Starting Small and the Importance of Being Iterative

    by David Cohn
    July 3, 2008

    The short story: People are starting to ask me how they can get involved in Spot.Us. The site won’t really be ready until the Fall, but I hate telling people to wait. In an effort to start community building, so we don’t lose track of ideas and to keep everything transparent, I’m happy to point people to the Spot Us Community Wiki. It’s not high-tech but this wiki, combined with a blog and a third party e-commerce solution is enough to organize “community funded reporting.”

    If you are a citizen and have a story idea or a reporter and want to pitch the public on an investigation you can do so on the wiki!!!! Feel free to contact us if you need help!

    The Long story: Growing a vibrant online community isn’t a science – it’s an art. Which is to say, we can never know definitively what will and won’t work…..


    But we can try.

    In fact, that’s usually where conversations about social media start: “the barrier to entry has dropped to nearly zero.” That’s often the imputes for somebody starting a blog. “Why not!” They say to themselves. Maybe I’ll be the next Fake Steve Jobs, Stuff White People Like or other internet phenomena.

    What’s really powerful is knowing that if you aren’t a huge sensation (which is likely given the statistics of it all) you won’t lose the shirt off your back while trying. You are likely to fail but you can learn in the process, move on, and try again.


    It’s an iterative process. Web entrepreneurs like Guy Kawasaki, Jason Calacanis, Dave Winer and others know this all too well. I constantly have to remind myself that innovation online is iterative. Nobody gets it right the first time. “Facebook wasn’t built in a day.”

    That said, let’s look at my current situation.

    I want to pioneer “community funded reporting.” I envision a site that will seamlessly allow groups of people to submit or support story ideas and reporters can turn those into story pitches, supported by independent editors and an e-commerce solution ties the whole thing together (that’s a quick and dirty explanation of course).

    But the barrier to entry is fairly high if I want to build it using Ruby on Rails or Drupal. We are talking about more than a blog here – it’s a system with moving parts. I’m very fortunate that Knight has given me startup money to build the system – so rest assured, this site and system will be made.

    But combine bureaucracy, design, and development time – and it starts to sound like spot.us will move at an incredibly slow speed. Especially if I want to stay iterative. (I’m aiming for September/October, but you know how development can go).

    The good news is that nothing is stopping me from trying to organize community funded reporting tomorrow.

    Hence: wiki.spot.us and blog.spot.us
    (hat tip to unamesa for the wiki)

    The wiki isn’t flashy, it will require more attention from me as an administrator – but it CAN get the job done. All that’s needed is a third party e-commerce solution like Fundable or ThePoint.com to collect money in a fair way.

    Now – this is NOT AT ALL what I want for Spot.Us in the long-term. My final vision is a site that ensures quality by creating an open market. The site itself is an organizing principle. Where the wiki will require heavy moderation to ensure that pitches serve the public good in the Bay Area (no Brittany Spears pitches please) the site will eventually do that automatically by creating a strict taxonomy that pitches must adhere to.

    But as I work with developers, designers and more to get Spot.Us in shape – there is nothing to stop us from trying this together.

    If you are a Bay Area citizen or freelance reporter, check out the Spot.Us wiki. Think of an issue that needs to be reported better and let your voice be heard.

    The best explanation of my job at this point for the wiki: If you are a reporter – I’ll be your fundraiser, if you are a citizen with a concern – I’ll help find a reporter to investigate.

    As layoffs continue in the newsrooms – real life problems continue to persist in the bay area. Journalism keeps democracy strong and now, as a community, we need to step up to ensure that journalism continues to play a part in our healthy democracy.

    Tagged: community funded reporting spot.us wiki

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