My eighth and final CIL2005 presentation wrap up essay. Join me as I take a peek inside my cloudy crystal ball and see what possibilities the future could hold for LISNews.
We'll pass some significant milestones in 2005:
- Iâ€™ll post my 10,000th story
- Weâ€™ll have more than
- 20,000 comments
- 15,000 stories
- 6,000 journals
- 4,000+ user accounts (we just hit 4k yesterday)
- 30 million hits
And so on down the line, if the trends continue the numbers will all increase. If the trends reverse themselves the numbers will all decrease. Let's just assume the trends will continue forever. Numbers can be rather boring and many of them can be misleading. More interesting than boring numbers are the ideas I've been bouncing around in my head, and between the other authors, on what to do with LISNews. My single biggest, best and most exciting idea is to bring some kind of original reporting to the pages of LISNews. Unfortunately, this, and just about every other idea is being held back by money, or lack thereof, and time, an all to common tale in the world of libraries.
LISNews ain't cheap, and finding a way to reliably pay the $180 a month needs to be a priority for me this year. If I can only just barely pay the hosting bill, I obviously can't pay reporters as well. I can only think of a few possibilities how I might accomplish this task:
1. Incorporate LISNews as a non-profit, write grants and solicit donations, which would allow us to pay authors.
2. Seek out some kind of a partnership or get "bought out" by someone decent, some big and powerful .org, or someone else that would make us part of a large non-profit organization. This may also include a similar arrangement with a .com, but I like the .org idea better.
3. Incorporate LISNews as a for-profit, set up an advertising department and cover everything we do with ads. We can also sell all the usual crud to help bring in a few extra bucks (you know you want an LISNews thong!) This would put us in the advertising business.
4. Do nothing. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
My favorite option is #2, and I'm trying to find good ideas on possible people or places that might be interested. Though I'm not having much luck yet, there's still some possibilities floating around. There is a chance some of my conversations @CIL will start something, but there's nothing in the works. My second favorite idea is #1, and least favorite is #3. #4 is just the status quo, which really isn't a bad thing, assuming I can get enough donations to cover the server every year. There's always the chance I'll be able to find someone who has a spare server and some bandwidth, which would solve the hosting issue.
So if (and that's a BIG IF) we should happen to find some way to bring in some kind of money, what would we do with it? What I'd love to do is original reporting. That's not to say I'd be doing the reporting, but rather LISNews could hire "real reporters." Rather than just a link to a story we'd have our own story, maybe an interview, and other original content that you wouldn't find elsewhere. There area a million good stories that go unreported. Not a day goes by that I don't think about how a certain story would be a great interview, or there would be a story behind this story. But finding someone to do all that writing and work for free just isn't going to happen, and I just don't have the time or talent to do that myself. Which means we would need to HIRE someone to do all that interesting reporting. I'm full of ideas how we could have a reporter or two, and a few free lance writers working hard to bring you all sorts of interesting stories. I'm short on ideas on how I'd actually pay them to do this.
There are many other interesting ideas I have for the site, smaller ideas that would just take some time to code, ideas on a much smaller scale, more practical things.
Expanded coverage: Post more interesting, useful stories. We have a unique medium here, we can write what we want, about what we want, and we're not constrained by space concerns, we don't need to fit in ads, or worry about offending people who will boycott our advertisers. We also have our different sections that allow us to post far more stories than we currently do. The blog format allows us to post news as it happens, which is both a good thing, and can be too much sometimes. So spreading the articles between the various sections makes everything more readable.
Better mailing list, html, customizable: The Slashcode mailing list feels like an after thought and I think several things can be done to bring it up to speed. It would be grand if there was an HTML option, if it could be customized by each subscriber, and if each section had its own list. Librarians love listservs, and ours can use a facelift. As I write this it occurs to me I should bring back LISNews-Discuss, anyone remember that?
