of stuff that I feel people really want. The difference between that and saying ‘Apple’s going to release a new iPhone and it’s going to have a laser attached to it so that you can kill pedestrians on the street’ and then Apple releases the iPhone and in fact it does not have a laser that you can kill people walking down the street with, then people say, ‘Well that was a disappointment’,” Jim states.
“If you can reason it out based on history and your own thoughts, people will read that and they’re not going to come back to you and say, ‘Oh well look, you were wrong’, because it’s your own thoughts and your own opinion. That’s really different from spreading a false rumour.”
Jim’s writing is to the point and specific. His writing is accurate too. He credits his sources for that, but remains adamant that he can write what he wants. He said of private product launches:
“It’s good to be involved. You hear people saying that ‘Oh well Apple pays you to go’. No they don’t. I’m an independent writer and I have to pay for my own way. I can say no, I guess, but I don’t know why you would do that. I’ve heard people say ‘well if you say something bad about Apple then you won’t get that.’
“No. I’ve written bad stuff about Apple. Even just recently with the retail stuff. I speak my mind and it’s important for writers to do that. The difference between what I do and what some other writers may do is that I’m unfair, either way. I don’t try and slam a company if they don’t deserve to be slammed and I’m not nice to a company that doesn’t deserve that I’m nice to them.”
“I have a lot of fun too, and there’s no reason that you can’t write and be serious about your job and still have fun. And with the Samsung trial, I had so much fun. I was ignorant at times to Samsung, but that’s honestly how I felt. There’s nobody that can come to the site and say, ‘how could you possibly write this?’ That’s what I believe. If what I believe is wrong, then that’s a totally different subject.
“But I’m willing to listen. I read the stories that are not along the same thoughts that mine are and if there are points in there that maybe I missed or points that make an argument against what I said, I’m open about to that. But failing that, I will argue my point to the death because if I put it on the site, I believe it. You have to believe what you write.”
Steve Jobs was an incredible inventor and an incredible man.
Jobs v Cook? No.
Jim is an encyclopaedia of all things Apple. Naturally, he’s got some thoughts on Apple’s current situation and particularly the leadership.
“Steve Jobs was an incredible inventor and an incredible man and you couldn’t really compare Steve to anybody and have a fair comparison.
“When you look at Tim [Cook], he’s an incredible businessman. Tim is there, he doesn’t have the same charisma that Steve did, but Tim probably doesn’t fire people walking down the hall either,” he explains.
“Tim doesn’t have to try and run the company the same way that Steve did. Steve had different priorities than Tim does and Tim has an executive team and engineers and designers that he pays to come up with the next great products and ultimately he’s responsible for that, but I guess we’ll see what happens in the next four or five years. But I can’t see that Tim wouldn’t be able to carry on what Steve did.
“But if you look at Apple now, the iPhone business is as big as Microsoft, at this point. The last quarter, according to the analysts, was a disaster. The analysts said, ‘But they made 8.8 billion dollars in profit. They have over 100 billion in the bank. That’s just cash that they can do what they want with.’
“I hardly think that last quarter was a disaster for them. That all came about because analysts kept upping the amount of iPhones that they thought Apple should sell and when Apple finally didn’t reach that mark, then the analysts said, “Oh well they didn’t reach it”. You can only go far so, you can only up it so far.
“I look forward to the next product, whatever it is that they release. It’s for Apple to take a market that’s struggling and say, ‘We believe that we have a better idea’ and they will fulfil that idea. And assuming that it goes off like their last three major products have, that will propel them even further.”
Beard in control
Dalrymple is a man known for his beard, but you may be surprised to find out that Jim is fairly laid back with the grooming of his beloved facial hair.
“I don’t use anything. Nothing. It just grows. It sheds, it grows, things live in there, I don’t know,” he laughs. “It’s the source of most things you know.” His infectious laughter erupts. He then evaluates: “It’s one of those things that has become like a trademark for me and I didn’t intend it that way — it just sort of happened.
“I just grew it one day. It was probably five or six years ago, maybe a bit more, maybe seven years ago but I grew it and then instead of just growing a normal beard, I just decided to grow it out long and it was kind of funny how it just happened. And then all of a sudden, my beard got a Twitter account and it’s not me that does it. It’s somebody that does this thing but it’s not me — people think it’s me — it’s not. It gets pretty rude sometimes,” he laughs again.
“I go to these places; people will talk to my beard, like I’m not even there. I’m just there as a carrier or something. But it’s one of the things that I’ve embraced and said ‘OK let’s just do this’ so it’s been fun. People expect that it’s this rude, heavy drinking thing. You’ve got to embrace stuff like that. If you have stuff like that, that people can identify with, then you just got to go for it.”
A one word response can mean so much for a lot of people.
Yes, yeah, yup. Yep.
He may have an awesome beard, but his writing is even more so. People marvel at the use of one word. That one word is an informal “yep”.
“It’s a great thing for me to be able to have that. When you read a story on CNN and they mention that I’ve said ‘yep’, and with MSNBC and all these business sites that require you have a 1,000 word story. I have one word and they’re quoting it, it is crazy.
“It was an accident that it started. A couple of years ago, there was a rumour that was out and people were wondering if it was true and I didn’t know what to say. I was posting a link to the story and you can’t say too much, so I thought, ‘What do I do with this thing?’ so I just said ‘yep’ and posted it and since then, that’s been my thing,” he continues.
“Sometimes I am amazed; surprised but happy that a one word response can mean so much for a lot of people.”
If there’s one thing that strikes you about Jim Dalrymple, it’s not the quality of his humour, his writing or even his beard. It’s his passion for what he does and those wishing to pursue the same career. He is not afraid to judge things — be it people or products — and he is not afraid to write about them. Yet he is selective with what he writes, but that works. He doesn’t have to write about anything and everything because people don’t want to read everything and anything.
He has an ultimate understanding of what people want from him and his site and that, in the end, is the makeup of his success. Jim Dalrymple is one of the most adaptable, personable, but authoritative people you will read on the internet.