My Semi-Infamous 2013 TIME Cover Story: ‘Can Google Solve Death?’

The inside story of a cover people loved to mock, the original version you didn't see, and my surprisingly rewarding conversation with an elusive CEO.

Facebook’s “memories” feature recently reminded me of the tenth anniversary of a small personal milestone I hadn’t thought much about in recent years. The September 30, 2013 issue of TIME cover-featured an article about Google’s launch of a subsidiary called Calico, dedicated to researching the human aging process and finding ways to slow its detrimental aspects. The story was an exclusive I’d reeled in and cowritten, and its publication resulted in my byline appearing on TIME‘s cover for the first and last time. (A couple of years before, my Steve Jobs obituary was certainly a critical element of the special issue marking his death, but Jobs’ name was, fittingly, the only one on the cover.)

We had to turn the Google story around quickly, so TIME decided to have me collaborate with Lev Grossman, a fine writer who had also done a polish on my Jobs obit when it had to be rushed into print. I did all the interviews at Google’s Mountain View campus and wrote the majority of the manuscript, but the first, most Calico-centric chunk is Lev’s. I was delighted with how he tackled it, and the results are seamless enough that I’m not positive where his work ends and mine begins.

The thing that made the Calico news TIME cover story fodder was that I’d secured an interview with Google’s cofounder and then-CEO Larry Page. He did not relish being the company’s public face and engaged with the media less and less over time: If I recall correctly, I am the second-to-last print journalist he’s granted face time for an article. Our article was really a look at Page’s “moonshot” strategy for new Google initiatives—we wanted to shoot a photo of him and Art Levinson, Calico’s CEO, for the cover. But my Google contacts couldn’t have been clearer that there was no way Page would consent to posing for us.

Now, if you have any background at all in the magazine business, you know that authors rarely get to write their own headlines. Cover lines are an even loftier pursuit: Normally, the writer might not even see them pre-publication, let alone have any say. So I’m shocked to recall that one of my editors did send me a PDF of the draft cover and asked what I thought about it. Here, you can take a look for yourself:

I really didn’t like any aspect of the cover (except for my name being on it). For one thing, we had used an out-of-date version of the Google logo, with a gaudy drop shadow they’d recently eliminated. But the big problem was that it oversold Google’s aspirations and our coverage of them inside the issue.

“I don’t like it—at least not the part about curing aging,” I wrote back. “They’ve never claimed they’re trying to do that. But this [is] truly above my pay grade.” Lev also pushed back politely. I don’t remember why I didn’t explicitly object to the part about solving death—maybe because a battle over a secondary line seemed more winnable than one that would have required a wholesale redesign of the cover.

Anyhow, when the issue shipped to the printer, the lines had been amended to tone down the hype. I was relieved, and surprised that my opinion carried any sway at all.

When our story came out, it made a decent-sized splash. It also got mocked some on Twitter and showed up on The Daily Show. We were probably asking for it with that cover. Or at least I think we might have left ourselves less susceptible to being snarked at if the cover had used the same headline the story carried inside: “The Audacity of Google.” Or maybe even the online headline, “Google vs. Death.”

Then again, a book that was severely critical of Tim Cook’s stewardship of Apple featured our Google story in its conclusion—the point being that it was Google, not Apple, that was taking on the world’s most serious problems.

Today, “Can Google Solve Death?” probably wouldn’t make anyone’s list of the 100 most notable TIME covers. I hope it also wouldn’t appear too high on any list of the silliest ones. But it is sort of floating out there as a low-temperature meme and continues to pop up here and there in the public consciousness, for better or worse.

I will always take pleasure in the memories I accumulated working on this story. Some of them I will save for another time. But I got to play emissary between Google and TIME bigwigs, which is more challenging than it sounds, since Silicon Valley and New York media are like two different solar systems. I got to talk to fascinating people like Astro Teller. I got chewed out by a passing random Googler after I got on one of the company’s bikes (at my PR handler’s request), which almost felt like an honor. And I had to remove my shoes to conduct an interview with a Google employee over sushi at an on-campus Japanese restaurant with an amazingly over-the-top Astro Boy theme.

Most of all, I’ll remember interviewing Larry Page after spending some weeks being told that he hated being interviewed and might suddenly stop responding or even suddenly walk out mid-conversation. He not only stayed in his seat but was interesting and engaging, and if he despised the whole experience, he did a good job of hiding it. He didn’t even blink when I asked him about the then-recent Edward Snowden revelations—a topic of conversation that Google PR had made a point of saying they hoped I wouldn’t bring up.

As for the story itself, I don’t feel an urge to disown any aspect of it. Calico is still extant, still run by Art Levinson, and doing serious research. Our reporting foreshadowed the restructuring of Google into Alphabet that happened a couple of years later: I even used a quote that hadn’t ended up in the TIME piece in a 2016 Fast Company cover story on Page and Alphabet. And another Alphabet arm, Google DeepMind, has made some research breakthroughs with potentially transformative implications for human health.

“In some industries, it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real,” Page told me. “Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.” It seems entirely possible that Alphabet/Google will still be plugging away at this really, really important thing 10 years from now. At the very least, it’s still too early to declare it to have been an embarrassing bust that never led anywhere.

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A 1983 look at the computer magazine wars

First, an apology: I’m sorry I haven’t acknowledged the 40th anniversary of PC World. I feel slightly less guilty since—as far as I know—even PC World itself has not celebrated the 40th anniversary of PC World. Earlier this year, another magazine I used to work for, TIME, did remember to mark its 100th birthday; given that personal computers as we know them have been around for less than 50 years, PC World‘s long history and continued existence strikes me as worth celebrating,

Back when I worked there, we weren’t sure precisely when our first issue was published—oddly enough, it carried no month. We decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in our March 2003 issue, which came out in February. That turned out to be a good call: Years later, when my friend Karen Wickre gave me a copy of the press release announcing the first issue, it was dated February 1983 and said the issue would be out that month.

The original PC World staff. Read to the bottom of this article and I promise to share a guide to who’s who, including David Bunnell and his cofounder Cheryl Woodard.

Lately, however, I have been partial to declaring that PC World was born on November 29, 1982, the day it was announced at COMDEX. For one thing,  it’s nice to narrow it down to a specific day. For another, it has the best origin story in computer magazine history: The publication’s staff consisted of nearly the entire staff of PC Magazine, who’d walked out after it was sold to Ziff-Davis. There’s no truly detailed account of how that all went down on the internet, or the years of lawsuits that followed—a sad situation I hope to rectify one of these days.

In the meantime, here’s an August 1983 article on the magazine and its rivalry with its slightly older eternal bête noire, PC Magazine. It comes from the collection of my late friend David Bunnell, who cofounded both magazines. This story was originally published in something called Bay Area Computer Classifieds, which is otherwise unknown to me. The layout looks just like an early issue of PC World, so I assume that David got permission to reprint and distribute the article, then reformatted it.

