Yesterday I took an hour or so to synthesis one thing I’ve been working on, the Organizational Development Roadmap [Google Doc], in to responses that better fit the questions on our Knight News Challenge application. Right off the bat, Ryan Sholin responded with questions I thought it would be easier to clarify in a blog post. First, he says:
1. OK, you need two years and more money.
The first year, you can roll out a prototype school or three in the fall, a few more in the spring, and by the time the next summer rolls around, you have a service you’ve taken a school year to develop and improve before you bring it out on a larger scale.
To this, I partially agree. Currently, we’re asking for $70,000 from the Knight News Challenge and have a time scale of one year. I am opposed, at the moment, to asking for more money than I think is necessary. We have little understanding of what our costs will be (plus I’m sure they will scale over time) and the other applications in the garage that have asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, seem outlandish. I don’t want CoPress to be taken as an outlandish project.
For me, the one year qualifies the amount of time it will take to build part of something cool. CoPress, by no means, would be “finished” at the end of the first year. A year, though, sounds good for project scope and two years sounds too long.
Second, Ryan asks:
2. Other than it feeling warm and fuzzy, being based on open-source software and thus extensible, what’s the advantage to a student news org to use this instead of College Publisher? It’s free, and hosted, and if you ever get enough traffic, there’s a rev share on the national ads, right? How is this different. (I’d emphasize that it will be built on a platform that students can learn and adapt to their own needs, right?)
Boy, do I ever agree with you. As I’ve written before and before, “hackability” is critical. Student news organizations need to be working on an open source platform (or, bowing to Kevin, Ken, and Expression Engine, at least one with a plugin architecture) so that they have the ability to innovate as fast as they can. If anyone tries to argue with me that student news organizations don’t need digital distribution platforms they can innovate with, I won’t listen to you. The software College Publisher uses is, from all of my experiences, clunky, janky, and proprietary. We’ll win people over when we show them we have an easy-t-deploy, maintainable, and open and innovate platform to use. Hell, we’re friendly too.
At the moment, we’re not working on a national ad network, although ability to deploy ads will be functionality we provide in some capacity. I’ve heard rumors that there is another group working on the ad coop, however.
3. If you’re going to offer hosting, that’s going to cost money to maintain after a News Challenge grant would run out. What’s the business plan moving forward? And if you’re not going to offer hosting, what super-easy-to-install platform are you going to build the service on?
(WordPress or Drupal? Maybe… An Ellington-like Django-based CMS would actually be difficult, unless the student news orgs in question all have access to and control of their servers.)
The business plan is being worked out. Currently, we’re looking at a few different potential revenue streams:
- Fee for service: core CoPress developers offer technical support (database porting, site theming, temporary support if you don’t have an online editor for a term, etc.) for affordable rates.
- Flat rate fee for basic hosting, management, and support
- Grants and donation drives; foundation support
- Using The Point for raising money for plugins/add’l functionality; money raised will fund development by a web developer from the CoPress community
And it’s funny you ask about what platform we’re going to use. We’re in the process of researching the best one for our needs through our surveys and CMS audit. We’ve developed a list of what we think is critical functionality [Google Doc], and are in the process of researching how well Drupal, WordPress, Django, and/or Ruby on Rails could be hacked to fit these needs.
The million dollar question:
4. One of the winners last year is building a CMS/community network tool (plus some front-end print scheduling?) for student media. How is this different (hosting? other services?) and why is it (also) necessary?
Ryan, I think what you’re referring to is the Populous Project. We actually were talking with them about a month and a half ago, but haven’t heard anything since. What we’re doing is similar in the CMS sense (although we preferably won’t be building an entire CMS from scratch) but different in approach: we’re focusing on the technical ecosystem first. The medium to long term survival of CoPress requires a vibrant ecosystem of student Online Editors, etc. because they’re going to be the ones hacking away, educating and supporting each other, and advancing innovation in student news.
We’re working together in an open, transparent, and collaborative fashion, and that’s how we’re different.
Update: Oddly enough, the CoPress Google Group received an email from one of the Populous Project grantees a couple of hours ago in regards to why we shouldn’t consider Ruby on Rails. Hopefully we’ll hear more about their development soon.