By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, MikeWebb@CompuServe.COM
It's been a few months since we wrapped up our first year of publication, but time has been short, and I haven't really had a chance to gather my thoughts for this piece I promised. But now, at least for the moment, I have a chance to look back through the year during which so much changed for those of us here at AM.
I would like to be able to provide a precise chronology of our origins, but I did not keep such accurate records. What I have is a general idea of the sequence of events, one which in some ways seems to have occurred a lifetime ago, and in other ways, just yesterday.
1996 was well underway, and things were settling into a somewhat stale, uncertain status quo in the world of Genie Online Services. While an Amiga user since 1987, I was very new to the online world, having joined CompuServe in only November of 1995, and GEnie at right about the beginning of 1996.
Perhaps a week after I joined GEnie, General Electric sold it to Yovelle Renaissance Corporation, who made a variety of changes, the most significant of which (not counting changing GEnie to Genie) was the unsanctioned adjustment of all users' accounts to double the free hours, but at double the base fee. Many people didn't take kindly to this, and the service was clearly in decline. It wasn't the beginning of the end; several years had passed since GEnie was a clear contender among the online service giants. It was, however, the beginning of what seemed to be the final stage of the end, with membership dwindling week by week, and fewer files being uploaded to the libraries, messages being posted to the bulletin boards, and visitors to real-time conference than ever.
Around about this time, possibly a bit earlier, Sam Ormes, a well-traveled Florida resident and no stranger to news, technology, and leadership positions, was endeavoring to revive the *StarShip* Amiga RoundTable's Real Time Conference HelpDesk. He had no affiliation with the RT other than being an Amiga user, but decided to take up the responsibility, sitting in nearly, if not every, night. His eventual reward was free access time in the RT, and a position as RTC SysOp. I met him online early on in 1996, and a few months later, when he was gathering together other RTC regulars to serve as HelpDesk staff, he offered me a position. I accepted, and it went from there.
A few months later, a friend pointed out that as a CIS member, I could get a free web site on CompuServe's Our World server. I followed up, and by the end of May, 1996, The Webb Site was online (yes, as you can probably tell, I am a fan of puns). At about the same time, however, an idea had come to me. The Amiga's future was uncertain at the time, and I was interested in getting more involved in the Amiga community. After some thought, I decided to undertake what I realized even then would be a massive project. What I decided was to found a new online Amiga magazine.
I discussed the idea with my RTC colleagues over the course of a few weeks, and most seemed interested in being involved in one way or another.
Having established himself through The Sam Report, Sam Ormes seemed a clear choice for second-in-command, Senior Editor. Anthony Becker, or Tone, as he is called, ran the Friday night HelpDesk, and I had gotten to know him fairly well over those few months. He earned through his writing and enthusiasm a place on the staff list, and was given the role of Executive Editor.
When it came to music, and particularly MIDI, there was simply nobody like Fred Ericksen. Therefore, he quickly came aboard in a musical capacity. Greg Noggle's areas of expertise proved to be telecommunications and hardware in general, so he joined as well. Charles Jefts was the modern-day GamesMeister in the RTC, and so logically joined AM in the capacity of Games Editor. Paul Somerfeldt joined in a non-specific role at first. My mother, Kyle Webb, herself a long-time Amiga user, and also a very talented artist, assumed what was first a fairly loosely-defined graphics/art-oriented role.
What was left? Well, we needed an Editor-in-Chief and Publisher (although this a non-print medium, the idea of "publishing" still very much applies), so I did the honors.
One day, I typed up a list of potential names for the magazine as they came to mind. Just before I e-mailed the list to Sam, I looked at the object in front of me, and inspiration struck; of course, The Amiga Monitor! What else (and what better opportunity to use a pun?...well, there was a little more to it, anyway)? So I appended my new clear favorite to the list, and sent it off to Sam for his opinions. He, too, picked that last item on the list. So The Amiga Monitor was born! Well, almost..
I began working on AM in earnest in early July. Getting started was indeed a lot of work. The first step was clearly to create a format for the magazine. I don't consider myself all that great at layout or visual artistry, so this was bound to be an interesting challenge (and to exonerate Kyle Webb, I did draw the Title graphic that appears in each issue of AM). I put together what I considered to be a working format, however, and got to using it. Almost all staff members contributed short "bios" for the charter, and most sent in an article or two. I put these together, along with some of my own writing, and got the issue ready to go.
