While I was joyfully surfing my way through MagWeb, Lockwood was graciously answering some questions I had for him about himself and his site.
What started your interest in military history?
As a kid, somewhere around six or seven years old, my father taught me how to play chess. This inevitably led to questions about what a "knight" was, or a "castle", or "king." That led to the library and books about medieval history, and that led to the entire history section. I was particularly interested in WWII, as my grandfather fought in it and had a bronze star certificate on the wall, but he never said two words about it. So, I kept reading and playing chess, and finding other avenues to explore military history–like board wargames, miniatures, and so forth.
The root interest was the problem solving appeal of trying to checkmate an opponent before he checkmated you…and then to do so with minimal loss and as quickly as possible. With larger and more complex simulations, say of WWII, the possibilities multiply exponentially.
I suppose you could say I started as an armchair general before I knew the definition of armchair or general. But beyond the mental puzzle aspect lies a reality of pivotal historical events and the effect on people and places. Once you understand the "who" and "what" and "when" and "where," then you can start to understand the "why."
What computer training/experience did you have prior to starting MagWeb.com?
I was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, trying to create a large consumer content site called Interchange. We got to prototype stage, but management changed, it never launched, and I transferred over to the business content side. In a sad ceremony known to few and attended by even fewer, I helped purge all the content with the press of a single key–the background music was a punk rock remake of the theme to the "Underdog" cartoon from the 1960s-70s. After a couple months, I saw which way the company wind was blowing, volunteered for a little "tin parachute" buyout, and invested the money into MagWeb.com. That was 1996.
Prior to AT&T, I was a freelance writer/editor for various computer magazines (Computer Shopper, Windows Sources, PC Sources), an on-line editor for Ziff-Davis Publications on CompuServe (PC Magazine and Computer Gaming World), and freelancing for non-computer magazines as well (Hotel Business, Restaurant Business, etc.). Back in the late 1980s, I was Senior Editor for Personal Computing magazine–at that time the only computer magazine to ever be nominated for a National Magazine Award. This is like the Oscars for magazines. For three years we were nominated, but alas, lost to Newsweek, National Geographic, and Esquire. I’d like to think I helped get us to that level.
Prior to that, I was an asst. editor for Creative Computing magazine, wrote tech manuals for AT&T’s phone division, was the telecommunications editor for A+ magazine (Apple computers), and was a business staff writer for the NY Times Information Service (an online service before the term "online" became popular).
With all the publication background, I figured I knew how to put together an editorial package that would appeal to military history buffs just like me. The trick, of course, was figuring out exactly how to do it. I was not a programmer, but give AT&T credit…it put us through training and bought programming books. I just picked up a HTML 1.0 how-to book and started reading and programming. It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it worked.
The other thing AT&T was good at was buying lots and lots of analytical reports–marketing, ergonomics, and so on. When trying to craft the consumer site, I read every one I could get my hands on to integrate ideas into the site. When I started MagWeb.com, I brought the knowledge with me and incorporated things overt and subtle into the design and function.
For example, you’ll notice that every article page in MagWeb.com has a colored bar down the left hand side of the screen. This creates an "eye-stopper" that forms a continual wall where the eye and brains knows to "begin." Even though the bezel forms the edge of the screen, the bezel goes all the way around. A colored bar is only on the left, so when your eye reads the end of a line and heads left to drop down to the next line, it halts at the colored bar and not the bezel. According to one of the reports, that speeds up your on-screen reading by 5 to 7 percent.
I modified the bar so that it would *not* print out, which saves toner. In addition, for those that print out articles to save, it leaves room for a three-hole punch, so you can save it in a paper notebook.
That’s the technical side. The business side required trips to a lawyer, and the sales side required (and requires) a lot of plugging away. MagWeb.com started with 8 magazines in 1996. At press time in 2004, we’re at 121 publications (closing in on 50,000 articles), with more on the way.
One thing AT&T was not good at was figuring out that you don’t have to design version 8.0 from the outset. You don’t want to sell beta versions like other companies do, but 1.0 means that there’s basic functionality and you can add the bells and whistles later. On-line is a different medium from paper…or stone. It is, by definition, mutable. I didn’t wait to gather all the issues from 100 publications and then launch. I launched with one issue from 8 magazines. That’s maybe 200 articles. We added 5 or 6 *per month* in 1996. And yes, we took some knocks about lack of content and slowness of updating. And yes, I certainly wished I had AT&T resources. But that creaky start gave us practical experience in building an archive. As you can see on our site, we’re up to posting 25+ issues per month, plus bonus articles like book reviews, WarLore, news items, battlefield visits, and so onâ€”something almost every day.
Another point was the "per-article" fees or "per-minute" fees that had been charged for accessing content at that time. I never liked that when I was surfing around, so I vowed that this should not be the MagWeb model. I saw first-hand that per-article fees only managed to raise the ire of customers: you have to pay first and find out if the article was worth it. Inevitably, 9 out of 10 were not and so they’d ask for their money back–creating both an accounting and customer support headache. You get rid of that entire problem with a pay once, read all you want model.
How did you bring your military history and computer interests together?
I had an advantage in that I had been doing a magazine review column for a small military history/wargame magazine for many years. These publications, though small, often had incredible amounts of information, but few people could subscribe to *all* of them. So I figured, wouldn’t it be great to bring them to the attention of more people, make them available for one low price the way you can watch lots of movies on a premium cable channel for one price, and create one spot so you don’t have to wander all over the web to find military history info.
It was that simple–build a premium web channel for military history, charge around $5 or $6 a month, and let members read any or all of it without worrying about per-article fees or time. That’s MagWeb.com.
For the publishers, especially small-circ publications, they combine to form a "strength in numbers" effect to let the world know about their expertise. There’s no way each one could afford large marketing campaigns. But together, we can create something that can promote the study of military history and be widely accessible. They get royalties, they get exposure, and they attract more subscribers. Note that we do not charge publishers any fees–no coding fees, storage fees, maintenance fees, or fee fees. We pay royalties for exclusive on-line rights, while the publisher keeps all copyrights, etc., and can produce the same material on any other medium except on-line. So it’s a no-cost way for a publisher to get on-line with other publications of a military history nature and keep control of his production schedule, content, and distribution.
For MagWeb.com members, they get massive doses of military history and related topics (like wargaming) in one inexpensive on-line package. That’s just the way I would want it to be.
Merging them was no problem at all once we figured out the technical and business aspects. The biggest technical challenge took four months–figuring out how to accept credit cards on the web in 1996. It’s automatic now, but back in 1996, figuring out how to accept and process a credit card, *AND* allow instant access to the archive was a big deal.
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