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During our first meeting with Gina, she asked us: “What are you guys focused on, building a technological solution, or building a community?”

In our minds, we were focused on building a technological solution. We believed that if we developed a better commenting platform (one with real identities, insight points, multiple conversations, individual profiles, etc.), the community would come.

This is why we discounted Gina’s recommendation: “Why don’t you guys forget about the features and focus on building a community using Ning. Attracting the right community doesn’t require fancy features.”

We ignored Gina’s advice because we were excited about the platform we had in mind (and Ning would not allow us to develop that platform). We believed that if we built the platform, users would come. However, we were wrong.

I believe we should have focused on attracting the right community first (individuals interested in having high-level conversations). We should have picked a specific news topic, and built the “right” community around that news topic. Then we could have focused on the right technology, based on what that community wanted.

Then we could have built other communities around other news topics, and expanded from there.

I believe this project was a tremendous learning experience, one that will likely save me a lot of wasted energy on future ventures.

-Dan

Today we met with Zach Zimmerman, the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily. He seemed very excited about the product we are developing.

Here are some points he made:

-The Stanford Daily has been planning on getting rid of anonymity of comments. Anonymity definitely reduces the quality of comments.

-He believes the viral elements on our site will increase eyeballs to the Daily. “Stanford students would definitely invite their friends to join a conversation.”

Voci.us have 2 key viral elements:
1) When someone starts or joins a conversation, they can invite their friends. And those friends can invite their friends.
2) When someone makes a comment, they have the option of including that comment on their facebook wall.

He pointed out that not all users who arrive at a comment page through viral means would necessarily visit the Daily article before
commenting. So he made the following suggestion: “Whenever someone is prompted to enter a comment page (through viral means), the
corresponding news article page should open up simultaneously with the comment page. This will increase the chance that the article is
read, and will also require less effort by the user.” This was a great piece of advice.

-He said that although the Daily has a good sense of the age of their users (since most are college students), he would love to get more specific demographic data.

-Shared ad revenue was like icing on the cake for him. I made it clear that we want to share a significant portion of ad revenue with our news partners. When I emphasized ‘significant’ (I always emphasize the word so that news partners don’t think I’m taking about 5 percent. I want them to know we mean business), his response was “I don’t even think you need to give away that much. 15-20 percent would be plenty.”

-Towards the end of the meeting he asked me, “Would this cost anything for news sites?”, to which I responded that it would be 100 percent free. He said The Daily would like to be involved once our product was completely developed, and asked me to keep him updated.

-I also asked him how the paper was funded. They have 3 main funding sources:
1) Stanford gives them some money
2) Significant revenue comes from print advertising. Unlike the rest of news industry, print ads remain strong (due to students reading them on campus).
3) Small portion of revenue comes from web ads. They are looking for ways to expand this.

-This meeting was very promising. Clearly The Stanford Daily is different in many ways from non-school based news sites. However, many of his points apply to the news industry as a whole.

-Dan

Several days ago we got in touch with Allen Funk, the President and Publisher of the Daily Herald. Here are some main takeaways and quotes from his email:

-Comments on news site generate additional page views and make site more sticky (keeps visitors on the site longer).

-Not all of the smaller news sites have commenting systems. This is due either to technical reasons or because the news sites do not want to review/monitor the comments.

-“I don’t think many of us are collecting much demographic data. Your ability to provide at least a partial view of that would be very helpful.”

-Social media is the next big area for news organizations in terms of getting the news out. “If you provided an improved method for viral distribution of stories, that might be really good for us.”

-“Shared ad revenue is obviously a nice benefit. That would be great to offer as an additional outcome of the partnership. Besides the dollars, it might go a long ways towards defusing suspicion of your efforts among news organization executives.”

-“In conclusion, if you are trying to create a nationwide clearinghouse for news discussion and comments, it could be a really good idea.”

Yesterday I emailed him back to give him a more elaborate description of the product we are developing (including attachments of the mockups), and we are looking forward to his response.

This past Saturday our team met with the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review (we also met with the former editor-in-chief and the web development editor earlier in the week). The meetings went well, and they are currently evaluating the possibility of a partnership with us. We will know their decision on Tuesday.

This week we will also be meeting with the editor-in-chief and web development editor of the Stanford daily.

-Dan

Updated Business Canvas

 

-Dan

Take a look at the following table from March 2009 (the data is a bit old but still relevant):

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Here are the attachments I was referring to in my previous post:

Voci.us1

Voci.us2

-Dan

Earlier this month, the Online News Association sponsored an event at Facebook headquarters which shed light on a truly unmet need.

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