What kind of name is Wincent Colaiuta, anyway?

Fairly regularly I’ll get asked by colleagues why I publish so much online content under the wacky pseudonym, Wincent Colaiuta. I figured I’d put the answer here on my blog so that I can point people at it when the question comes up again in the future.

The 1990s

In the early to mid ninetines I was fresh out of high school and was drumming in ad hoc bands that my friends and I would throw together for things like birthday parties. One of my friends wryly christened me with the nickname "Wincent Cauliflower", a corruption, dripping with irony, of the name of one the world’s greatest drummers, Vinnie Colaiuta (18 times winner of Modern Drummer magazines Drummer of the Year award, 10 of which have been in the "Best Overall" category).

When I went on to build my first website, probably around 1996 or 1997, I jokingly called it "Wincent’s Web Site" on a whim. The oldest snapshot of the site that I’ve been able to find is this one, taken in early 1998:

As you can see, at that point it was mostly a collection of hideously boring academic papers, and despite the site’s name, it had plenty of content on it directly linked to my real identity. Embarrassingly, it made use of the <marquee> tag and had a hit counter on it.

The 2000s

By the year 2000, the site had morphed into wincent.org, on which I wrote about Mac stuff. I signed most posts as "Wincent Colaiuta", although I also playfully corrupted the name in any number of ways, including "Wincenzo", "Wyncienxo" and "Colyiuta".

Mac OS X

By 2001 when Mac OS X was about to make its public debut the site was regularly receiving 50,000 page views a day — quite a few by the standards of the time — due to my coverage of pre-release versions of the new OS, supplied to me by a friend of a friend of a friend.

On multiple occasions I was contacted by Apple’s legal department and asked to remove infringing screenshots. I remember getting woken up at 5 AM by a phone call from Wired reporter, Leander Kahney, who had dug Wincent’s contact info from the domain WHOIS records and wanted to speak to him about the upcoming operating system.

At that point I felt that "shit just got real". The almost randomly-selected pseudonym was now actually a layer of isolation and protection that seemed appropriate given the sometimes controversial nature of the stuff I was publishing.

The culmination of this epoch was when I ended up publishing an encrypted review of the final release of Mac OS X days before the OS came out, sharing the decryption key days later (once the release was made public). In hindsight it may look awfully like a lame publicity stunt, but at the time it really was just me trying to avoid trouble with Apple legal.

"Wincent Colaiuta" became a nom de plum and I ended up using it when I went on to do paid work as a columnist for Lycos (Web Monkey) and The Mac Observer. When asked to supply a portrait photo for my "by line" I went with a pseudo-randomly selected stock photo:

Bald, black, bespectacled; in short, nothing like me. I thought it was quite funny at the time.

Software

The following year (2002), for the release of Synergy, a lightweight iTunes controller for Mac OS X, I published under the name of Wincent, as the "brand" already had some traction within the community.

iTunes controllers are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, iTunes itself can download album covers for you, and all of Apple’s keyboards now have keys for controlling your music. But at the time Synergy came out, it was definitely the most innovative, feature-rich, and well-executed application of its type, and as a result it was downloaded literally hundreds of thousands of times.

On the strength of that success, pretty much everything else I went on to release, whether open or closed source, I did so using my old pen name, Wincent Colaiuta, even though the need for relative anonymity had long since passed.

The future

It seems likely that I’ll continue publishing code under what has effectively become my tech nickname. My wincent profile on GitHub is far more interesting than my "glhurrell" one, so I consolidated their contents under the former and deleted the latter some time ago.

Trying to maintain two separate identities, even if one of them is fairly neatly defined as your "tech/online" identity, is a cumbersome endeavour. Long ago I gave up on trying to keep them really separate, but it looks like Wincent Colaiuta is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.