Contributoria after six months

I spent my 4th of July with an interesting group of technophiles in Brighton at the IndieTech Summit hosted by Aral Balkan.

Aral’s opening keynote was a passionate plea to reevaluate our relationship with technology, to understand the impact of handing over control of our personal data to organizations whose self-interests can be in conflict with our own.

Appropriately, the next speaker was Richard Stallman whose purist views on technology echoed that sentiment, that our lives must not be contaminated by commercial software.

A bit later I walked through an overview of Contributoria which I described in this presentation as a democratization of the editorial process in journalism.  I went through how we got to where we are, what it is that we’re doing, and a direction of travel for the future. Those slides are here.

The timing of the event was perfect, as we just launched our membership program which essentially completes our first phase of development and takes us out of Beta.  And it’s important to us that Contributoria resonate with people who want to work independently.  It’s intended to operate a bit like a virtual co-working space, as my colleague Sarah Hartley once described it.

As part of the announcement we produced some nice charts showing our growth in the first 6 months.  We’re thrilled with progress, and you can see why:

Contributoria Metrics - Six Months

There’s one aspect of the project that feels a bit under-reported, so far, which is our recent introduction of a newspaper.  Yes, we’re a digital pureplay that is doing print!

What a bizarre twist!  But when you’ve held it in your hand you’ll understand why we’ve done it.  It’s a piece of magic created by our technical lead Rev Dan Catt and designer Dean Vipond using the Newspaper Club platform.

A community-produced print product – one where all the articles have been commissioned, written and edited by a collective – is a truly unique thing.  It makes being a member here incredibly compelling.

In fact, I’ve started to wonder how long it will be before all publishers start to open up the physical versions of their media the same way they’ve begun to do with their digital platforms.

Contributoria Newspapers


Democratizing the editorial process

In the mid-1990’s I briefly covered Internet technologies and games for I had no previous experience as an editor but enough knowledge about the beat to do something with it.

On the first day my colleague said, “You already know some of the reporters, so just go and start assigning stories.”

I was suddenly thrown. “I am going to ‘assign‘ them?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah,” she responded. “Didn’t you know that?”

I don’t know what I thought the process was, but as an early twenties first-time editor I didn’t feel qualified to tell professional writers what to write about. Of course, there’s much more back-and-forth than that, but the word ‘assign‘ sets the tone of that relationship and the process.

Is that the right word?

The Internet has a tendency to expose the insides of most processes, and publishing is no exception. Often problems occur when the machines replace human processes with something of lower fidelity. The Internet makes us better, however, when people can use it to accomplish things together that are hard to do as well alone.

This is one of the key principles behind Contributoria. We wanted to flatten the traditional hierarchy of the publishing process and extend authority to people in a community.

The piece that has been missing out there is the democratization of funding. Without power over the output and the budget the community is only participating in the editorial process.

We want the community to be driving the process from beginning to end.  We can then play host and facilitate an interesting conversation.  We can even amplify voices sometimes, too.

This could go in a lot of directions from here, but today’s announcement is the realization of the initial concept for Contributoria.  With the new membership program we are handing over more control to independent journalists and their supporters – everyone in the community here can ‘assign’ stories in the ‘designate’ sense of the word.

Maybe ‘commission’ is a better name for what’s happening here.

Please join Contributoria and support independent journalism.  It’s your chance to start commissioning and/or to get commissioned from a community that cares very much about the future of journalism in the world.