The bulk of the piece is an interview with David about the state of the computer-magazine market. It touches on the PC World origin story and says that “for the time being” there is room for both it and PC Mag. (Forty years later, on the web, there still is.)

David maintains that PC World has the larger circulation and higher revenue, and says that it plans to stay at a convenient 400 pages—since, hey, a 700 or 800-page computer magazine would be awfully inconvenient. It wasn’t just a theoretical problem: PC Mag‘s September 1983 issue, which came out around when this article was published, was so thick with ads that it did hit an unwieldy 663 pages. But Ziff apparently agreed with David, and soon switched to twice-monthly publication. For a time, that resulted in two PC Mag issues a month of approximately 400 pages each. (I haven’t heard lately of any print magazines having much difficulty accommodating all the ads they’re able to sell.)

I got to PC World well after David left, but his contention in this interview that the original staff was publishing the magazine to benefit society resonates with me. At least some of that idealism remained when I worked there. It still helps explain why I get out of bed and go to work today.

Page one of 1983 article on PC World

Page two of 1983 article on PC World

Page three of 1983 article on PC World

Page four of 1983 article on PC World

Here’s the guide to the staff photo near the top of this post. I’m happy to know (or at least have had some contact with) several of these people, and grateful to all of them for creating something that turned out to matter so much to to my life and career—even though my earliest memory of PC World is not caring in the least about its existence when my father told me about it in late 1982 or early 1983.

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Here’s my unpublished TIME story about Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Surface from 2012

A photo I took of chalk art outside the Hollywood venue where Microsoft announced the Surface tablet on June 18, 2012.

2023 author’s note: Over at Fast Company, you can read my new cover story on Satya Nadella and Microsoft—and more specifically, the company’s decades-long investment in AI, which is finally starting to pay off in a big way. As I worked on it over the past few months, it dislodged a minor factoid from the back of my brain: Eleven years ago, I wrote a magazine article about Microsoft that was never published.

One of my favorite things about working for TIME magazine, as I did back then, was the editorial acrobatics involved in putting out a newsweekly. When the timing worked in our favor, I could be finishing a story on Wednesday afternoon and hold the printed issue that contained it two days later. But when news broke late in our weekly cycle, it often bumped a story right out of the magazine—sometimes just for a week, and sometimes forever.

TIME’s April 4, 2011 issue, with a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor but no Facebook article by me.

Which is why, when I think about Elizabeth Taylor passing away in 2011, what I remember is that it happened on a Wednesday, just in time to make it into that week’s issue. As we made room for a tribute, a short article I’d written about the alleged new trend of people spurning Facebook got cut. The noxious magazine-industry tradition of the kill fee came into play—I was a freelancer at the time—and TIME reduced my fee by half,  even though the quality of my work had nothing to do with it being axed.

The following year, after I went on staff, one of the big stories in tech was the rest of the industry’s reaction to Apple’s success with the iPad. For a time, it seemed possible that PCs as we knew them might largely give way to tablets. Microsoft responded with Windows 8, a radically reimagined version of its operating system designed with touch in mind. Concerned that the hardware makers who licensed Windows might not handle this epoch-shifting transition adroitly enough, it also developed its own line of tablets, known as Surface.

It was a big, big deal: The company whose software ran on nearly every non-Apple PC was finally making computers itself, taking full responsibility for what Steve Jobs called “the whole widget.”

I can’t remember if I pitched the idea or it originated back in NYC within the Time & Life Building, but in October, as Windows 8 and the first Surface were about to ship,  I wrote a 2,000-word story about them. For some reason I either didn’t know about or don’t recall, my piece didn’t make it into the designated issue. When I asked if it still stood a chance of reaching print, my editor replied with a noncommital “we’ll see,” then never mentioned the subject again. By the time it was clear it didn’t, the news felt a tad stale, and so we didn’t run it online, either.

So here it is, for the first time ever. As with the 2013 Evernote story I recently posted, this is my unedited draft. Since I hadn’t read it myself since filing it, I’d forgotten some details, such as the fact I interviewed Tandy Trower, the Microsoft product manager who’d shipped Windows 1.0 back in 1985. I don’t think anyone else likely to write about Windows for TIME would have thought to do that. This might also be the first time I spoke with Panos Panay, who is now Microsoft’s chief product officer and one of the people I interviewed for my new Fast Company story. And while many PC makers didn’t want to talk about Surface, I did get a decent quote from Toshiba, which later abandoned the PC market altogether.

My piece not making it into TIME wasn’t a tragedy, but if nothing else, it’s a snapshot of a particular moment. As you probably remember if you’ve read this far, the iPad didn’t kill conventional PCs after all. Once Windows users made clear that they weren’t all that eager to enter a brave new world, Microsoft unwound some of Windows 8’s most extreme departures from earlier versions. Surface did seem to scare third-party hardware manufacturers into making more polished, ambitious Windows computers, which was part of the idea all along. And eleven years later, Microsoft still finds being in the hardware business to be worth its time: It’s expected to announce new Surface models next month.

Anyhow, here you go—and if you read to the end, I promise to share some bonus material.

[HED] Microsoft Reboots Windows

[DEK] The software giant’s plan to transform its 27-year-old cash cow for the iPad age is bold — and risky.

By Harry McCracken

In December of 1974, a college dropout and proto-computer geek named Paul Allen picked up the new issue of Popular Electronics at Harvard Square’s Out of Town News. It cover-featured the MITS Altair 8800, a $397 build-it-yourself microcomputer. Allen and his equally nerdish buddy, Harvard sophomore Bill Gates, were instantly transfixed by the machine, and wondered: Could they make money writing software for it?

They could. They did. And the company they founded, initially known as “Micro-Soft,” has made money selling software to computer manufacturers ever since. Today, research firm Gartner says that well over 90 percent of the nearly 1.7 billion PCs in use worldwide run Windows, each having contributed to Microsoft’s epically prosperous bottom line.

It’s one of the most potent business models in the history of business. But starting on October 26, Microsoft is giving it a good, hard shake. That’s the day that the company is releasing Windows 8, a touch-friendly, radically-streamlined update that’s  the most fundamental reimagining of Windows since…well, ever.

Just as striking, it’s doing something it abstained from for its first thirty-seven years: designing and selling its own computers. Its new Surface is a line of Windows tablets which compete not only with the iPad and Android tablets but also with Windows computers from Microsoft’s own hardware-making customers. 

Why so much change all at once? Microsoft and the entire PC industry would like to give consumers sexy new systems to buy this holiday season, of course, but that’s just for openers. “We see Windows 8 as the beginning,” says Jensen Harris, the company’s director of product management for the Windows User Experience. “The launchpad for an entire decade or more of innovation.”