News alerts: I have no idea how many people would use it, but a "news alerts" plug-in would be a neat tool to have. You could subscribe to be notified every time we post a story about your library, or a story on books. Not an easy hack, but one that would be useful to all Slashcode sites.
Journals that have URLs: blake.lisnews.com, rochelle.lisnews.com, greg.lisnews.com, I think you see what I'm getting at there. Each subdomain would be each users journal. Easier said than done, especially because some user names (e.g. GregS*) use characters that can't be used in domains. Each user would have a really neat URL for their own blog. Not an easy hack, and one that would require moving DNS to the LISNews server. As soon as LISNews becomes my fulltime job I'll work on this one.
Journals section: Closely related would be journals.lisnews.com where the most recent journal entries would show up. This one is an easy hack, and I'll probably get to it sooner or later.
User email accounts: Wouldn't it be great if every LISNews user account came with it's very own email address @ LISNews? Talk about a can of worms! I don't think I'd ever have the time to administer this, but it's such a fun idea.
CSS/XHTML: About all I can say on this one is, they're working on it. I know I'm not the man to make this happen, but as soon as there's a CSS theme released for Slashcode I'll install it. The HTML we put out is old and rather crufty. I should just go through and update the most popular pages, but I haven't seem to found this on my list of things to do.
Scale some modules down: Some of the great tools Slashcode provides need to be changed a bit, dialed down if you will, to better suit our smaller LISNews audience. Moderation, and a few backend things would be more useful if they had more options.
Bug fixes: There's a bunch of little bugs here and there that need fixin', some are easier than others. The dates don't display correctly, some things don't update correctly, the titles on the journals don't fix themselves, the discussions page stinks, we need a new search engine, etcâ€¦
Prettier: I suppose I should use a mo' better word so I don't look like such a blog person, how 'bout Aesthetics: Orange and Blue?? What was I thinking? Unfortunately much of what you see (colors, icons, even the LISNews logo) was thrown together and was never meant to be permanent. At some point when I was toying with colors and logos and icons I just gave up, thinking I'd fix things up a little later. Well, a little later never came, and you can see the results. But hey, Blue and Orange are still better than purple any day of the week!
Make LISNews easier to use: Slashcode is not easy to use. If you think it is you've been hanging around LISNews or Slashdot too much lately. Why do you click on a little tiny button labeled "reply" to post a comment? The Slashcode UI can use more than a few tweaks.
More collaborative stuff: Tags are one thing that come to mind I think would be a relatively easy hack. There's a few other neat collaborative "folksonomy" things floating around I think we could incorporate without much work.
I've felt for a long time LISNews has many possibilities to grow. I don't know if we have the audience, and I'm not entirely sure I'm the person who can do it or not, but at this point there's not anyone else jumping up and down to carry us forward. I think it's up to me to actually do the work to get us set up as some sort of non-profit, or find someone to host the site, and that's going to mean some work now, which doesn't worry me, but what does worry me is the work in the future. I need to think about how much work I'm creating for myself down the road. Life will suddenly become hectic for me in August and I'm afraid I won't have the time to keep up with LISHost and LISNews (especially since LISHost has been driving me NUTS this week). I'll need lots of help with things like writing editing and just keeping the darn thing going.
So this just leaves many of the same ol' open questions: Do we really provide anything unique that people would pay for? Who would do what? Would I have to hire people? Do we have a large enough audience so that anyone would be interested in sponsoring or buying us? Do I really need to do anything? Will I have the time to do anything?
Experience has taught me it'll be impossible to make LISNews an organization for original reporting without some kind of funding, and where some kind of funding would come from I do not know. Luckily I don't think we're in any danger of going under any time soon. In our current form we're probably going to be useful for at least a few more years. We have a rather vibrant community that has so far supported the site and made it possible for me to keep things running. I have every reason to believe that will continue for at least the short term, and hopefully some new options will open up in the long term.
What else has almost 5 years of building an online community taught me? I'll explore those issues more at a later date.