Monday, February 4, 2008

Eye on Media: Popular Science Mag Is Back To The Future

BoSacks Speaks Out: Popular Science Magazine is one of my oldest reading friends. Even before I understood half of what I was looking at in this magazine it held my interest with pictures of futuristic gadgets and assorted improvements in everyday utensils. The following article is about how a 135 year old title is restructuring and growing with the times.

"Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone."
Albert Einstein (German born American Physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. 1879-1955)

Eye on Digital Media: Popsci.Com Is Back To The Future
Associating the word relaunch with the 135-year-old bible of science nerd-ism, Popular Science brings up fond images of homemade toy rockets and chemistry kits. And the unveiling of the new POPSCI.COM has an inspired do-it-yourself feel. It looks a bit like a well-designed Web blog (Engadget comes to mind) with a long scroll of images and science/gadget news items. It pulls in some spare parts from social networking, in the form of user profiles, comments and article ratings. And it layers onto this some Web 2.0 AJAX wizardry, with various tabbed views into the news well and navigation via tags. It looks to me like a bit of magazine design, a patch of blog, and a little Digg fuel put together for takeoff.

Rather than a patchwork rocket using Mom's pots and pans, however, the revamped POPSCI.COM does a good job of blending some of the lessons learned from Web 2.0. It reaches out into the blogosphere, gadget, and DIY sites that provide up to a third of its traffic. And the active communities in the forum and the PopSci Predictions Exchange (a virtual stock exchange of tech predictions) get pulled together by the new user profiles. With a significantly younger online demo (32 years-old) than its print counterpart (44 years-old), PopSci management is hoping to double the site's 1 million visitor audience in the next year with these changes.

"We are trying to reach out more into that community with lots of tech features that will get picked up in dig and elsewhere," says PopSci digital content director Megan Miller, who is leader of the three-person editorial team. Miller is in daily contact with the world of DIY and such gadget blogs as INSTRUCTABLES.COM, Engadget, and even O'Reilly Media's Make magazine site.

And POPSCI.COM is also taking a page from successful communities by validating the user. The personal profiles save and share articles; they also and gain standing among their peers. "One of the things that makes Digg popular is that it makes every user a potential expert," says Miller. "Popular users gain a following. We are hoping to get the same sort of thing--leaders emerging in the community."

On the ad side, digital sales manager Andrew Maiorana listened to the advertisers and their requests for proposals. They wanted to put advertising placements above the fold and better targeting.

PopSci execs are leveraging article tagging for the ad model. Advertisers can now buy against keywords in or associated with content, much as they do on Google's AdSense. Because PopSci works across a number of categories, it has no endemic ad segment. This lets automakers or telecom handset makers target the content that their slice of the PopSci audience would be most likely to read.


The Industry Standard Returns
A 7-year respite from a dramatic fall from grace results in a Web-only relaunch.
By Bill Mickey
After seven years, The Industry Standard is back. Following months of rumors and thinly-veiled hints from parent IDG, the former "Bible" of the Internet economy has officially relaunched today as a Web-only publication. The site's content is largely built from short contributions from a contingent of journalists and bloggers as well as a prediction market feature that uses community input to forecast event outcomes in the online economy market.
In 2000, the magazine's heyday, The Industry Standard raked in about 7,500 pages of advertising. Now, expectations for the site are much more modest as the launch team of five staffers takes a wait-and-see approach to its success. Nevertheless, the brand has managed impressive resilience after essentially remaining dormant following a spectacular fall from grace. The magazine folded in late summer 2001 after negotiations between publisher Standard Media and majority owner IDG fell through-and, some industry observers felt, one too many rooftop parties. Final issues of the magazine barely scraped 90 pages and had the dubious distinction of being number-one in decline in ad pages and revenues.

Fast-forward six years and it seems the brand has remained near and dear to the hearts of Internet professionals. "We were happily amazed at how much recognition and brand equity there still was," says vice president and general manager Derek Butcher, who was formally Infoworld's CTO. "We talked to a wide group of people and a branding agency. There will probably be some fallout due to the emotional history of it all, but the new Standard is ultimately going to come town to the proof in the pudding-we have to deliver, we can't rest on the brand."

The site has been in development over the past year and has already been through a private beta test. Today's launch triggers a public beta, an important step, says Butcher, since the "editorial collective" model is a new one for IDG, which is now the sole owner of The Industry Standard after purchasing its assets in bankruptcy court.

Content will be less news and more analysis--contributions from around 50 journalists and bloggers will be short, 300 to 500-word stories covering the same online economy market as the brand's print heritage.

The prediction market feature, however, is where the real community functionality comes into play. After registering with the site, users get 100,000 "Industry Standard Dollars" to wager for or against a particular industry event. In the private beta, for example, testers bet on whether Microsoft would eventually buy Yahoo. The more users bet in favor of a prediction the more its market price goes up, the more that bet against it, the more its price goes down. "The price represents the market's consensus of the probability of that event occurring," says Butcher.

Not just a novel community feature, the market predictor also has a business function. Butcher plans to package the metrics with user demographics and sell the information into the financial and media channels. The site currently has an exclusive deal with IDG's research group IDC for the IT channel.

The site's second revenue stream comes from traditional display ads-Intel is exclusive launch sponsor for the first three months.

Butcher declined to elaborate on the site's development budget beyond describing it as a "typical skunk-works" operation that should break even fairly quickly. "We managed to keep costs very low. Even with very low traffic numbers, we'll break even because of the sponsorships and the research deals," he says, adding that after a year anything below 500,000 monthly page views would be considered "disappointing."

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