This age won’t look much like the one which Microsoft and Windows ruled for so long. For one thing, the market for traditional PCs is maxing out. Sales have been sluggish-to-declining in 2012, and nobody predicts torrid growth in 2013 and beyond.

Another gadget category is booming the way PCs once did: tablets. But Microsoft — which first started trying to spur adoption of Windows tablets two decades ago — is an also-ran. Instead, Apple owns the market, even though it puts its own software on its own iPad hardware rather than licensing it to the rest of the industry. By following this approach with the iPad, iPhone and Mac, Apple doesn’t just make the industry’s slickest, best-integrated devices. It also makes more profit than Microsoft, an outcome which would have been unimaginable even years after Steve Jobs turned around the company he co-founded.

Throw in the competition provided by other contenders such as Google with its Android software, and for Microsoft, “the stakes have never been higher,” says Gartner Research Director Michael Gartenberg. “This is the first time ever that the Windows franchise has been challenged. The PC is just one more device among many.” 

It’s easy to see Windows 8 as a product that’s been rejiggered for the post-PC era which Jobs declared was upon us when he unveiled the first iPad in 2010. But Harris says that Microsoft was already at work on a major makeover. “During the summer of 2009, we looked at the history of Windows and realized that the last time we had made a major change to the user interface was in 1993, with Windows 95,” he explains. “We thought of all the ways the world was so different then. It was a pre-Internet time, a time before MP3s, a time when PCs were beige boxes that sat under a desk.”

The first time you fire up a Windows 8 computer, you land in something which doesn’t resemble today’s Windows 7, let alone Windows 95. If you’re tempted to get your bearings by hunting down Windows’ most iconic feature, the Start button, don’t bother. Microsoft eliminated it, a decision which underlines the fact that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Instead, you get the Start screen — a colorful, panoramic wall of oversized tiles, some of them auto-shuffling through notifications or photos and all of them leading to applications and services. The only existing software it closely resembles is Microsoft’s own Windows Phone. (That smartphone operating system — which, despite being impressive, has scarcely dented the market dominated by the iPhone and Android — is getting a major overhaul, too, based on the same software core as Windows 8.)

New Windows 8 apps look nothing like their predecessors. They’re dramatically streamlined and run mostly in full-screen mode, without the drop-down menus, toolbars and other elements which have heretofore been standard equipment. They store stuff on Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-storage service, so it’s available on other Windows PCs as well as a bevy of additional gadgets and gizmos. And you can only get them from Microsoft’s own Windows Store app bazaar.

It’s possible to navigate Windows 8 with a garden-variety mouse, but it begs to be touched. So lots of Windows 8 PCs will have touchscreens, from otherwise conventional desktops and laptops to iPad-like tablets. There will also be machines which split the difference in new ways, such as Lenovo’s Yoga, a notebook with a 360-degree hinge which lets you fold the screen back into a tablet-like orientation. 

Now, Microsoft hasn’t banished Windows in its more recognizable form altogether. A feature called Desktop is essentially Windows 7 embedded into Windows 8, and will run all of the gazillions of old-school Windows applications, and new ones yet to come, just fine. It’s just that it’s a nod to Windows as knew it, not the main attraction.

It’s not a given, though, that typical PC users are unhappy with Windows as they know it. Once they’ve learned how to do something on a computer, many of them want to keep on doing it the same way. According to analytics firm Net Applications, close to half of them cling to eleven-year-old Windows XP, an antediluvian operating system whose sole virtue is that it’s comfortably familiar. If they reject the incremental improvements of Windows 7, what are the chances that they’ll willingly enter Windows 8’s brave new world?

Microsoft, as you’d expect, thinks that the benefits of the new software’s up-to-the-minute design will be obvious enough to make the experience inviting rather than off-putting. “We felt very confident that people would be able to learn a few new concepts,” says Harris.

What Microsoft isn’t, apparently, is confident that PC manufacturers will show its ambitious creation off to best advantage. 

It has reason to fret. Ruthless price competition grinds all the fat of the Windows PC business. That’s why remarkably powerful computers cost as little as they do. But it also tends to commodotize them, leaving the field short on the sort of polish and innovation which are Apple’s stock in trade.

With Surface, Microsoft is taking matters into its own hands. The initial version of the tablet features a Windows 8 variant called Windows RT, designed to run not on an Intel processor of the sort used by PCs but on a chip based on the same battery-efficient technology used by the iPad. It aspires for Apple-level industrial design and seamless melding of software and hardware. And just as Apple showcases its products in own retail stores, Microsoft will sell Surface itself in the fledgling 31-store Microsoft Store chain, plus another 34 temporary outlets it’s opening for the holidays.

Also Apple-esque: The cone of silence under which Surface was conceived. The staffers responsible for it toiled in secrecy in a high-security area at the company’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters; even their spouses were kept out of the loop. The company didn’t spill the beans to anyone, including its PC-maker partners, until last June.

The stealthy development was a major departure for the company, which has been known to begin hyping new stuff years in advance. “We didn’t want the world designing our product,” says Panos Panay, general manager of Surface. “And we didn’t want a me-too product. When you want to tell your story and know what it is, why not hold the cards until you’re ready?”

Microsoft has built hardware of one sort or another for most of its history – the Microsoft Mouse debuted in 1983 – and created a serious long-term hit in the Xbox 360 game console, as well as duds such as the iPod wannabe Zune. Still, it’s never attempted anything quite like Surface. “This product was built from the ground up,” Panay says. “Every single component was designed in this building and is new.”

Starting at $499 and weighing 1.5 pounds — the same price and heft as the current 9.7-inch iPad — Surface is undeniably iPad-like, yet it’s also notable for the respects in which it departs from Apple’s template. It’s got a 10.6” screen, larger and wider than the iPad’s, encased in a posh, sturdy magnesium case. There’s a built-in kickstand on the backside which flips open and shut with a satisfying clunk. Microsoft has also built in some PC-like features which the iPad lacks, such as a USB connector and a memory-card slot for extra storage. 

At first blush, Microsoft’s Touch Cover ($119.99, or bundled with the tablet for $599) looks like the snap-on magnetic cover which Apple sells for the iPad. But it’s got a flat-but-roomy keyboard built into its interior. Fold it down, prop up the tablet with its kickstand, and you’ve got a rough approximation of a notebook computer. You can even run the full versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, all of which come bundled.

(Unlike Windows 8, however, RT doesn’t let you install other old-style Windows programs, just new ones from the Windows Store. A full-blown Windows 8 version of the tablet, Surface Pro, is due in early 2013.)

Microsoft getting into the computer hardware business represents a basic conflict of interest that nobody involved is particularly keen to discuss. Some of the PC companies I asked either refused to express an opinion about Surface or told me that they didn’t want to be be asked about it, period.

