Since 1956, Electronic Design has published Ideas for Design (IFDs) in almost every issue. Successive generations of editors have known they were popular. But it wasn’t until the Web provided us with search-engine metrics that we discovered that IFDs also were the most popular feature in the online version of the magazine.
Of course, that datum invites some scrutiny. In its printed form, Electronic Design reaches a “controlled circulation” of more than 100,000 readers who say they are practicing engineers who influence buying decisions on various sorts of electronic products. That list is refreshed every year by surveys.
On the Web, anybody can read us, so the potential audience is much larger. On the other hand, the broader audience is self-selecting for an interest in electronic technology. Similarly, Web site traffic is driven not only by search-engine queries, but also by items in our e-mail newsletters, which are sent multiple times each week. Those e-mail lists are refreshed in a fashion similar to the way the controlled-circulation snail-mail lists are updated. So I think it’s fair to conclude that when the numbers say that IFDs are the most popular feature in the magazine, that’s a credible assessment.
So why are they comparatively so popular? I have a theory about that.
It could be that, after more than 60 years, we have published so many Ideas for Design that no matter what kind of information online readers are looking for, one or more IFDs will pop up in response to their search queries. (This is part of what our publisher calls “evergreen” content.)
But having been a reader of electronic trade publications for most of my career, I have a different, complementary theory. I think our readers, online and in print, read them for fun. They’re like crossword puzzles or sudokus for the technologically literate.
Maybe you don’t think it explicitly. But somewhere in your mind, when you see a simple diagram and a few hundred words or so, it’s a challenge. A thought then forms: “Am I smarter than this guy? Could I do this even more elegantly? Will this even work, or did the guy dry-lab it?” And since we don’t get a lot of corrective e-mail, you generally conclude that the idea is at least plausible.
That’s my theory. Let me know if you don’t agree.
Archives Lost And Found
On a topic related to IFDs, or more specifically, evergreen content, our online archives only go back to 1990. There are 34 years of previous magazines that cannot be accessed via the Web. That’s because, in days of yore, the magazine was either pasted up the old-fashioned way with cold type and masking film and printed from metal plates or, later, laid out on primitive desktop-publishing tools and stored on floppy discs that nobody can read any more.
This creates some problems, because that old content is getting more difficult to access as hard copy. First, people still want to read these articles. Second, institutional libraries no longer maintain back issues in their stacks.
Generally, I get two or three requests from readers each year for copies of articles that appeared long ago. The sources of the references may be a citation in some paper or some other kind of Web research that calls them out. Sometimes, I cannot imagine how the engineer who sent me the e-mail found out about the article.
So why do readers ask for these old articles? My guess is that sometimes it’s an unusual circuit or test method they’re after. Sometimes it’s the original author, and he’s lost his own hard copy. Sometimes there’s a patent issue and somebody’s researching prior art. Whatever the reason, I try to accommodate the reader.
At Electronic Design’s headquarters, which has moved around but is presently in midtown Manhattan, we have bound volumes of old issues. But I work in Silicon Valley, and if I ask somebody in New York to find the old story, copy it, and send it to my correspondent, I lose control of the process, and I can’t be sure the loop is going to be closed.
That’s why, in the past, I’d just drive over to Stanford University to the Engineering Library in the old Terman building and head up to the second floor, where there were stacks and stacks filled with bound copies of all the engineering magazines and proceedings going back to, I don’t know, maybe Steinmetz and Armstrong (see the figure). I’d find the volume, skim through to the article, pop a couple of quarters in the copying machine, and send the old article off to the reader who requested it.
The onsite print collection at Stanford Unviersity’s Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Library now only offers 10,500 books and 80 journals. However, it also boasts 65,000 e-books and 12,000 e-journal subscriptions, plus access to many online resources and circulating e-readers. (photo by Bill Zemanek)
Access to those archives came literally crashing down with the razing of the old Terman building and Stanford’s decision to provide online-only access to technical media.
The Stanford University Libraries do have a special off-site storage facility for books and journals built and maintained by the Stanford University Libraries. This facility is located in Livermore, California, so the process is a little more involved. II would need to make a request via the Stanford Libraries online catalog, SearchWorks, after which, the bound volume would be delivered to whichever of the campus libraries I’d choose, and then, not being s Stanford student, staff, faculty or researcher, I’d have to use it in the library which is perfect for just making a copy.
So this week when a reader asked me for an article from 1988, I asked the folks at the New York office to find me the article. But the 1988 volume has gone walkabout! The whole year! It must be on somebody’s desk, and eventually, that somebody is going to say, “Oops. Sorry.”
In the meantime, I’d like to ask you readers for some more help. If you’re an engineering school graduate, and it’s convenient for you to ask, could you check with the library to see if it maintains bound copies? I’d like to create a database from which, I can send readers to university libraries near them where they will find what they need. I can be reached at [email protected].
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