I thought about ReportingOn for more than a year before the public beta launched on October 1; I turned the idea over in my head, scrawled back-of-a-napkin sketches, and built several HTML prototypes before I ever got close to building something with dynamic code.
While I was going through that process of refining the idea and deciding which features were crucial and which would just be gravy, it turned out that a lot of other people were trying to solve the same problem, although not strictly with journalists in mind.
Here are some of the ways you can build a backchannel for your newsroom today, if not necessarily your beat, without ReportingOn:
If all you need is a way to bring together short updates by a small, set group of people, put up a WordPress blog on your own server with the Prologue theme in place, or use WordPress.com to host it, especially if everyone involved already has an account there.
You’ll get a front pages with recent updates, user pages with their updates, tags to use for something like “beats” or “projects” or “groups” — plus all the usual bells and whistles for WordPress that are available via plugins. Another feature: As with all WordPress blogs, you can always make it private by throwing a password on it, restricting it to internal use.
Verdict: I like it, and I love WordPress, but this really isn’t the way to make new connections, it’s a project management tool to keep track of what everyone in your office or newsroom or virtual office is working on.
First things first, let’s get this out of the way: This is going to cost you money if you’re going to make it useful to a group of more than five people. But it looks like a very well-designed user interface, with features like a mobile site and an API that uses the Twitter API convention out of the box.
This thing is built for enterprise use, inside a company, to be stable and pleasant to work with. That said, again, it costs money. $14/month gets you 15 users, $39 gets you 40, $99 gets 100.
Verdict: Pretty, but probably not worth the money unless you need a mobile version of an internal status-sharing tool tomorrow.
This TechCrunch50 winner operates along the same lines as Present.ly: It’s Twitter for your corporate network. Set up your own network with the e-mail address domain (say, newspaper.com) as the key to entry.
The pricing model is interesting: Yammer is free, unless you want administrative control over users (say, to delete folks who leave your company?), at which point, you’ll pay a dollar per user per month if I’m reading it right. Lots of features here, with iPhone and Blackberry applications, IM interface, and easy friend and tag following.
Verdict: Yammer probably makes a ton of sense for a large, distributed news organization like a national newspaper or a cable news network. As long as everyone has the same e-mail domain, it’s easy to build a web of workgroups, whether their offices are across a river from each other or on the other side of the world.
So this is a 37signals product built into Backpack, which means it’s designed to do a small number of things and do them incredibly efficiently. So it’s useful on its own, and if you’re already using Backpack or Basecamp or Campfire, it should be easy to integrate into your workflow.
Backpack Journal should work well for small group work and long-term projects. The calendar built into Backpack makes it easy to track who’s doing what when, so if you’re spending two months on an investigative piece that’s going to run 40 inches long with two sidebars, a slideshow, two videos, and a database, this would be a great way to track everyone’s progress.
Pricing for Backpack starts at $24 per month for 6 users, $49 for 15, and $99 for 40, so this might not be the most cost-efficient option out there.
Verdict: If you’re already using 37signals services, this is a fantastic addition to their suite of productivity tools. If you’re a small team, Backpack might be a good buy, as long as your team commits to using it. If no one signs in and posts updates, checks off boxes on the calendar, or tracks progress of pieces of your project, it’s not a very productive productivity app, now is it?
So far, much of the public reaction to ReportingOn has been filed under “Twitter for Journalists.” Ideally, I’d like it to differ from Twitter in more than a few ways, and I’ve been actively looking for inspiration as I develop features that serve to connect journalists of all stripes in a more productive and deeper way than following each other on Twitter allows.
And yesterday, I took a look at blip.fm for the first time.
While Twitter asks “What are you doing?” and ReportingOn asks “What are you reporting on?” and the above list of microblogging tools for enterprise asks “What are you working on?” blip.fm asks this: “What are you listening to?”
Great, so it’s a music discovery engine, where you can listen to the songs your friends are listening to, but here’s the part that really impressed me: They took the logic of a discovery engine like last.fm, where you might create a “channel” based on a band you like, and extended it to set you up with a set of “DJs” to follow when you first sign up.
So, a feature that’s now on my list for ReportingOn, after the ability to follow “friends,” is to add a few “beats” to your profile when you sign up. The application should automatically outfit you with “friends” who happen to be the 5 or 10 journalists who use those beat tags most often.
I’m getting excited about that feature as a way to make programmatic connections and add some serendipity that scales.