Spot.Us Deals with the Good and Bad of Limitations

    by David Cohn
    February 16, 2009

    Long-time readers of Spot.Us updates will know I am a big believer in staying agile and iterative. Take small bites, chew well, rinse and repeat. With that in mind – I am “en route“ to visit my developers to do another “dev blitz” to try and get Spot.Us as close to a 2.0 version as I can with limited means.

    As I’ve said before – the current version of the site contains about 1/4th of what we’ve designed (see full but outdated designs here). We have been limited in resources so I’ve constantly had to pick and choose what features we can implement. This gives us the flexibility to respond to user requests and perhaps even save money NOT implementing features that would have gone un-used.

    So far it has worked rather well and I have been happy with Spot.Us’ progress.


    “Our Progress”

    We have now funded 13 stories. Only two pitches have failed to reach their funding goal. We have four more in the system of which I’m confident three will be funded. For those keeping tract, that’s an 84% success rate (16/19).

    In terms of getting a proof of concept, I think we are there (or at least close). And I’m ready to try and take it to the next step.


    Side note: Yes, there has been some criticism as to the quality of the finished content, but I take that as constructive. Challenge accepted! And while I have several responses, I won’t force them into this post aside from this link and to say: don’t lose site of the forest for the trees and that seven of the thirteen funded articles haven’t been published yet so it’s a bit early to judge.]

    So how can we kick it up a notch? Both in terms of quantity and quality?

    Some Ideas To Implement.

    1. A blog for every pitch: This was the most painful cut from the last big round of development. I believe every pitch should have a blog attached to it, so the journalists can do their reporting in public and start “beat blogging.” Journalism is a process – not just a product that people donate to – and I want that process to be made public via blogs. By engaging people in their blogs the experience of donating to a story will be better and I suspect the community can help the journalism process as well.

    In the future this could even be a group blog with the reporter taking the lead and citizens contributing not just money, but tips and time (version 3.0).

    2. Looking to be copycated: After this next round of development the source code will be in a much better state and I’ll do a blog post on how anyone can take it, launch their own “community funded reporting project” for very little cost and I hope some take me up on the challenge.

    3. Expand beyond the Bay Area: Most people fall into one of two camps on this: (a. Don’t do it until you feel good about the Bay Area and (b. Do it now because the Bay Area limitation is killing you. Since I receive about one pitch local to areas outside the Bay Area a week that I take down, I lean towards the second camp. I will, however, stay focused on local reporting; no national/international pitches yet. I have drunk the Knight Foundation koolaid about local journalism.

    4. Editors will be all volunteer: So far we’ve been trying to give 10% of the money raised to editors. The problem is that this attracts editors motivated by money. And unfortunately 10% of what we raise is never that much. Hence – the editors aren’t that motivated. The best editing on our site so far has come from volunteer editors. These editors still get recognition for their work and so it benefits their personal journalism brand – albeit not monetarily. The 10% will go back to the journalists unless they want to make a generous contribution to Spot.Us to help cover our credit-card fees ;)

    5. Social networking features: The implementation of funding groups (see Kiva’s funding groups), more integration with share-features like “Share This.” Integration with alternative payment systems like “Tip Joy“ and PayPal.

    6. User-interface improvements: To make the site easier to navigate, appealing to the eye, and more dynamic (an updated front page that allows people to browse pitches via JavaScript-flashiness, an updated front page video that can be changed easily, etc.)

    7. Site specific features: A “reporters toolbar” and “news organization toolbar” that allow these actors to take simple actions to create, fund or show interest in pitches. This is also tied to the “reporters notebook” or blog and are difficult to explain in detail.

    8. Plenty of other things: floating around my head.

    We might not be able to get to all of these – but hey, a guy can dream. What would you add to this list? You can let us know here.

    And hence the title of this post: I may have to make some more tough decisions between all the above, bug fixing and feature requests from users.

    The good: Limitations force one to think critically and make calculated decisions.

    The Bad: I will constantly wish we had more time/money to develop out the platform and will question whether I made the right decisions that benefit the community’s ability to interact and engage.

    Spot.Us continues to be an exciting adventure. There are still lots of barriers in our path but I remain eager to see how far we can take this. And that “we” is very literal. I don’t think I’m in this by myself. The community on Spot.Us is growing and very much want them to feel in control of our future. Because…. they are.

    As I often say now: I am in a position to explore and see how far the rabbit hole goes for “community funded reporting.” Part of my responsibility then is to report back, as best I can, what I am learning and how others might attempt the same. I hope the platform we are building can be used and the lessons we learn along the way will be informative.

    Tagged: bay area beat blogging social networking spot.us volunteers

    2 responses to “Spot.Us Deals with the Good and Bad of Limitations”

    1. Some really good tips here thankyou. I am printing this off and will read it again

    2. Very good write-up. I’ll be very interested in how #4, volunteer editors, goes for you, and if it also becomes a limitation you’ll want to get out of sometimes

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