When Toshiba learned that Surface loomed in Windows’ future, “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say we weren’t initially pleased,” admits Jeff Barney, vice president and general manager for its U.S. operations. Rather than brood, the company decided to focus on more powerful Windows 8 computers rather than compete too directly with Microsoft’s tablet — and to look on it as an ally in a greater war. “Innovative devices in the Windows ecosystem help us compete with Apple,” he says. “Surface is an exciting product, and it brings buzz to Windows.”

Buzz may help Surface and Windows 8 get off to a good start, but that’s all. Both the tablet and the software will ultimately be defined by the things they let people do — most of which will be enabled by third-party programs.

And most of those programs will take a while to show up. At first, the pickings will be slim: Windows 8 is starting off with just 5,000 apps in its U.S. Windows Store, vs. 250,000 iPad apps in Apple’s store. 

Microsoft knows the importance of killer apps as well as anybody. “We understood quite well that Windows itself would be nothing if there weren’t a generation of applications that stood on top of it,” says Microsoft veteran Tandy Trower. “Apps were the key. Without them, it was just a piece of operating system software.”

Trower, who worked at the company from 1981 to 2009, doesn’t happen to be talking about Windows 8 — he’s remembering Windows 1.0, the product he was responsible for shipping back in 1985. Many things have changed about Windows in the past 27 years, but apps are still key. 

Those with long memories may recall that Windows was a middling success with a meager software selection until Windows 3.0 arrived in 1990. So don’t be in too much of a hurry to judge Windows 8: For all of Microsoft’s audacity, the prospects for its new vision for its most important product may remain fuzzy until Windows 9 or Windows 10 comes along.

Still reading? Here’s the unpublished 2011 Facebook story I mention above, which got as far as the proof stage before biting the big one. It’s not quite final—the email I just retrieved it from acknowledged that it didn’t yet incorporate a small tweak I’d requested. But at this late date I’m not going to be too fussy, and I hope that you won’t be, either.


For your eyes only, my unedited 2013 TIME Magazine story about Evernote

Evernote sign

I took this photo in 2018, back when there was still an Evernote building in Redwood City that reminded people of the brand every time they drove past it on Highway 101.

2023 author’s note: With the future of Evernote seemingly in question, I have been reflecting on the product, which I’ve used for years and written about since the day it was announced in 2004. I was also moved to share some of those stories. Here’s one I wrote for Fast Company in 2018, when the company was a tad bedraggled but not necessarily doomed to spiral downward forever.

Six years before that, I also wrote a big Evernote feature for TIME, back when I was an editor-at-large there and my responsibilities included being the magazine’s emissary to Silicon Valley. That one I wrote at the request of my editors in New York. I was always intrigued when they even knew a tech company existed and considered it to be TIME fodder, since it meant it had really hit the mainstream consciousness.

At earlier such inflection points, TIME asked me to write print features about Kickstarter and Minecraft. I was and am thoroughly pleased with how they turned out as finished products. In the case of this Evernote article, however, I did not like the edited version at all, mostly because it bore little resemblance to what I had written. When I helpfully suggested that the resulting piece might be better off without my name attached to it, we compromised on some areas where our visions diverged. That did make a difference. Still, when the story came out, I chose not to promote it via Twitter, which was as close as I could come to disowning it.

Since I try to keep all my old email, I have the first draft I submitted to my editors on October 4, 2013, and present it below. You can decide for yourself whether it’s any good. But at least it’s how I thought the story should be told, at pretty much the moment of Peak Evernote.

[hed] Brain Quest

[dek] For Evernote, note-taking isn’t just an app. It’s a hundred-year mission to make the world smarter.

By Harry McCracken

Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, is bounding on stage to give the opening keynote at the company’s annual user conference in San Francisco. On cue, the audience of around a thousand welcomes him in unison with a spirited “Hi, Phil!” But while a goodly percentage of the crowd then gives him its undivided attention, plenty of folks are multitasking. They’re hunched over phones, tablets, laptops and dead-tree notebooks. and as they listen, they’re tapping, typing and jotting away.

Libin is presumably O.K. with the competition — it’s Evernote, his own product, in just a few of its myriad forms. In a moment, he’ll tell the assembled masses that the goal of the note-taking service is to serve as their external brain. They’re just practicing what he’s about to preach.

During his presentation, he starts with the sort of revelations you’d expect, such as the arrival of a new version of Evernote for the iPhone. Even the announcement of a major deal with 3M to add a feature for digitizing Post-it Notes doesn’t come out of left field. But then the news keeps coming: Evernote backpacks. Evernote messenger bags. Evernote wallets.

“We’re a fashion brand now,” says Libin, a goateed, good-humored 41-year-old who’s dressed in his standard uniform of jeans and an Evernote T-shirt under a sport jacket. “Nobody saw that coming.” He sounds startled himself.

At first blush, Evernote putting its name on pricey luggage and leather goods might seem a branding non-sequitur, akin to Microsoft Excel formalwear or Facebook cutlery. Its bread and butter, after all, is a relatively straightforward method for storing text, images and audio recordings in online notebooks. Yet the move isn’t out of whack with the company’s own view of itself, which is only partly about software and services.

As Libin explains it to me at Evernote headquarters in Redwood City, California, “Nike broke out and become the first worldwide, mainstream brand for people who care about athleticism. “We want the same thing, to be the worldwide signature brand for people who aspire to being smart.” He calls it a “sufficiently epic quest” to keep the company busy for the next century.

For the most hardcore fans among its 75 million users, Evernote already feels like a lifestyle choice. Some of them become Evernote Ambassadors, taking a formal-but-unpaid position which is part tech support, part missionary work. “You have to tell people how much you love Evernote,” says Kristi Willis, who specializes in helping freelancers. “I was doing that before.”

The service doesn’t try to transform unruly slobs into dynamic neatniks: They can simply dump stuff into it as if it were a virtual shoebox. But it’s equally appealing to folks who are already preternaturally organized, such as Michael Hyatt, author of New York Times bestseller Platform: Get Noticed in a Busy World. Once a believer in recording handwritten notes in Moleskine notebooks, he says that Evernote has let him go entirely digital. “I just had my annual physical done — they gave me the paperwork, I brought it home, scanned it into Evernote and threw it away.”

Actually, though, Hyatt could have chosen to keep on fussing over his Moleskines. The Milan-based stationery maker produces special notebooks designed for Evernote freaks, with pages they can bring into the service by snapping photos with a smartphone. There are also Evernote-ready cameras, scanners and electronic pens. And apps for PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Androids, Windows Phones, BlackBerrys and even Samsung’s smart watch and Google’s Glass augmented-reality goggles.

Evernote, in short, is everywhere. That’s one big reason why it’s attracted so much attention, even though the world wasn’t exactly suffering from a shortage of note-taking apps before it came along. Yet if there’s such a thing as a classic tale of Silicon Valley success, this company isn’t it. With roots stretching back to 2004, it’s something of a late bloomer. And even though Libin talks about Evernote with such ambition and exuberance that you might assume that it’s his creation, he didn’t found it — it found him.

