Marshall Matheson is senior VP-online media for WTWH Media, which publishes Design World. The title competes with such longtime leaders in the engineering sector as Design News and Machine Design. Matheson has led WTWH's attack on the digital front as the Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based company has aggressively pursued mobile—including a new Design World mobile site that rolled out last month—and social media initiatives. Digital Directions: Tell us about your mobile approach?
Matheson: We first went down the path of looking at mobile applications. We've since backed up on that and looked specifically just at ensuring that our key sites are mobile-friendly and our e-newsletters are mobile-friendly. The reason being is that in order to reach these folks on all these devices—the software is changing so fast with the BlackBerry and the Droid—that we decided to take a more mobile website-focused approach, rather than an app-focused approach for the mobile devices.
DD: How do you create a mobile site that is viewable easily on BlackBerry, Droid, iPhone and other devices?
Matheson: Our sites look great on the iPhone. On some of the other devices, BlackBerry in particular, the Web browser is not as good. We're utilizing a third party, and what we're essentially doing is taking a number of our RSS feeds in certain categories and running them through a third party and displaying the content. There's also a mobilized version of the article that you can read, and currently we're using the Google text-based converter for that technology. So if you opt to look at a mobile version, it's basically using the Google rendering for that.
DD: What are you working on for the iPhone and the iPad?
Matheson: It's our philosophy of reaching users where they want to be reached on their terms. We want to see what kind of uptake there would be if we did have an (iPhone) app on the app store. It's just another avenue to do that. So we may still go down that path, just for metrics and testing to see what the results are. Now, with the iPad app, we're working with a third party as well. Our idea is to have a monthly version of the magazine (Design World) with specific advertisers and then have a dual front view with what's current and take the daily stuff from DesignWorldOnline.com and put that in a daily view. So you'd have a monthly view and daily view. You can toggle to look at the content from the magazine, and that content will last for a month—the features, articles, editorial. And then being able to toggle to a “what's happening now” in the same application.
DD: Did you consider digital magazine technology instead of creating an iPad app?
Matheson: We looked at it but, the page-turn technology, I don't think that's the right way to consume data online. When people engage in a magazine, they turn pages: there's this psychological engagement. But [when you consider] online and in digital and that engagement—the whole page-turning thing—it misses the mark. Those technologies aren't taking advantage of the new interface that is available with the touch, with being able to slide and how people want to scroll versus turning pages.
DD: How is the traffic on the mobile sites so far?
Matheson: So far the traffic numbers have been low as far as from a pure hit rate, but it's an exciting opportunity. When we see the stats on mobile use, (we expect it) to go off the charts into 2011. So part of that is to ensure that we're friendly with these devices, even if it's for a smaller part of our audience. It goes back to reaching users on their terms. When we started with social media, nobody was doing social media. Everybody was asking, “How are you going to capitalize on that?” But we started with LinkedIn and Facebook, and we started our Engineering Exchange. Now we have an aggregate of about a 15,000-member audience that wants to be reached that way. That's why we see mobile as really important, although right now there's not a lot of metrics I can give you on how the uptake has been so far.
DD: On the website, you have engineering calculators and CAD drawings? What's the philosophy behind that and how is it working?
Matheson: From the get-go, we understood that content online isn't just rehashed print editorial. There's a lot more that the people in our space, engineers, can do online. So in addition to capitalizing on video and video podcasts, we partnered with this company, TraceParts. For suppliers in our space, doing 3-D CAD models is a form of lead generation. A supplier supplies a 3-D CAD model, an engineer downloads that model and the supplier has a great lead of someone who's interested in their product. It also gives us another tool with the calculators and widgets. We want to develop tools and resources engineers can use in addition to providing them with product news, tutorial-based information and our own editorial.
DD: How much of WTWH Media's revenue stems from digital?
Matheson: Going into this year, roughly 60% of our revenue comes from online. We have a little bit on the webinar front, some from events. There's online advertising, video, Engineering Exchange—that's our social network—and we have revenue flowing in on those now. We do a fair amount of lead generation. People are still opting in to the magazine, but they're typically positioning it as a package buy where that's part of it and, then, they're also getting lead generation, online presence and that sort of thing.
DD: What CMS systems are you using and why?
Matheson: We have a couple different CMS' we're using for a couple of the community sites. We use some third-party but also some Microsoft Corp. platforms, and some of those were a legacy from an acquisition. We use also .Net C# for Design World to allow some highly customized applications, and we also use WordPress. WordPress is a lightweight framework that helps us build things fast. Using it with .Net with Design World gives us a lot of flexibility. And again the other platform with Microsoft was a community that is a legacy system.