Buildipedia is one of my favourite web resources for the construction sector. I’ve been a subscriber of their articles for a while now and I was waiting for an opportunity to share this resource with our community.
In the 14th episode of the Construction Industry Podcast, I had a great chat with Kristin Dispenza, Managing Editor of this hugely popular website. Buildipedia covers the entire world of design and construction with an online network of high-definition videos, interviews, photo galleries, case studies, reports, and social networking.
Take a listen by clicking the orange “play” button above.
Listen to the entire episode by clicking the orange “play” button above. Or you can check out the entire text transcription of the discussion by clicking here: [spoiler]
Cesar: Hello everybody. Once again, my name is Cesar Abeid and this is the Construction Industry Podcast, a podcast dedicated to helping you as you navigate the waters of the construction industry. Whether you’re looking to start your career, to improve your professional knowledge or if you’re a construction project or business owner, this is the show for you.
Today I will talk to Kristin Dispenza, managing editor of the hugely popular Buildipedia website. Buildipedia covers the entire word of design and construction with an online network of high definition videos, interviews, photo galleries, case studies, reports and social networking. So check it out.
Kristin Dispenza graduated from the Ohio State University in 1988 with a BS in Engineering from the School of Architecture and a minor in English literature. Throughout the early 1990s, she worked as a freelance design writer for the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. Since that time, her freelance activities have expanded to include writing for trade publications and website, as well as other forms of electronic media.
Kristin joined Buildipedia in October of 2011 and Kristin is talking to me today from her office in Columbus, Ohio. Hello, Kristin. How are you?
Kristin: Hi, Cesar. Nice to be talking to you. How are you today?
Cesar: I’m doing great. It’s an unusually warm winter up here in Canada. I don’t know …
Kristin: Oh, yes. It’s very warm here in Ohio too. It’s a little bit of strange weather.
Cesar: Yes, I think you’re just right across Lake Erie from me. I could throw a rock across the lake and it would hit you.
Kristin: Right. Yes, yes. Well, it’s not bad for the drive to work but …
Kristin: Not getting to see a lot of …
Cesar: Yes. Now Kristin, I decided to ask you a few questions about Buildipedia because I think it’s where you all put together websites and I’m a subscriber to the RSS feed meaning I get the articles that are published there. I think it’s really well put together.
Kristin: Thank you.
Cesar: You’re welcome. I’m always intrigued by how people in the industry reach out to the industry at large because it’s such a broad and diverse industry as you know. You have carpenters all the way to CEOs of major construction companies that are doing work all over the world.
The art of reaching out to this very diverse group of people is something that even here at the podcast, I’m always struggling with. How to approach certain topics and what topics to cover and I think Buildipedia does a great job at being like a one-stop shop for a lot of these people in the industry.
So I just wanted to ask you a few questions about Buildipedia if that’s OK and I would like to start with who started it and why did they do it, when it happened and how it came together.
Kristin: Well, it was started in 2009 by a couple of guys who came from the construction industry. They had a successful business in real estate development and construction and they saw a need. They had a vision for online destination that would be a real resource for – especially contractors. I think it was their initial target market. They wanted to see everything come together in one place and they decided to be the ones to bring that to the market and so they assembled a team.
The first thing they did was they decided to arrange it around MasterFormat categories and set up knowledge base and they hired many writers at that time who were not actually writers by profession but people from the industry who would share their expertise. They started to round out the knowledge base which you will still see as a part of the site today.
Now it has not been the part of the site that has received the most attention. Over the past year, I think once it became clear that Buildipedia needed to really grow itself as a business, they turned their attention a little bit to the front page that you see today. That’s how I got pulled in. I started as a freelance writer and many other freelance writers came onboard at that time and really started operating with traditional journalism [0:04:56] [Indiscernible] behind it and they do what journalists have always done. They contact the source. They write up an interview and the story. So that part of the site then really grew more than the MasterFormat categories.
Moving forward into 2012, one of the things that you will see is trying to bring the knowledge base up to its original vision, what it was intended to be. But the fact that it was started by people in the industry is responsible for the fact that it really strives to be a solid technical resource.