In the beginning, Evernote was known as EverNote, and it was the brainchild of Russian-American computer scientist and entrepreneur Stepan Pachikov. “I was thinking how to make myself more effective,” he remembers. “I realized one of the problems I had was that I didn’t have any good tool to remember a lot of stuff and very quickly find it.” He solved his own conundrum by developing EverNote, initially as a software package for Windows PCs.

Around 80,000 users embraced Pachikov’s program. But as a money-making enterprise, it stalled. “By the end of 2006, we had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you couldn’t make a business out of a Windows app,” says Dmitry Stavisky, an early employee who stuck around at the company until this year.

Enter Libin, who was an emigrant from Russia himself, having arrived in the U.S. at the age of eight with his family in 1979. After dropping out from Boston University’s computer-science program, he’d started two companies: One developed Internet software, the other created identity-verification technologies for governments and other large organizations. They were successful, but not all that spiritually fulfilling.

In early 2007, along with some of the people he’d hired along the way, he started hatching plans for a third, more meaningful startup. “We wanted to do something permanent,” he says. “Let’s only build a product we want to use, and build a company to keep.”

Libin and his colleagues zeroed in on the idea of creating a tool which would help busy people store important information. And then they discovered that their idea already existed in the form of EverNote. The two teams met and hit it off; Pachikov says that he knew within 30 minutes that Libin should be running the company. A new lower-case-N Evernote emerged, with Libin as CEO and Pachicov as a board member and advisor.

If Evernote was going to have to reboot itself, its timing was fortuitous. The entire technology industry was doing so on an epic scale, as smartphones started to supplant PCs as the most personal of personal-computing devices. And things which would have been PC software in the past — such as the original version of EverNote — were morphing into Web-based services, hosted in the cloud and accessible from any Net-connected gadget.

So Libin’s team started over. Henceforth, data would be stored on its own servers, not users’ computers, and Evernote would work on as many platforms as possible. When Apple opened the iPhone App Store in July 2008, Evernote was there on day one.

Still, it wasn’t immediately clear that Libin’s Evernote would fare better than Pachikov’s EverNote. The nadir came in the fall of 2008. Libin says he was within hours of telling the staff that the company was shutting down when he got an e-mail at 3 a.m. from a well-heeled Evernote enthusiast in Sweden inquiring about the possibility of investing. The $500,000 he provided kept the business afloat.

Then the new Evernote started to take off. By May 2009, it had a million users, a figure it doubled by the end of the year, and tripled a year after that. Venture-capital firms noticed, eventually plowing a total of $150 million into the company’s coffers.

Those investors liked the service, but they also liked Libin’s overarching vision for the company that produced it, which he’s grown only more obsessive about as the busness has staffed up to its current count of 330 employees. “The product is the product,” he explains. “The culture is the next hundred products.”

Like many tech workplaces, Evernote operates on the philosophy that pampered people are productive people. “We spend as much time thinking about how we change our lunch menus as how we change the settings in an app,” says Libin, sounding proud rather than sheepish about it. There’s a industrial-strength espresso machine in the reception area; he’s mandated that the company’s executives go through a four-hour training program to learn how to use it and spend an hour a week playing barista for other staffers.

Of course, in the Valley, no sought-after engineer would join an outfit that didn’t have good coffee and copious amounts of scrumptious free food. But other aspects of life at Evernote are less standard fare. It provides a $250-per-month stipend towards the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle which qualifies for travel in the carpool lane, a time-saver which roughly 20 percent of the staffers at headquarters have taken advantage of. The cost of biweekly house-cleaning service is also covered.

Evernote insists that such policies aren’t mere perks. “We’re doing these things because, like [the Evernote service], we want to eliminate burdens,” says VP of marketing and longtime Libin associate Andrew Sinkov. “What we strive for is to eliminate various stupid things in modern life, but also to instill a sense of what we’re about.”

The company may be thriving, but it still doesn’t fit the profile which typically makes venture capitalists giddy. It’s not a social network which will grow virally as friends and friends of friends create a community together. And unlike Google, Facebook and Twitter, it pledges that it will never mine what it knows about its users in order to pelt them with highly targeted advertising.

What it is is addictive. “Once a consumer adopted Evernote and stuck with it, the ones who stuck, stuck forever,” says ex-venture capitalist Ken Gullicksen, explaining why he invested in the company on behalf of Morgenthaler Ventures. (Later, he joined it as chief operating officer.) “There was essentially no churn after the first few weeks of trying it out.”

With advertising out of the picture, Evernote makes money the old-fashioned way: by getting customers to pay for stuff. Most of the service’s features are free, but some users pony up $5 a month or $45 a year for Evernote Premium, which adds options such as the ability to upload more data and share notes with other people. More than 8,000 corporate customers have rolled out Evernote Business, a version with additional collaborative features, for $10 per user per month. The company won’t disclose how much revenue that adds up to, but between Premium and Business, more than 3.1 million of its 75 million users have paid accounts.

Those numbers, while impressive, aren’t stratospheric enough to make Evernote one of the web’s true behemoths. But Roelof Botha, who led Sequoia Capital’s investment in the company in 2009 and sits on its board, says that its long-term potential reminds him of past Sequoia portfolio mega-successes such as LinkedIn, PayPal and YouTube. “The thing that really surprises you in the long run,” he contends, “is the upside of the winners.”

Much of that upside will come from international expansion. Evernote had fans all over from early on — it was a hit in Japan even before the company got around to releasing a Japanese-language version — and today, more than 70 percent of users are outside the U.S. “Our next 50 million people are not going to look like our first 50 million people,” says Chief Technical Officer Dave Engberg. “We’re signing up a lot more people from Brazil and China than we did two years ago.”

But the company is also thinking far past its next 50 million signups. In early 2011, its board and management team concluded that they prized independence over the quick windfall that selling it might bring. They agreed to work towards taking Evernote public, which Libin says won’t happen for at least another two or three years. When it does, he wants to make sure that the IPO doesn’t change everything.

“Evernote is our life’s work,” he says. “There is no exit strategy for your life’s work. Going public is not a goal. It’s not an exit. It’s a step on the road to being a 100-year startup.”

That sort of thinking runs against the grain in Silicon Valley, a place where even big ideas often have short shelf lives, and happy endings often come in the form of an abrupt buyout by Google or Yahoo. Which brings up the question: How seriously should we take Libin’s 100-year mission for Evernote?

It’s tempting to regard it as a bit of an attention-seeking prank, especially since he discusses it, like all matters, in a jovial and jokey manner. (He says he hopes to still be involved with the company “in some capacity” a century from now, and wouldn’t object if it became history’s first million-employee startup.) It’s perfectly true, however, that Evernote will only fulfill its mission if it’s around for the long haul. If you invite users to think of your service as an extension of their brains, you’re telling them that the data they salt away will be there when they need it — whether that moment comes in two weeks or twenty years.

