Interview with Dan Knight
By Ian Sidle
March 14th, 2001
I have been lucky enough to have been allowed to have a interview with Dan Knight! He is (if you didn't already know) the webmaster/CEO/know it all that runs lowendmac.com (one of the granddaddy of Mac sites). He has recently started
Q: What was the original setup of lowendmac?
A:: Low End Mac began as maybe two dozen pages on my personal account space. Those pages are archived at http://lowendmac.com/lem9704/.
Right from the start I was providing links to other useful pages and sites. I've always believed it enhances my site to point to other resources instead of trying to pretend they don't exist. At that point (April 1997), I had no idea you could make money at this. I needed this information at my finger tips, since I was supporting a lot of vintage Macs at work (I was the Information Systems Manager at Baker Book House for many years). When I couldn't find the information I needed on the Web, I put it up for the whole world to share.
Q: how did you get from a hobby site to being your full-time job? What is your secret (besides having too much free time hehe)? Where from here? Take over the world? Any helpful tips for other Mac aspiring websites? What was your job before lowendmac?
A: We began discussions with MacTimes Network in July 1997 and moved Low End Mac to their server and domain in November 1997. Until November, we averaged 20,000 pages per month. We grew to 33,000, 59,000, 81,000 hits quickly as I learned the value of PR. It took a while, but the ads on the site slowly brought in bits of income -- nothing to live off of, but enough to pay for software and computer upgrades.
At the time, I was still using a Centris 610. Our focus was low-end; so were all the computers we had at home.
MacTimes suffered a meltdown due to unpaid bills. Low End Mac moved to its own domain in February 1999, joined another ad network later that year, and signed on with BackBeat Media in June 2000.
I owe the current success of Low End Mac to a lot of people.
- Jason Pierce from MacTimes for seeing the potential of LEM and teaching me to market the site.
- A host of other Mac webmasters more than happy to link to content on other sites. MacSurfer is at the top of that list.
- The guys at BackBeat Media who made it possible to turn all that traffic into enough ad dollars for me to quit my day job.
I have plans. I want to launch a digicam site, Digigraphica.com, to be the "Low End Mac" of digital camera sites. As used digicams go on the market, it will be helpful to have a good historical archive of information on those older models.
Digital-Views.com is my fledgling DVD/VideoCD review site. Like Digigraphica, I just haven't had the time to get passed the first few pages yet.
But the focus will remain primarily with Low End Mac The other sites are fun hobby sites for now. If they fly, fine. If not, they haven't cost me too much.
Q: In your article "Biggerads Better ads?" you express your concern of the ads being too big. Do you think the IAB has gone too far? Do you know of any new technologies that you feel are promising? Will you use their standards or use something else?
A: I support low-end users with a low-end site. No frames. No scripts. Nothing to prevent it from working well with text-based browsers, older graphical browsers, or the latest version of Internet Explorer. That includes trying to make sure articles can be read on the 512x342 displays of the old compact Macs. Regular ad banners fit those monitors; most of the new IAB proposals would overwhelm those Macs and ones with 640x480 displays.
We have to find a balance between what advertisers need (a certain rate of response per dollar spend) and what readers want (free content where the ads don't get in the way).
The Web is still a pretty new medium. We're inventing it as we go along. The current banner ads have done a great job, but I think we're ready for something larger and different.
The folks at BackBeat Media are investigating the IAB proposals, as are many Mac webmasters. I don't know where they are in the process or which they'll try first, but I hope much of the Mac Web can agree on one or two formats and run with them. This would make it easier for advertisers, since so many of them run their ads on any number of Mac-related sites.
Q: How many hits a day do you get? With the amount of hits and the size of your site, How much resources does it take (diskspace , bandwidth, cost, etc.)?
A: We broke the 600,000 mark in February with over 160,000 unique visitors. I don't have an exact count, but discounting the "AvantGo" and "printer friendly" versions of recent editorial content, I think we have about 1,500 pages of content. We probably add 20-30 more each week, so that's definitely a moving target.
