Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Goodbye, Dr. Dobb's

Andrew Binstock's 16 December 2014 column Farewell, Dr. Dobb's announces that the Dr. Dobb's parent company is planning to "sunset" the Dr. Dobb's website. The column is an interesting read because Binstock analyzes why the website will add no new content despite consistently increasing traffic at the site. This analysis provides an overview of how the market for communicating technical information is changing.

I remember reading Dr. Dobb's when it was in "hard copy" and even saved a few that had articles that were particularly interesting to me. As with most technical journals and magazines, Dr. Dobb's shifted to online only once access to high-speed internet was typical for most of its readers. Binstock points out in his column that advertisers seem to be realizing that inline advertisements may not lead to as many sales as they once did or were once thought to do and he makes the point that he has never purchased anything from one of these advertisements. In a similar vein, I have to admit that though I've read a Dr. Dobb's article from time-to-time as a Google search or social media reference pointed it out to me, I have not made a regular habit of perusing Dr. Dobb's headlines in recent years. Part of this is the plethora of online resources vying for my attention and part of this is my increasing specializing in in a few programming languages while the software development world continues to broaden in terms of opportunities and possibilities. Binstock addresses this when he writes that the "software market today is so highly segmented" and observes that "the advent of the Web, which offered a vast array of new information sources, meant that Dr. Dobb's was no longer the central access point."

Although I have not read Dr. Dobb's with the regularity and thoroughness that I used to, I still will miss the great new in-depth content it provides. As software developers, we are fortunate to have many sources of information, but some are more accurate and in-depth than others and Dr. Dobb's was generally in the category of more accurate and more in-depth. There is some good news in the announcement. At least in the near term, existing content on will remain in place despite no new content being added. This means that links to Dr. Dobb's articles from blog posts and other articles should continue to work and readers will not need to resort to using the Wayback Machine or similar mechanisms to find these articles.

Perhaps the most significant benefits of Dr. Dobb's were its coverage of general software development without focus on a specific programming language or environment, its detailed articles, and its content being edited. Blogs and software development social media sites have brought many advantages to us as more people writing means more opinions and experiences to consider and more narrow topics being covered thoroughly. However, the age of blogs and software development social media also brings online resources of much greater variability in terms of accuracy, thoroughness, and even general spelling and grammar. Having ready access to these numerous individually authored posts and articles has led to the increase of information available on narrow topics and individual programming languages, but it has also made it more difficult for many of us to keep up with all the information available on our platform and language of choice and still have time to read about and consider completely unrelated languages and platforms.

A natural question might be, "What is the best replacement or substitute now for Dr. Dobb's?" Binstock is addresses that, but is not really able to provide an alternative:

This should not suggest that there is no role anymore for Dr. Dobb's. As our page views show, the need for an independent site with in-depth articles, code, algorithms, and reliable product reviews is still very much present. And I will dearly miss that content. I wish I could point you to another site that does similar work, but alas, I know of none.

Goodbye, Dr. Dobb's. Thanks for helping me learn about new programming languages, frameworks, platforms, and idioms.

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