And more than most tech products, Evernote will be subject to radical reinvention as the decades pass. A word processor will always be a word processor. An external brain, however, could be anything. Someday, it could even be a chip implanted into the human brain, a possibility which Libin has been known to discuss enthusiastically.

Nobody claims that it’s possible to predict the specifics of what the service might look like in 2038 or 2063 or 2088, beyond the obvious fact that it likely won’t run on something which much resembles a 2013 smartphone, tablet or laptop. But the company sees it evolving from what it is today — basically a well-designed, cloud-connected database — into a constant companion which performs mental gruntwork at precisely the moment its users need it.

“We all have dozens of little moments a day where we could be better prepared,” says VP of Augmented Intelligence Mark Ayzenshtat, a Google alumnus. “Evernote can stand out as a way to situationally prepare you for what you’re about to do. If I met you two years ago and got your business card, it should show it to me.”

The company is dabbling with some possible aspects of Evernote’s smarter future in the form of complementary applications. Evernote Hello, for instance, is dedicated to helping you brush up on people you’ve met. Evernote Food knows which of your notes contain recipes. And Evernote Peek is a quiz app aimed at students, one of the service’s core constituencies.

It’s also thinking about collecting new types of data, such as wellness information; power users are already logging stats from Fitbits and Jawbone Ups and other fitness trackers automatically into their notebooks. “Five years ago, virtually nobody had access to their health information,” Libin says. “Five years from now, it’ll be utterly mainstream.”

And before all that long, he believes that Evernote, and software in general, will morph into distributed services — built into glasses, watches, refrigerators and cars, with every version working seamlessly in concert with all the others. In this scenario, “the idea of apps shifts from being about a particular device to being about a person,” he says. “The whole metaphor for how we design products doesn’t work anymore.”

If the prospect intimidates him, he hides it well. “It’s super-cool to be in an industry that’s on the very edge of that sort of apocalyptic change. You roll up your sleeves and say, ‘Someone will figure this out, and it might as well be us.” If Libin’s company gets there before some upstart competitor, the Evernote of tomorrow won’t just be everywhere — it’ll be ambient. A sufficiently epic quest, indeed.

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A Master Course in Computer Magazine Ad Salesmanship Circa 1996

More than a quarter century later, PC World associate publisher Jeff Edman's 90-minute presentation on the state of the ad market in the mid-1990s is a piece of publishing history.

When I wrote my rumination on the end of computer magazines in America a couple of weeks ago, I suspected that other people would care about the sad death of a once-mighty medium. But I wouldn’t have guessed the piece would stoke as much conversation as it did, from Reddit to Slashdot to Hacker News to Daring Fireball to Boing Boing to Six Colors and beyond. I even got plagiarized.

So if you’ll indulge me, I plan to continue to write about the computer-magazine era from time to time. And I’d like to start by sharing an internal presentation about the nuts and bolts of ad sales given at PC World‘s San Francisco headquarters in a large conference room we called CR-1, apparently in the fall of 1996 or thereabouts. Through the miracle of the Internet, it has been sitting on YouTube since 2015, where hardly anyone has watched it. If nothing else, I hope writing about it here raises its visibility. If you care at all about the history of computer magazines, it’s pure gold.

Here it is, in three acts. The presentation is in progress as the first chunk begins, and people are still asking questions when the last one ends. I don’t expect most of you to watch the whole thing in one sitting, but just dipping in here and there is worth your time.

The guy doing the presenting—using an overhead projector and transparencies!—is Jeff Edman. I believe he was PC World‘s associate publisher at the time, having spent a decade rising through the ranks of its sales organization. The well-coiffed, mustachioed gent who occasionally interjects is Rich Marino, the magazine’s CEO. Others in the room are my PC World coworkers, though I worked in the Boston office then and am reasonably confident I didn’t attend this meeting even via speakerphone.

In about 90 minutes, Jeff explains the magazine’s value proposition as a marketing tool, which involved reaching “PC-proficient managers” who (we declared) did most of the purchasing of computers and related goods. He delves into the competition between PC World and its principal competitors, which included several magazines from Ziff-Davis (PC Magazine, PC Computing, and Windows Sources) as well as Byte and Windows. (A little over five years later, only PC World and PC Mag survived.) He touches on topics such as how the publication handled advertisers unhappy with negative editorial content about their products, and even addresses the potential impact of the web on print advertising.

Jeff and Rich also look a little forlorn as they discuss how hardscrabble the market has gotten, which is funny in retrospect, as PC World was still growing more corpulent with ads. (The December 1997 issue was a 456-page behemoth, which might have been the all-time record.)

Throughout the presentation, there are reminders that 1996 was still relatively early in the personal technology revolution. “Computers have become so mainstream in America,” Jeff says at about 2:48 in the first video chunk. “Forty percent of adults use a computer. About 20 percent of all adults use one at home and at the office. That’s a lot!” Maybe so, but it also meant that 60 percent of people still hadn’t touched a PC at the time.

Jeff and me mind-melding at a PC World party. One of the few things he was really serious about was the importance of wearing our PC World name tags at such events.

You don’t have to watch Jeff’s show for very long to tell that he was very good at selling advertising space. Not too long after this video seems to have been shot, he became PC World‘s publisher—the person with overall responsibility for sales. A few years after that, he was promoted to CEO. And then, when PC World needed a new editor-in-chief, he appointed me to the position.

For obvious reasons, magazine CEOs who come up through the sales side don’t necessarily understand the editorial aspect of the business. Some may even see it as a nuisance they can tamper with at will. Jeff was not like that at all. He let PC World be PC World, allowed me to have the final say on edit matters, and never suggested we should mess with the product because it had ticked off a potential advertiser. I can still remember him casually telling me that a story we published rightly trashing Microsoft’s dismal “SPOT” smartwatch had prompted the company to tell us it was pulling all its ads for consumer products for a year—a threat I don’t think it followed through on.

On top of everything else, Jeff was remarkably self-aware. He once told me “What I don’t know could fill a warehouse”—a sentiment that I try to remember is also true about myself.

I’m sorry to say that Jeff passed away in 2020. He’ll always occupy a special spot in my brain, but I’m glad to have this video to remember him by, and hope that at least some of you get to know him by watching it.


The End of Computer Magazines in America

With Maximum PC and MacLife’s abandonment of print, the dead-tree era of computer journalism is officially over. It lasted almost half a century—and was quite a run.

Maximum PC and MacLife

The April issues of Maximum PC and MacLife are currently on sale at a newsstand near you—assuming there is a newsstand near you. They’re the last print issues of these two venerable computer magazines, both of which date to 1996 (and were originally known, respectively, as Boot and MacAddict). Starting with their next editions, both publications will be available in digital form only.