Cesar: Yes. I think that’s fascinating, that it started as a side project and then just took a life on its own and now it’s its own business. When did you say it was incorporated as a separate business?
Kristin: It just became a separate business at the very end of last year. So it had stayed kind of a sideline of the original business for a while and had a lot of contract workers. I mean initially in the early days when they were building up the knowledge base, you could come to the space that we’re leasing here in Columbus and find many, many people coming together for lunch meetings, that sort of thing; but really a lot of people working independently to contribute. Then it all got pulled a little more tightly together after that to try to make it into something more cohesive, I guess I would say.
Kristin: But a lot of valuable stuff was started then. It’s still what brings value to the site today.
Cesar: Now can you tell me how many readers or subscribers Buildipedia has?
Kristin: Yes. I would say we have maybe 40,000 [0:06:50] [Phonetic] visitors per week.
Cesar: OK. Well, that’s impressive. Besides creating the content, of course I’m sure you’re being found by Google searches and you have videos that are probably on YouTube as well. So besides creating the content that you have, what else do you do to attract readers and subscribers?
Kristin: We do have a marketing associate. We have tried to develop the social media, use a little bit more of the social media. They did recognize early on that social media was going to become important. As the knowledge base started to grow and they started to realize the need to let people know what’s out there, they used the tools that I think many people are using now, relying a little bit maybe on Facebook and Twitter. Also there has always been a vision that we would create a big community, get a lot of discussions going and to make that happen, they need to find employees who could get the best comment for some software for example. Once they implemented those, then there was a leap forward, a real improvement in readership and in discussions.
Cesar: Yes. One thing is having an active readership but another thing altogether is to have engagement.
Kristin: Right, yes.
Cesar: So if people are just reading it passively, you don’t even know who they are and they’re not contributing but once you start getting comments and input that way, then it becomes a two-way street and everybody benefits.
Kristin: Yes, and you find out so much more about your audience. For example, another thing that will be growing in 2012 is content for students because we get a lot of comments from students and a lot of feedback from students and I think initially maybe that group wasn’t considered as the Buildipedia’s audience but the fact is they’re [0:09:09] [Indiscernible].
Cesar: Come to see, yes.
Cesar: Well, we talked about this in previous episodes but there is a generation gap in the construction industry now where in the last few decades, it didn’t see a whole lot of young people joining. Of course they did but it wasn’t as – in decades prior and there’s a bit of a gap now because you have all these young people coming in because before the recession, there was this boom. So it became attractive again and so all these new people come in that are versed in the internet and social media and then you jump ahead like 20, 30 years to the previous generation who sometimes don’t even own a computer.
Kristin: [0:10:03] [Inaudible] yes.
Cesar: One of the reasons why we have the podcast is to fill in that void because there is all this new blood coming in that are used to this kind of new media and if you’re there to provide Buildipedia which is like a platform and a portal for them, I think it’s a great opportunity right now.
Kristin: Right. Yes, yes. There is a generation gap there. It’s certainly a distinction between the ways they use the media. We had some conversations with folks from the construction industry last year that showed us maybe we needed to redirect our content a little bit to a format that they were more familiar with. One of the things you may have seen, if you’re subscribing via the RSS feed, is Contractor to Contractor. Have you noticed that headline on some of the articles that are more technically oriented towards the construction industry professional? I think of that as kind of a sub-brand of Buildipedia because back to one of your earlier points, because of the broad nature of the audience, one of my challenges as managing editor is to try to fill out little pockets of knowledge.
Since I can’t make it all happen by next month or the month after that, I have to fill out little areas of the site and grow from there. So one of the things that we brought on recently was Contractor to Contractor and it’s really trying to mimic that job site experience because what contractors were saying is we don’t necessarily sit at our desks and drink our coffee and read articles online but when we need to learn something, we need to learn it from the guy who’s standing next to us. We ask our buddy and so we’ve kind of tried to replicate that because of course everybody needs to use the web as a resource sometimes and we hope that they find Contactor to Contractor and recognize that job site kind of feel.
