The next big thing

Publishing platform Onswipe offers an alternative to responsive design

Publishers have invested time and resources into creating beautiful, dynamic iPad apps–only to find that a chunk of their audience still discovers content through the iPad’s web browser. And when readers pull up a magazine’s website through the tablet browser, it can be a frustrating experience: constantly having to pinch and zoom, frequently clicking on the wrong link, mistakenly clicking on banner ads. Some publishers have tackled this problem by recreating their website in responsive design, allowing the site to render differently on different devices. Yet a responsive redesign can be costly and time-consuming. That’s why the New York-based start-up Onswipe is offering publishers another option: use Onswipe’s free platform to turn web content into a touch-enhanced experience that’s designed specifically for the tablet. 

I sat down with Onswipe’s chief executive Jason Baptiste to learn why Onswipe might be a better alternative to responsive design and how the platform is dreaming big about the future of mobile advertising.

What is it about the tablet reading experience that’s so different from the desktop? 
You look at desktop trends and they’re completely opposite than a tablet’s. The tablet is used when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. We think it’s really the TV of our generation. It’s a very different way of reading. And it’s much more of a lean-back experience because you’re intimate with the device. It’s much more like a magazine.

If you keep that in mind, you should build a much different experience on the tablet. A lot of folks think “Hey, let’s just shrink it down and build it in responsive design”, but that’s really just a stopgap measure that might work for mobile, but not for tablets. Tablets, if you want to do them justice, are a different sense experience. They require a focus on touch, high-res imagery, things being personal and one-on-one.

So how do you work with publishers to create that sense of touch and personal storytelling? It’s really a full platform approach. Publishers can put in their RSS feed, their Instagram, their video feed from a Brightcove. They bring in all of the places they publish content, and our focus is really on the design and experience. We don’t care what CMS they’re using. Then publishers can pick a design from our templates or use Onswipe draft to create pixel-perfect layouts because some publishers want to have their own unique design. Then, once a reader comes to any site from a tablet, they get something built for touch, built for a tablet.

Why would publishers work with Onswipe instead of just creating their own responsive design website? Responsive design is a great first solution to how to design for the smartphone, but it doesn’t take advantage of touch on the tablet. It’s not doing the tablet justice.

Publishers are great audience builders. They’re great at producing content and they even have some great tech teams. But they should build on top of something. That’s why we use the word “platform”, which really allows us to take care of the heavy lifting. We integrate with all of the rich-media ad platforms, such as Omniture and Google Analytics and other ad servers. We’ve also built all of the touch technology from the ground up. We provide ongoing maintenance and ongoing support. We really are building the 80 percent that your team doesn’t want to build from scratch or maintain for the next 5-10 years. But we let you build the 20 percent that’s yours — the customization, the design, the experience. And the platform is free. We actually want you to make money, not take your money.

The platform is free? How are you making money?
We realized that ads really needed to be something different. If you’re going to reinvent content to be more magazine-like, ads should be something different, too. And frankly no one on the Internet really seems to like advertising these days. And I think that’s endemic to advertising having never been thought of as part of the design process. But if you’re a design and experience company, and you integrate it platform-wide, you can fix advertising, too. And you can make that part of your business model, too. So we’re a large provider of advertising on tablets. We have our own ad sales team that brings in advertising and we also work with publishers’ ad sales teams. The bulk of the advertising revenue goes back to the publisher.

So no right-hand banner ads?
Nope. Everything’s above the fold, there’s nothing sitting on content. There’s content then ad content then ad. Our main focus is on native mobile ads that sit in between pages, that if users want to interact with, they can. They can choose whether to engage or to swipe to the next page. It gives the user choice.

Do people actually interact with ads more, or just avoid them?
People actually do interact with the full-page ads. Ads on the Onswipe platform experience an average more than 2 percent higher engagement than traditional mobile ads and an average of roughly 14 seconds spent within the ad experience

And is there an increase in mobile traffic to a publisher’s site after using Onswipe?
Absolutely. There’s on average a 300-800 percent increases in pages per visit from their existing readers. And we also see the number of visits increase. When you have content made for the device, people actually spend more time with it.