Dwell Reimagines Itself as a Social Network
The modern shelter magazine builds a new platform in pursuit of a fresh media model.
A forward-thinking company in an ever-changing industry, Dwell is trying something new. The 15-year-old brand, known for its thick paper stock and sophisticated display of aspirational housing design, will launch its new website on August 3. But don’t expect a digital magazine.
Dwell.com will soon be a dedicated “collaborative platform” — an interactive and social space where readers, design professionals and brands all post stories, photos and annotations. A more “democratic” version of Dwell, says Michela O'Connor Abrams, president of Dwell.
“This wasn’t trying to come up with a better widget or a better CMS, which is what most media companies had done,” O’Connor Abrams tells Folio:. “It was fundamentally changing the structure of the business and making this new technology platform the foundation of the future of the company.”
Structural changes began in 2013, when the San Francisco and New York-based magazine started taking on independent investors. Prior to that, Dwell was funded by creator Lara Deam and a family partnership.
One such investor is Dave Morin, a former Facebook employee and co-founder of the social network Path, who joined the project in 2015. The company credits Morin with providing both financial and intellectual capital to the project.
“Having access to somebody like Dave has made all the difference in the world,” O’Connor Abrams says.
The company has also expanded staffing. Dwell currently has 63 employees. Around one-third of them are engineers and product people, and most of that third started in the last year. The New York-based editorial, marketing and creative teams will maintain a dual role, working on both the print magazine and the new website.
Since the site has only been in public beta since June, it’s too early to say how much of the Dwell audience will sign up, but O’Connor Abrams expects to have 1 million users by next year. The current Dwell.com receives 1.2 million unique views monthly. The print edition has a distribution of 325,000, and, according to O’Connor Abrams, 1.1 million readers with pass along.
The print magazine will also undergo a redesign to become what O’Connor Abrams calls “a very meaningful companion to everybody on this platform.”
“We know with the Dwell community that they are eager to connect with each other, to learn and share ideas and inspirations…to interact meaningfully with trade professionals,” O’Connor Abrams says. “And that had not been done. Certainly it had not been done in the world of design.”
Though user-generated content is at the heart of the new project, O’Connor Abrams says that Dwell editors will keep a curatorial hand, making sure that the website reflects the community drawn in by the modern tastes of the magazine.
The new Dwell.com will also be free of banner-ads. While much of the site’s content will be branded, brands can sign up and post for free. Dwell will sell engagement through promotions and endorsements, but brands are expected to curate and tend to their own presence on the site. A premium membership will be available for small to mid-sized brands that can’t devote personnel to such campaigns.
“We want them to use this as a great destination for their brand. The advertising and sponsorship piece comes from our ability to amplify all of that content and their messaging,” O’Connor Abrams tells Folio:.
With Gaza came four more engineers whom he worked with on other projects. Today, he has a dedicated staff of 20. Though he’s been at Dwell for a year, Gaza says a full six months of that was committed to project planning and hiring.
“You really have to start strong,” Gaza tells Folio:. “There’s so much to do, and so much engineering work, that you have to be lockstep with each other. I see a lot of technical talent but really it’s about the people and if you can sit and work together for 16 hours a day.”
While launching a new tech platform is always ambitious, Gaza says that Dwell has the advantage of its strong editorial and curatorial voice, as well as an existing audience.
“It’s not about having a machine or algorithm that helps you discover new products. We’ve been focusing on giving the editorial team really great tools. And while we’re engineers and we believe in algorithms as well, we believe that those two should work together,” Gaza says.