Looking back at Neowin

Most of the people who know and interact with me professionally, or on social media know me as “vmstan” — and if you asked most of those people they’d tell you I only pay attention to two things when it comes to technology: VMware and Apple.

They’d be mostly right.

But there was a time before that, where I was “Marshalus” — and if you asked most of the people who knew what he paid attention to it was one thing: Microsoft. Specifically, covering Microsoft at Neowin.

That’d have been mostly right, too.

In late-2002, during my freshman year as a college journalism student, I was “hired” by Steve (Neobond) Parker to be a Gaming News Reporter for Neowin.net. I still remember the night it happened, sitting in my dorm room getting access to the news CMS at the time. I think my first post was something coming off of my previous obsession, Command & Conquer game modding.

As an aside, anyone reading this remember Federation Studios?

Anyway, I put hired up there in irony-quotes because it would be many years later before any writing job on the site paid money, and even when it did, I think I earned less than $1000, total.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other benefits to my involvement. The Neowindex, staff meetup, events were things that I still think about, and tell stories about, occasionally:

  • Like the time I got to play Team Fortress 2 with the development team of Valve Software.
  • Like the time I got to go on the Northwestern of Deadliest Catch fame and sit in the captains chair while interviewing to Sig Hansen.
  • Like the time I got to go to HP and walk on the server assembly floor.
  • Like the time I got to go to AMD and meet the people who overclock their own processors to see how far the limits are.
  • Or, Like the time I was dealing with some difficult life events, had a little too many Midori Sours, and decided it was a good idea to head to the strip club with some other staffers where I promptly forgot another staff member who came with us was gay, and couldn’t understand why he was so uncomfortable there…
  • And then decided to buy him a lap dance to loosen him up.

Neowin was my life for most of those years, so much so that the groomscake at my wedding in 2008 was a surprise from my wife: The Neowin Logo.

Yum

I left the site in mid-2009, for reasons now that I don’t exactly remember. There was a lot of infighting between staffers at the time, mostly centered around the North American/Europe divide and the lack of representation among the US and Canadian staffers, among the Administrators.

For most of my time in any kind of leadership role, I fought with Steve constantly about the direction of the site. I remember resigning and being fired a couple of times during my tenure, but nothing lasting more than a day or so. Somehow during the seven year run I managed to rise through the ranks to the position of Managing Editor. These things either happened by purely annoying Steve to the point it was the only way to shut me up, or by being willing/able to do things other people on staff were not.

But there was a schism in the summer of 2009, that resulted in the departure of roughly a dozen, mostly US, staff members. In the wake, those of us who left stumbled around to find a new place to build and call home, a sort of an anti-Neowin, eventually leading to a site called TechVirtuoso. The site still technically exists but nothing much happens with it. The Third Prime group that formed to run it, now consists of just Frank Owen, who I transferred control of the domain to a couple years ago. It turns out that having a lot of strong willed Internet personalities trying to start and run a site by committee is a lot harder than it seemed. I still remember sitting on conference calls with that group realizing that this was never going to work.

But what I also realized, today, is that I’ve been away from Neowin now for as long as I was ever involved with the daily operations. Neowin still exists, and by an outsider’s view is as successful as ever. I apologized to Steve a few years ago, after which he was gracious enough to allow me “Veteran” status on the site, after previously being unceremoniously stripped of all status. (Not that I blamed him, at the time I didn’t want my name on it at all.)

Veteran status came with a special iron cross badge in the forums, but also gave me the ability to post news on the front page again, which I did in for a while, but never with any regularity.

Starting with getting married in 2008, my life began a series of major changes. We bought a house in 2009, I became more focused on my “real job” and less on the “side hustle” of writing. Twitter replaced the Neowin Forums as my new social media drug of choice. My wife and I had a son, and then another. My real job became a lot more mentally demanding around certifications and traveling for projects, which led to less time for writing. I also switched sides in the Mac/PC debate, and my “real” job became less focused around Microsoft and more around other technologies.

I only talk to one former Neowin staff member with regularity. I really never talk to any of the folks that I left with to start another site. The rest I will occasionally exchange plesantries with on Twitter. Some of the people that I hired as writers went on to bigger and better things, and I’m incredibly proud of the work many of them are doing. Every so often, when I remember, I’ll pop into the general Neowin Staff discussion board and wish Steve a happy birthday on our shared day, he’s 11 years older than I am, at last count. Then, I look around at the names and avatars of those who remain and while I recognize a few of them, most of them are completely unknown to me.

It’s sort of like visting your old high school after being gone for years. The halls look smaller, the students look younger, and all your old teachers have retired, except for the gym teacher.

I only rarely will check the news porition of the site for… actual news, though it’s still has a place of prominance in my Safari favorites. The content just is not in my sphere of interests anymore.

In short, while the site still has a place in my heart, most of the actual details of my time there have mostly faded from memory.

Probably for the best.