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Why is the web so important for architects?

I want to share with you some of the “wow” moments I had regarding architecture, media and the whole online world. Several years ago I became totally fascinated with what people were doing with both blogs and social media tools like Twitter. I had always been interested in websites, but had approached them from a local perspective. Thinking of them as tools that I could use to improve my workflow with consultants and to showcase my projects to prospective clients. What changed was me picking up a camera and teaching myself to photograph buildings. I taught myself by reading lots and lots of photography blogs and I saw how that industry had completely embraced the online world. This sparked the idea of investigating what photographers were doing online and seeing if their approach could be applied to architecture.

Wow moment number 1: Architectural media has already moved online

When you were studying to become an architect you probably looked at architecture magazines and said, one day I want to be in that magazine. I know I definitely did, and it seemed like getting published was the height of success. Magazines seem to wield so much power over the fate of an architect and when I now talk to other architects in my role as a photographer it still seems that everyone considers magazines the most important medium to get published in. Ever since reading the book Freakonomics though, which examines all sorts of perceived truths and examines them against data, I can’t help but be sceptical about everything until I see some numbers that demonstrate what people are actually doing, not what we think they are doing. That’s what lead to my first wow moment. I started collecting data on all sorts of things like magazines, Twitter users and architecture blogs. I wanted to see who the players were and figure out how the best people were doing whatever it was they were doing. The table below summarises that investigation and I should note that the magazine numbers are for Australian magazines (because I’m Australian) and that I’m sure there are magazines, especially in large countries like the US, that have much larger print runs. My wow moment was realising that architectural media had already shifted online. It wasn’t something that was starting to happen, it had already happened and now the online blogs were starting to make print runs look tiny compared to the opportunities on the web.

What’s more important, but less obvious from this chart are the social media numbers. They look small because each Twitter or Facebook user may only have a handful of followers, but you have to remember that there are thousands, if not millions of these users. Their impact isn’t by being one single media point like a magazine is, their value is being completely independent and diversified purveyors of information. It is guerrilla warfare applied to media. Little terrorist cells who pick and choose an architect’s project and passes it onto their own small audience. This topic in its own right is probably big enough to write a book on, so i won’t focus on it too much, what’s important is understanding how your website fits into this online world.

How information moves online

When someone uses Facebook or Twitter they typically write a message that says, “This is awesome  check it out.” They haven’t created any new content by doing this, they have simply just passed on a link to somewhere else on the web. In this sense Twitter and Facebook are simply just very big link lists. In another sense they are a way of filtering online content by recommendations from people you are connected with.

It’s not about being published in a single mag anymore, it’s about being part of a flow of shared information.

Blogs use a very similar process. They often syndicate existing content that already exists, or write around content that has been published by someone else. Google is aware of this and part of their search engine algorithm looks for the original source content. If you have a subscriptions to a lot of blogs on a similar topic you will see this in action. An authority site will publish an article and over the next week or so, blog after blog will rewrite that content and pass it onto their own smaller audience in their own flavour, or with their own point of view built around this core content. Some might consider this plagiarism, but in my mind this more resembles word of mouth. Someone tells you something and then you pass that on to the next person. This isn’t a new phenomenon either, the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times describes what they call the New York Times effect. When the New York Times would publish an article, smaller newspapers across America would follow suit. This is because the New York Times was an authority and would break stories like Watergate. So when the they published, others would follow suite.

What does this all mean for architects?

You need to be providing this core content if you want to be published online. A twitter user is never going to contact you saying, “Hi. I’m really interested in writing 140 characters about one of your projects, let’s set up a meeting to talk through a potential story.” It just doesn’t work like that. And the same goes for blogs. They want to write content now, using what they can find online and have it out into the world in a couple hours. There are exceptions to this of course and established design blogs do hire local writers and photographers to create original content, but they still need to locate these projects, and that’s where your site comes in.

Your site should be the original source of all content around your architecture. It should be the go to point for journalists, social media users and bloggers

I’m going to repeat this point, if you’re not providing the core content then you won’t exist online. Or if you do, you will be relying on third party publications to be creating that content which will either be irregular, or out of your control. In today’s world of self publishing you have no excuse for not “getting out there”. Everyone can create a website, and everyone can upload some images of their architecture. It’s definitely not easy, it takes a lot of work, but there is no one else to blame. It’s not the editors of magazines holding you back, because in many ways you are now the editor.




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