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    An Inside Look at Stroome’s Metamorphosis in Three Iterations

    by Nonny de la Peña
    August 16, 2011

    If you’ve used Stroome, our collaborative video remixing site, in the last few weeks, you will have noticed, and hopefully enjoyed, a complete redesign of the site.

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    User flow has now been streamlined, and the embedded community and collaborative elements make the process a lot more fun: Clips can be added to a bin using a quick click on any footage; new groups are offered through the recommendation engine; videos can be shared more easily across the web or friends can now be invited to remix together.

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    This is our third iteration of the site, and while most quick definitions call an “iteration” the act of repeating, that hasn’t been the Stroome experience. Instead, the process has more in common with a chrysalis where, within that code container, grand changes actually take place.

    Here’s the history of Stroome’s metamorphosis in three takes over two and a half years:

    Iteration One: 10K to Spend

    An awkward affair. We had to learn when to fire a developer, how to hire another quickly, and where to eke out as much functionality as we could with our very limited resources. We had a vision, after all, and we tried to twist Drupal modules into playing happily with each other to create a low-cost realization of that ideal. When a New School class dedicated to remixes discovered the site and produced some nice pieces, we knew we’d turned on some right lights. Yet the site had a very long way to go.

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    Iteration Two: Bootstrapping with Friends and Family Funds

    Our second iteration was also built entirely in Drupal, but this time we had skilled Drupal hackers rebuilding the jaws of Stroome with brand-new implants. In the middle of the process, however, our designer disappeared. My partner, Tom Grasty, who has an excellent eye and is deft at design, tried to step in. I worked through the flow on every page with him, and we put together some initial mockups.

    Coding began to be structured on those pages, but at a certain moment, we realized it just wasn’t right. While we had moved the site forward on many levels, it became clear we needed a fresh eye, and it had to be from someone who was willing to take on the tough challenge of window-dressing the code instead of starting the other way around. Plus, all of this had to be done on that bootstrapped budget. Tempers sometimes flared under the pressure of little time and thin wallets as we tried to get up and running by the time we were heading to Boston to receive our Knight News Challenge award. Yet when this iteration launched, to our delight and astonishment, we started to attract users from around the globe.

    Iteration Three: Knight Foundation Winners

    Winning a Knight News Challenge grant comes with that apocryphal Spiderman moment: great responsibility. We decided to take a deep breath and really consider what our users liked and hated about the site. We also wanted to deeply review and remedy all of the broken functionality and flow. We hired a top L.A. house specializing in design and user experience to partner with us, and we held focus groups, came up with SWOT documentation, decided on a new logo, argued over the steps to collaboration, and ultimately found short cuts to make participation and sharing more intuitive.

    Crucially we also recognized that Drupal was not the ideal choice for Stroome. There were too many complex moving pieces for Drupal’s independent modules to connect elegantly. We agreed to start from scratch using Ruby on Rails.

    Next, we turned to the Singapore-based Favorite Medium to do the coding. With the unexpected opportunity to relaunch at TEDxUSC, Favorite Medium had to agree to get a basic version of the site up in less than a month. Just a few weeks ago, the final version went up, and bugs have been minimal. In fact, our analytics now show we have users from 80 different countries — without a marketing budget.

    Continued Tweaks

    Yet the maintenance and the tweaks continue. A power outage in Fremont, Calif., this past week very briefly took Stroome down with it. It was painful but informative — a tiny bit of code, that little missing jigsaw piece, had sucked Stroome into a 404 black hole. It won’t happen again, but something else will, no doubt.

    As we consider where to go now, we have a new vision, one to make Stroome a robust member of the web’s video future. While the coding may be the most ambitious challenge yet, it in fact pales in audaciousness compared with the first iteration. Who would be crazy enough to think that something as complicated as Stroome could be launched on 10K? Let it be an inspiration … then iterate, iterate, iterate.

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    Tagged: drupal favorite medium iteration knight news challenge relaunch ruby on rails stroome tedxusc

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