But I’m not writing this article because the dead-tree versions of Maximum PC and MacLife are no more. I’m writing it because they were the last two extant U.S. computer magazines that had managed to cling to life until now. With their abandonment of print, the computer magazine era has officially ended.

The first issue of Byte, the first magazine about personal computers—and many people’s candidate for the best such publication, period..

It is possible to quibble with this assertion. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has been around since 1984 and can accurately be described as a computer magazine, but the digest-sized publication has the production values of a fanzine and the content bears little resemblance to the slick, consumery computer mags of the past. Linux Magazine (originally the U.S. edition of a German publication) and its more technical sibling publication Admin also survive. Then again, if you want to quibble, Maximum PC and MacLife may barely have counted as U.S. magazines at the end; their editorial operations migrated from the Bay Area to the UK at some point in recent years when I wasn’t paying attention. (Both were owned by Future, a large British publishing firm.)

Still, I’m declaring the demise of these two dead-tree publications as the end of computer magazines in this country. Back when I was the editor-in-chief of IDG’s PC World, a position I left in 2008, we considered Maximum PC to be a significant competitor, especially on the newsstand. Our sister publication Macworld certainly kept an eye on MacLife. Even after I moved on to other types of tech journalism, I occasionally checked in on our erstwhile rivals, marveling that they somehow still existed after so many other computer magazines had gone away.

I take the loss personally, and not just because computer magazines kept me gainfully employed from 1991-2008. As a junior high student and Radio Shack TRS-80 fanatic, I bought my first computer magazine in late 1978, three years after Byte invented the category. It was an important enough moment in my life that I can tell you what it was (the November-December 1978 issue of Creative Computing) and where I got it (Harvard Square’s Out of Town News, the same newsstand that had played a critical role in the founding of Microsoft just four years earlier). Even before I purchased that Creative Computing, our mailman had misdelivered a neighbor’s copy of Byte to our house, an error I welcomed and did not attempt to correct. From the moment I discovered computer magazines, I loved them almost as much as I loved computers, which is why I ended up working in the field for so long.

A 1989 Wall Street Journal article on the big bucks being made in the computer magazine business. From the collection of David Bunnell, who cofounded PC Magazine, PC World, and Macworld, among other publications.

I spent most of that time at PC World, which I joined in late 1994 at almost precisely the moment it launched its first web presence. From the start, the web was a terrific way to keep tabs on tech news. Eventually, it would make the whole idea of a publication about computers that came out once a month feel more than a little silly. It also let merchants reach customers directly, a gut-punch to the ad business that had made PC World and its biggest rivals so profitable.

But the web didn’t render printed computer magazines obsolete overnight. PCW had some of its fattest, happiest years as a business in the late 1990s. Even in 2008, when I left, the print magazine was a profit center, not an albatross.

Indeed, the entire computer magazine category spent years in Wile E. Coyote mode. We’d blithely walked off a cliff—it’s just that gravity hadn’t kicked in yet. Here’s a slide from an internal PC World presentation charting our newsstand sales vs. our principal surviving competitors from 1996-2004. By this time, several major magazines had already failed: Byte in 1998 and PC Computing and Windows in 2002.

I should pause to acknowledge that newsstand sales weren’t the primary barometer of a computer magazine’s health. For one thing, about 90 percent of PC World issues were sold via subscription. For another, advertising was what kept us rolling in dough. Still, selling single issues at $6.99 a pop was a great little business in itself, so we put a lot of effort into creating a product that people would notice at the newsstand and choose to purchase. And I am ashamed to admit that I occasionally moved the PC Worlds in front of the PC Magazines when I encountered them for sale, though I wouldn’t be astounded if there were Ziff-Davis staffers who performed the same ploy in reverse.

Our point with the above chart was that PC World had become the newsstand leader. But it did so not by growing but by bumping along rather than nosediving. As you can see from the chart, Maximum PC was the only title that ticked steadily upward. It clearly cared about the newsstand as much as we did, and we worried that it might someday surpass us. (It never did, at least during my tenure.)

In the 1990s, Computer Shopper was so huge it teetered on the verge of being impractical to, you know, read.

Unless you worked at PC World in 2004, what’s most striking about this chart is Computer Shopper’s utter collapse—from something like 350,000 issues sold at the newsstand a month to fewer than 55,000. As the most catalog-like major computer magazine, it was the most vulnerable to being rendered obsolete by the web. Once a 1,000-page (!!!) monthly behemoth, it withered in more dramatic fashion than PC World or PC Magazine. When it didn’t feel like Computer Shopper anymore, readers lost interest.

Even PC World’s best newsstand seller of all time—our Windows 95 issue, seen below in another internal PowerPoint slide—didn’t match Shopper’s mid-1990s heyday. But we sold almost 200,000 copies, for a sell-through rate nearing 60 percent—figures that slipped out of the realm of possibility within a few years. Counting subscribers, we peaked in 1999 at a circulation of 1.25 million, the largest ever for a computer magazine.

Computer magazines had been such a robust business that they could spend years dwindling and remain viable. PC Mag didn’t abandon print until 2008, shortly after I left PC World. Shopper followed the next year. PCW held on until 2013, whereupon I wrote a piece for TIME asserting that the era of the computer magazine had ended. (In retrospect, that was a tad premature.) Macworld made it to 2014.

A Maximum PC cover from back when we at PC World were a little intimidated by their newsstand prowess. (It hasn’t aged well.)

Maximum PC and MacLife, meanwhile, pretty much ignored the internet. They even dismantled their web presences: now redirects to, a sister brand, while simply spits out a string of garbage characters.

Pretending that the internet didn’t exist sounds like a preposterous strategy for keeping a print magazine alive, but it somehow worked. Maximum PC and MacLife survived—scrawny, but with a pulse—until 2023. Their final issues were 98-page weaklings that cost $9.99 apiece and seem to have a grand total of one page of paid advertising between them—plus an article sponsored by a mail-order computer dealer. MacLife has an editorial acknowledging it’s going digital-only; Maximum PC does not.

My local Barnes & Noble still has a sizable technology magazine section, but it’s dominated by British imports that aren’t quite computer magazines.

Should we mourn the end of computer publications printed on paper? No—and yes. What was great about the computer magazine age wasn’t that the information was printed on dead trees and delivered by truck once a month. In most respects that matter, the web is a far superior way to keep people informed about the technology in their lives.

But as timely and efficient a means of communication as online media is, the entire computer publishing industry failed to figure out how to turn it into a business that was remotely as vibrant as print had been. And those vast quantities of full-page ads paid for some amazingly ambitious service journalism.