Cesar: Yes. It makes sense. Like we do the podcast but we are a service provider. Our company is a service provider for the construction industry. So I’m at construction sites all the time, at the site trailer and the site trailer is like its own little community. You have all the contractors there and they’re talking about different things about the project but they’re also talking about other things and usually their smart phones and laptops are put away.
Cesar: It’s great but it limits the conversation to that location, to that trailer but if you have that on the web, then you can provide a way for contractors from all over the world to connect and exchange ideas and experiences and things like that. So I think it’s a fantastic idea.
Kristin: And it’s a great way to leverage the power of multimedia. I come from a print background. For years now, I was a freelancer working for print magazines because it was before the internet was really found out but now one of the things I enjoy about being an editor for an online publication, if you will, is that there’s limitless space to fill out. I don’t have to worry about sticking to a word limit and reducing the amount of information so that it fits into a certain layout. As I did for Contractor to Contractor, when we talked about the level of detail we need to bring to the audience, we can do that. We can talk about exactly how those screws are supposed to fit into the studs and it’s great to be able to do that.
Cesar: Yes, for sure. Not only that. You get the level of feedback that you’ve never had before. You can see how many people are reading that article and where they’re coming from [0:14:14] [Indiscernible] world where the clicks are coming from and it’s a lot easier to iterate and direct your content towards what’s popular.
Kristin: Yes, it definitely is. Yes, and it keeps it perennially changing. Buildipedia has had a couple of different looks already in its short life and I think we will probably have another new look coming again soon because we’re constantly responding and retooling a bit and trying to find what works for us and what works for the audience and it’s constantly changing and growing.
Cesar: Great. Now I like to switch gears a little bit about the creators. Do they still have their construction business, the brick-and-mortar construction business or do they dedicate themselves to Buildipedia 100 percent all the time now?
Kristin: No, they don’t actually dedicate themselves to Buildipedia 100 percent. They still are very active, mostly active in their original company.
One thing they did early on was to partner with a multimedia studio, Kinopicz American, who had already built up a business that could provide website design, technology development. They were familiar with online marketing. They’ve done all the videos. So they brought a lot to the project and they just naturally fit them as a partner and they’ve had as much to do with the day to day operations really as the founding partners. They all work together as a team but it brought in a very established path because to try to bring all this knowledge and put it on the web, they need highly technically savvy partners.
Cesar: Right, right. Yes, I’m assuming the partners are mostly involved in collecting the team of freelance writers such as yourself and putting then the portal together and that side of the business.
Kristin: Yes, yes. That’s correct, the entire just like framework. Yes.
Cesar: Now a couple of episodes ago, we had a round table discussion on the power of blogging for construction professionals in businesses and I think we talked about this before the show. In there, we talked about how this can help professionals and businesses to become experts in their fields, to have their name out there. Do you know how Buildipedia has helped the founders in their own businesses?
Kristin: I did notice that when I was listening to the podcast because they talked quite a bit about using blogging to drive traffic to their main company and that sort of thing. I think an interesting distinction or an interesting difference is that Buildipedia was really started as a separate pursuit. It didn’t tie in much with the company that the founders were running at the time or are still running. It was kind of a separate vision and a separate dream, if you will, to have this completely independent project which then became an independent business.
So it’s much more separate than what you would think of a blog being intended to do. This is really a separate business and you can probably see that a little bit in just the fact that – hiring journalists for example, that sort of things to a different sort of strategy.
Cesar: Yes, it is and I think this attitude speaks to the success of Buildipedia because it’s a pure approach. We’re doing this because we love this idea and if it helps us, great. If it doesn’t, we’re still going to do it because it’s something we believe in.
Kristin: Yes. Yes, it is.