I originally had wanted to make July 1996 our first issue, but the work ran beyond deadline, and I decided to push it to August. In preparation for publication, I submitted The Webb Site to the Amiga Web Directory, which actually rejected it the first time around (I had expected my request to take much longer to be processed). This was understandable; my site was fairly bare-bones at the time. They saw my references to a new online Amiga magazine, however, and invited me to write back when it was ready.
Meanwhile, July became August, and things were just about ready. I finished a few articles to the strains of loud, energetic, inspirational music, and finally met with some staff members on the night of August 4th, 1996. After some discussion, AM was more or less cleared for takeoff.
I published AM1_1 in HTML on The Webb Site the next day (August 5th, 1996), and publicized it via postings to Amiga-oriented newsgroups. Beth Wise made IRC announcements, and through several such media, we got the word out. Later that day, after contacting them, I heard back from the Amiga Web Directory, and The Webb Site was given the all-important New Link. In addition, they offered to mirror AM online, becoming the first in a series of organizations, and even individuals, to share some of their online storage space with AM.
My life changed forever on that day. Between the e-mail flood that ensued, and reactions from various people who saw AM, I knew I had accomplished my objective: I had become more involved in the Amiga community. And the ride was just getting underway.
I'd like to depart somewhat from the chronology at this point, and discuss some of the significant or interesting events that have occurred since that time.
If you routinely scroll down to the bottom of the table of contents of each issue of The Amiga Monitor, you may notice a reference to an organization by the name of "Excelsior Digital Publishing," or "EDP" for short. Some people have asked me just what on Earth that is. And no, it doesn't mean you've been living in a cave if you have no idea what it is.
A more or less random thought one day led me to wonder if maybe there should be some parent organization under which AM could operate. I decided that, for administrative purposes, and also to give a name to our effort, I should create, along with the magazine, a publishing organization. The name is fairly self-explanatory; "Excelsior" indicates a commitment to excellence (and, it may be argued, is related to the organization's being based in New York State), and "Digital Publishing" means that we publish predominately online. There isn't much else to that story right now; EDP is currently simply AM.
However, Excelsior Digital Publishing was created with expansion in mind, and I leave it open for future publications to come in under the umbrella of EDP. There are many advantages to this, including the potential for cooperation and sharing of resources, and the ability to work under an established (at least more so than any entirely new publication alone) name. We shall see what the future holds for EDP.
A publication is probably defined more than anything else by the people who write for it. The AM staff has been an important part of the process from the beginning. I'd like to make this (in no particular order) somewhat a narrative, and somewhat my personal tribute to the people who have helped to make AM happen.
The Principal of Pithiness himself, Sam Ormes, has stirred the waters monthly with The Sam Report, currently published as a part of The Amiga Monitor. He has also been a top news watchdog, and a great source of contacts.
Anthony Becker never "Toned" down his Amiga interest through the thick and thin, and has been a valued AM contributor as an editor, humorist, reviewer, and most recently, editor of his own magazine-within-a-magazine, the Tone Byte, his monthly column of short news and general interest items that might otherwise have been bypassed as subjects for complete articles.
Fred Ericksen was a storehouse of music knowledge, of great use not only to the magazine, but also to me, as a musician trying (without much success up to that point, I might add) to expand my recording capabilities through MIDI. His distinctive style and offbeat sense of humor were always a joy to edit, and to read. Alas, Fred canceled all his online service accounts rather rapidly one time, and disappeared. But sure enough, he turned up again later and contacted us through e-mail, and you may yet see his writing on the pages of AM once again.
Greg Noggle has been consistent and reliable, providing us with the fascinating Time Capsule series back when we were first getting started, and continuing to write on miscellaneous topics from time to time since then. His point of view has always been a welcome addition to the magazine, and his knowledge of hardware and telecommunications has earned him, appropriately enough, the positions of "Telecommunications Editor" and "Hardware Guru."
Charles Jefts, the GamesMeister, unfortunately ceased to be a member of the staff before leaving a mark on the pages of AM.