PC World had a sprawling lab full of technicians benchmarking everything from laptops to TVs, and paid experts well to write how-to columns on products such as word processors and spreadsheets. When we wanted to compare the usability of Windows, OS/2, and Mac OS, we hired normal everyday people through a temp agency and shot video of them performing typical computing tasks. We invested an absurd amount of money on twice-yearly surveys that let our readers rate the reliability and customer service of major computer manufacturers. In 2000, I dropped everything to spend months flying around the country working with Dateline NBC on an investigation into PC repair shops.

Forty years ago, PC World published the most successful debut issue in magazine history.

PC World’s headcount over the last couple of decades tells a story in itself. In mid-2000—well into the web era—we had 80 journalists, product testers, and designers on staff. Seven years later, the figure was slightly over half that. Today, the masthead of the all-digital PCW carries 13 names. I’m unsure if they’re all full-time employees, and almost half are pulling double duty on Macworld.

There is still fine work being done at the online incarnations of former print publications and newer outlets that were digital from the start. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that today’s tech media spans the written word, video, audio, and community—and that it’s possible for an individual journalist to partake in all of the above without being employed by a giant company. Bottom line: If there was a magic switch that would let us ditch present-day computer journalism for what we had in, say, 1995, I wouldn’t flip it.

(Of course, I might feel differently if I’d owned a fabulously profitable computer magazine rather than merely working at one.)

I do remain grateful that computer magazines existed. I’m glad I got to help make them. It’s great that many vintage issues are available in scanned form at the Internet Archive, Google Books, and elsewhere. Their time has passed—but what a time it was.


It’s 2018. Maybe Technologizer Should Be a Newsletter

Next month, it will have been a decade since I started Technologizer, a blog which later became part of TIME but has been largely dormant since I joined Fast Company. The whole notion of a “tech blog” now seems very 2008.

But some of the things that made tech blogging fun–the freewheeling informality, the ability to experiment, the direct connection to an audience–have lately shown up again in a new package: tech newsletters with a bloggy, personal feel. Last week, I was editing an article by JR Raphael about newsletters as a publishing medium–and particularly those created using a platform called Revue–when it dawned on me: Why not revive Technologizer in newsletter form?

So here we go. Over at, you’ll find a signup form for Technologizer the newsletter. Issue #1 will go out on Sunday. (At the moment, someone still has the opportunity to be subscriber #1.) [UPDATE: Thank you, first 22 charter subscribers!]

I plan to send it out a few times a week and use it for stuff that’s meatier than a tweet yet doesn’t feel like it should be a Fast Company article. I’ll share what I’m working on, link to what I’m reading, and indulge in a certain amount of tech nostalgia. And I hope you’ll join me.

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Hello Again

Back in early 2016, as an experiment, I redirected the homepage to my Flipboard magazine. The goal was to have something called Technologizer that I could update easily without writing anything. It worked! But lately, I’ve found that I miss having Technologizer as an outlet. So I’ve turned off Flipboard and intend to blog here at least occasionally.
Fast Company Satya Nadella
Don’t expect too much. My day job at Fast Company keeps me plenty busy, and mostly, I’ll probably just point you to stuff I’m working on there. For starters, I wrote the cover story for our October issue. It’s a profile of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and it’s unique among my pieces for our dead-tree edition in that it is primarily a profile of a person–rather than something about a company that touches on the people who run it as a secondary matter.

My relationship with Microsoft is longer than any other I have with a technology company, dating back to 1978 (I think), when I was a junior high student and Microsoft was a three-year-old purveyor of BASIC for PCs such as my father’s TRS-80. So getting the chance to spend a significant chunk of the past few months working on this story, which involved three trips to Redmond and supplementary interviews with everyone from Sun Microsystems cofounder Scott McNealy to Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, was particularly meaningful.

That’s all for now. See you at FastCo and on Twitter–and back here before too long, I hope.


Technologizer: The Flipboard Edition


Back in 2014, when I became technology editor for Fast Company, I said I was keeping Technologizer open and reserved the right to write here if I had anything to say that didn’t fit into Fast Company. As it turned out, Fast Company is a wonderful place to write about nearly anything. I’ve only posted on Technologizer twice, both times because I wanted to write about someone who’d passed away.

That tended to make the Technologizer homepage look abandoned. So I’ve flipped a switch to redirect it to my Technologizer magazine on Flipboard, which I update frequently with my own articles and worthwhile reads from around the web. If anything, knowing that it’s what people see when they go to will induce me to share even more stuff.

This change doesn’t impact all the existing Technologizer posts–they’re all there, just as I published them. And I can still write new Technologizer posts–such as this one–if the mood strikes. This site has been part of my life for almost eight years now, and even if it’s not my bread and butter, it’s nice to know it’s here if I need it.

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That Time I Interviewed Click and Clack

RIP, Tom Magliozzi--and thanks for the memories

Back in the summer of 1997, I got my one and only assignment for a magazine called The Web, back when it seemed like it made sense to publish reviews and profiles relating to websites on dead trees. It turned out to be one of the most entertaining projects I ever worked on: I profiled Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack of public radio’s Car Talk.

When I saw the sad news today that Tom had passed away at 77, the memories came flooding back.

I made contact with the Car Talk team by getting the phone number of their production company. In 1997, you did that by calling directory assistance. I still remember the pleasure I took in asking for the number for Dewey Cheetham & Howe.

At least back then, snagging an interview with the brothers was tougher than you might think. They didn’t particularly like publicizing their show, and rarely talked to the press. But my timing was good: My editor, Dan Miller, had asked me to write about them because they were launching their first website. That they were willing to promote.

I conducted the interview one afternoon when they were taping their show at the studios of Boston’s WBUR. They were a little impatient with being interviewed, but smart, warm, and funny. I learned that even though the show felt like it was live–the Magliozzis’ mom sometimes called in after supposedly hearing another call on the radio–the handful of people who made it onto the program were actually chosen from 10,000 prospects a week who left recorded messages. That explained why so many of the on-air callers seemed so similar in personality and car problems. (There was a certain sort of female caller who pretty much made it onto the air several times a week.)

And I was startled to see that the Magliozzis sometimes worked from material written by others. That seemed to happen during the bridging sequences, and I don’t think it’s scandalous, since much of their funniest moments did appear to be ad-libbed–or at least not read off a script. But I see that I didn’t mention it in my story.

The best part of the assignment was that it finally taught me to tell the difference between the brothers, who I’d never bothered to think about as separate individuals before. Tom, the older brother, was a wacko who pretty much seemed to say whatever came into his head. Ray was far more low key, and prevented the proceedings from careening completely off course. From then on, I never had the least bit of trouble keeping track of who was who.

When I’d finished my interview and was ready to leave, the producer handed me a cassette of me chatting with Tom and Ray. It sounded like an episode of Car Talk which I had mysteriously wandered into. I still have it somewhere–but I don’t think I have a tape player anymore.

Anyhow, here’s the story, which I just scanned in from the September 1997 issue of The Web. As far as I can tell, it’s not otherwise available online.

Car Talk