Cesar: It speaks to authenticity and I think that’s like one of the most popular websites in blogs today. They’re popular because the people who are behind them, they’re authentic. They’re trying to help people and the reader can see right through it. If you have a blog just to promote your own business, you just simply add – like I do this podcast because I enjoy talking to people like you and throughout the years, we built such a network of professionals in the industry that I thought, “Wouldn’t that be great to share these contacts that we have with the public, with the people in the industry at large and pick their brains and talk about different topics such as this?”
I think that’s the attitude so I think that’s why Buildipedia has become what it is because of the initial attitude and motives of the founders.
Kristin: It was an idealistic pursuit more or less and I think that goes right down to many members of the team even from the top on down. So it is a pure pursuit as you say. Now that said, we’ve also had to learn a lot from the blogging world. I think creating a blog maybe wasn’t the initial goal. Like I said, it was set up around MasterFormat. There was a certain fairness to the original intent and I think early on, the business overall had to recognize the importance of Google and search engine optimization and having indexable pages. I know that’s something that has been brought up in the podcast on blogging, having many indexable pages. So there are certain structural parts of the site that were informed by what bloggers had already learned about navigating the internet and being seen on the internet.
Cesar: Now, after being online for a while now, I’m sure you’re doing your standard analytics to see which posts are more popular and which angles people engage more. So do you have like a more well-defined niche audience and how do you decide what the right audience is for Buildipedia?
Kristin: Well, whenever I look at Google Analytics, I do notice there are certain pods of activity for construction. For example, we’ve had a lot of views for our light gauge metal stud framing. There was one early article added to the knowledge base that has just seen thousands and thousands of visitors since it was put on the site. So I look at that and that directly tied in to the fact that I chose metal stud framings for my first topic that we addressed on Contractor to Contractor because people are Googling this hundreds of times a day.
Kristin: And so, I thought more is better and so we’ve been rounding out that knowledge. Instead of just one in-depth article, we’re putting out a series of in-depth articles so that people can hopefully start to find exact answers to that question. We also have a lot of architects and engineers who read the site. Certain star architects get searched a lot and so I think there’s always a broad readership for pretty buildings.
Kristin: So we put a lot of those on the site.
Cesar: Yes. I think people who have their own projects there are curious to see what other projects look like and so this kind of showcase articles is usually popular.
Kristin: Yes, they definitely are.
Cesar: So would you say that this article on the metal stud is your most popular entry?
Kristin: It is the most popular entry so far, yes.
Cesar: Interesting. Now, as we move forward here in the world of the web and now the social media is a huge part as well, where do you see a place for construction blogs such as Buildipedia as we – sources like Twitter, which is micro blogging and become more popular and people are sharing things on a more personal level instead of just going to a static website. I know that you talked about creating community there. So is this an attempt to embrace that social aspect of the web or what are your thoughts on that?
Kristin: That is definitely one of the target areas that we’re trying to put a little more energy to. There is some video production in the works which is fundamentally different, I guess, but it also invites a lot of feedback into the social component. We’ve been brainstorming that it will be a lot more interactive because since multimedia is still in its infancy, you kind of have to think through from the bottom up, thinking what could we do with this level of interactivity and what software will support it, what technology can we assemble, that sort of thing.
Social media, that’s a heavy part of what our marketing employee does. He tweets. He tries to let people know what’s out there and it really does make a huge difference especially in some of those topic areas where just about everyone would like to go online and look and see the fantastic new buildings maybe being built overseas.
Cesar: OK. Well, if our listeners want to learn more about Buildipedia, where should they go?
Kristin: Buildipedia.com. It has got an “I”. A lot of people Google “Buildapedia” with an “A” but it’s actually an “I”.
Cesar: You should buy that other domain and point it to …
Kristin: Yes [0:25:19] [Inaudible].
Cesar: OK. Well, Kristin, this has been a delight. Thank so much for answering my questions and I’m sure that our listeners will learn a lot by going to Buildipedia and there’s a huge knowledge base there, a lot of other people in the industry they can connect to. It’s almost like a mini LinkedIn for construction guys and I think it’s a great resource and I would like to thank you once again for answering my questions.
Kristin: Thank you very much. [0:25:46]