Behind the unusual alias "Nucmong" sat at the Genie Amiga Graphics HelpDesk a man bearing a name well-known within the Amiga community. Bill Graham is a noted artist and graphics man, with rendered images and animations literally all over the place, including a directory on Aminet which existed well before even he himself knew about it. He came aboard in December of 1996, and has provided, on a regular basis, not only fascinating articles, but also answers to readers' questions through the Editors@HelpDesk department, both of which show the depth of his knowledge. He rounded out the editorial staff list nicely when he joined, and has continued to do so ever since.
Danny Green also wasn't here at the start, but he was a long-time acquaintance with most of the staff in the Amiga RoundTable on Genie. He wrote an informative series on various aspects of the Internet, and was so consistent in doing so that I felt compelled to upgrade his position from "Contributing Writer" to "Staff Writer." Like Fred, Danny, too, disappeared recently, but at the time of this writing, has just made contact with us again.
Kyle Webb started out as an artist of indeterminate role, but with the third issue and the Lame Humor Department, became AM's cartoonist. She also does graphical work periodically, including a holiday-style modification to the AM Title graphic for our December issue. More recently, she has contributed editorials and stories. Right along, however, she has been a proofreader, and for this reason in particular, has earned the position of Assistant Editor.
Beth Wise wasn't one of the people I originally contacted to be a staff member, but with the release of the first issue, she helped to get the word out about AM. It was somewhat by luck, because she happened to stop into the Genie Amiga RTC (Real-Time Conference, i.e. "chat") the night before we went online, and with her IRC expertise, was able to do some publicity work (and later via newsgroups and mirroring AM on her own web site as well). She has been Associate Publicist ever since, but through some writing of her own, recently became a Contributing Editor as well.
Many people have contributed in one way or another over the year or so AM has been in existence, and I can't dedicate a paragraph to each of them, or else this article would become prohibitively long. A few are especially deserving of mention, however.
Jim Kuzma, a long-time family friend and computer/electronics expert and entrepreneur, wrote a series on the history and direction of the computer. He actually introduced me to the Amiga, and computer in general; he has witnessed the evolution of the personal computer, and like many Amiga users, appreciates fast, efficient OS's and software, and strongly dislikes the current wasteful trends in the computer industry in general. Steve Duff started out with us by writing to Feedback; unlike in most cases, I wrote a personal response, and we ended up corresponding regularly, the subject of which was frequently his new A4000T; he was completely new to the Amiga, but did his research, and decided to get the top-of-the-line model. He wrote about his experiences with the machine, and with joining the Amiga community, for AM. Since then, he has written a number of game reviews, including offbeat, hilarious, satirical descriptions of parts of games deserving of such sarcasm. Leo Maxwell and Jerimy Campbell have written for us on more than one occasion (Jerimy and his Amiga user group were even the subject of a Sam Report), and Paul Somerfeldt, a fellow Genie member and HelpDesk staffer, has contributed periodically as well. And last but not least, I can't neglect to recall the article SideWinder, among the most famous of Amiga musicians, wrote for us some time ago.
For all the others who have contributed in one way or another, whether through responses to the HelpDesk, letters to Feedback, forwarded news reports, notifications of events, or original writing, I express my sincere thanks. And to those mentioned individually here, I owe similar gratitude; we couldn't have done it without you. Heck, "we" wouldn't be "we" without you.
At this point, it would probably be fitting to conclude with some idea of where The Amiga Monitor might be going. I don't think I'm entirely qualified to make a judgment on that, however. I would go further than to say The Amiga Monitor is "non-profit" or "not-for-profit"; The Amiga Monitor is simply a non-financial organization. Everything we are is founded upon the writing, and community spirit, that define us and give us unity. Where we go from here is partly a function of where the Amiga goes, and of where its community goes. As long as there is a platform to write about, I hope that The Amiga Monitor will still be here.
In the times ahead, I hope to redouble efforts to get this magazine completely back on track, as we have had some timing and scheduling difficulties, and other problems as well, leaving somewhat of a backlog of work to be done, and gradually moving our publishing date from the beginning to the end of the month. And through this, though things may change here in the future, the ideal, I sincerely hope, shall remain the same; the Amiga can and should go on, and in support of it, The Amiga Monitor shall continue and endeavor to be a source of news, information, amusement, and whatever else the community needs it to be.
Thanks for giving us a chance, and for staying with us. So let's keep the dream alive, and let us see just what the future may hold. I'll see you there.