This post is the first of a series about NewsCloud's philosophy of online community building and how organizations like yours can adopt our open source platform to launch vibrant social media sites.
For the past year, NewsCloud's been working with mainstream journalism organizations around the United States to help them adopt our open source Facebook platform. We've worked with organizations as small as New Jersey hyperlocal blog Baristanet and as large as The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Our work has been generously funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and is freely available for open source download.
While we're the first to admit that our platform continues to be a young, maturing social media platform, its capabilities are quite sophisticated and its ease of use and effectiveness continue to improve at a rapid pace. You can read a more complete summary of our platform's features here.
Our primary belief is that news organizations have evolved to favor a culture of one way publishing. In other words, they gather the news and publish it to their paper and website. They encourage readers to interact by sharing stories and adding comments, but that's about the extent of their vision and technical capacity. The NewsCloud platform has a bigger vision for news organizations' role.
Our platform is designed to help news organizations host vibrant communities for their readers to meet each other and engage with published content and also to generate and interact with their own content. Our integration with the Facebook platform helps readers see each other's names and faces and fosters a more civil environment than the web's typical anonymous content.
Some of the features we offer include end user blogs, discussion forums, questions and answers, a directory of resources, events, multimedia galleries, idea gathering and even a predictions game. A classifieds system which allows for lending of physical goods within communities is coming soon. You can see a prototype of a variety of these features at The Needle, a Seattle prototype news community.
A big part of our vision is for reporters to use these features as an integral part of their story coverage. So, for example, The Washington Post's advice columnist Carolyn Hax is creating resource directories of links relevant to her daily columns. We foresee reporters setting up idea gathering boards for ongoing series on civic issues or setting up prediction topics and questions on political stories, e.g. Will President Obama be re-elected?
While we've encountered a number of challenges working with media organizations who are all under the strain of increasing financial pressures and the shift to the Internet, the two biggest barriers we've seen are:
1) News organizations aren't able to grasp the potential of hosting this kind of community. It's too different from what they do today to warrant risky investments of staff time and resources. Despite the fact that our system can serve advertising from their existing systems and track statistics with their website's tracking engine, the organizations continue to see our platform as something separate from their website. They don't seem to grasp that they own the platform and will reap all the benefit from growing the community. So, the primary failure we continue to see is an unwillingness to promote the platform from their website on a regular basis. Most readers never discover their interactive community platform features and growth never occurs. Community growth takes sustained marketing and curation and most of our partners expect overnight success.
2) News organizations don't integrate the community features into their organizations. They never seem to grasp / educate and train reporters about the potential of using these features as part of the storytelling process. The opportunity to transition from one way publishing to truly interactive storytelling in which readers have an active engaged role never occurs.
A platform like ours is experimental. It's not always an easy path for our partners to work with our platform, but over time the site has become much more polished, sophisticated and powerful. The problem is that without regular promotion and without integration and experimentation by reporters, the opportunity to learn doesn't occur.
We hope to continue improving the platform over the next year and increasingly having more opportunities to experiment and learn. In the next post, I'll talk about what it takes to host our platform today and how we're planning to work to simplify this and make running an application even more affordable. Read the next post: Hosting the Open Source NewsCloud Platform.