Bandwidth? 17 GB in February, not counting ads, which are run on a separate server. The whole site takes up just over 25 MB on my hard drive.
Q: How do you feel with the decline of the .com's and startups?
A: I think it was inevitable. You don't launch a business so you can be the next Amazon.com. You launch a business because it's something you're passionate about -- and something you think you can make a living at.
So many dot-coms found something they thought they could make money at, got other people passionate about huge profits, and tried to make a living spending other people's money. I think that was the problem -- too much money spent as if it wasn't their own.
Q: What is your "favorite" Mac?
A: From a practical stand point, I'd have to say my PowerBookG4/400, which really isn't low-end at all. It's the first PowerBook with a large enough screen for me to have two applications open next to each other -- IE 5 and Claris Emailer, or Claris Home Page, or ClarisWorks, or.... It's also my first PowerBook. I'm looking forward to having it with me at Macworld in July.
From a "blow me away" perspective, I'm still impressed with the performance of the Mac IIfx with an Apple 8-24GC accelerated videocard and the Quadra 950. Both are stunningly responsive even in conparison with today's best computers. After all these years, they still feel fast.
From a nostalgic viewpoint, I'm happy to have my original Mac Plus back after two other owners. It has a 16 MHz Brainstorm upgrade, external floppy, 4 MB of RAM, and runs like a champ. No, it's not quite as nice as the SE/30, but it was my first Mac and holds a special place.
Q: What is the "best" Mac for a classroom?
A: For a lab, the iMac. For personal student use, the iBook.
Q: If you could be a Mac, which would you be?
A: A Power Mac 7500. I'm showing my age, but there always seems to be more ways to improve that old computer.
Q: Why did you get your Powerbook g4? (other then to have the fastest computer in the house)
A: From a very practical standpoint, I wanted a workstation to go. For me, that means at least 1152 pixels across the screen, just like my old 19" monitor. I wanted to be able to take Low End Mac on vacation, to the Expo, upstairs, etc.
From a personal standpoint, I was simply tired of supporting older Macs, both at my day job and at home. I might have gone with a Cube, but I was really hoping for a PowerBook with a 1280x960 display. Everything in one place. No cards. No external drives. Simplify.
Q: Now that you have your TIbook, do you feel that laptops are better then desktop's or vice versa?
A: I've known for years that laptops will eventually replace desktops for a majority of users. It's just a matter of time. Sure, we'll have wired Internet hubs at home (Cubes, iMacs, G4s), but we'll tote 'Books to work and school, use them in the field, take them on vacation, use them to play games.
Q: Any unusual events that have happened to you with the site?
A: People keep offering me old Macs....
Q: Do you feel that schools need to spend more money on technology or should spend more on books, teachers, etc?
A: I think schools need to spend better money on technology. Too often legislators and school boards think the solution is money -- throw enough money at the problem and it will go away. That doesn't work. How much money has Microsoft thrown at Win2K, the version with 63,000 bugs?
The solution is smart spending, which may be more or less.
- Every teacher should have a computer. If they don't use the technology outside the classroom, how can they be expected to know what it's capable of in the real world? This should also make teachers more comfortable around computers.
- Every school should be networked and linked to the Internet. Every classroom should have a Net connection.
- Computers should not be relegated to labs; they are part of the workplace and need to be part of the classroom. The ideal is one iBook with AirPort for every student, because every student should have a computer to use at home and in the classroom.
- Schools need to use computers in a variety of ways: spelling tests, creative writing, spreadsheets and graphs, creative arts, music, email, learning to publish content, measuring and analyzing results in the lab, offering supplements to teacher lectures, and who knows what else.
Computers are power tools for the mind. Everyone should have one. Dan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac http://lowendmac.com/ Thank you for giving me your insights, time and opinions.