LISNews: 5 Years and Going Strong
It's Blake's annual, thrown together at the last minute because I forgot again, rambling, semi-coherent, grammar and spelling challenged, LISNews birthday column! Since November 3rd 1999 LISNews has grown from an obscure, static, one man show that reached 2 people on a good day to a collaborative, dynamic, Slashcode powered site that reaches over 6,000 people on a slow day. 4 years ago, on our first anniversary I wrote that I had started the site with one goal, to reach just 1,000 people a day. We hit that number three years ago, and never looked back. So now what? Read on for my thoughts on this, the 5th birthday of our dear little site...LISNews is a collaborative site. Through the years I've had a lot of help from some very important people. Steve Galbraith, Steven M. Cohen, Joe Frazee, Nabeal Ahmed, and Nathan Hruby. These were the people that helped to launch LISNews, they are the ones that had a big part in making it what it's become today.
Another important factor in our success has been the great stories submitted by people who find the time to just send a story along. The most dedicated being Bob Cox, Charles Davis, and Lee Hadden, these three men have been submitting stories for years. Bob, especially, deserves special mention for the literally thousands of stories he's shared with us over the years. If I had a dime for every time I posted a Bob Cox story, I'd be rich! LISNews functions best as a collaborative news gathering site, and every story submitted, by anyone, makes the site that much stronger.
I'd also be rich if all 6,000 daily readers were as incredibly generous as everyone who kicked in a few bucks to pay for the server this year. For the first time I asked (actually, more like begged) for money to help cover the $160/month I pay for the dedicated server that powers LISNews. The LISNewsterz came though, and then some, and covered my hosting costs for the year. LISNews was never supposed to be a money maker, but it was never meant to drain my bank account either. I think we're at the "break even" level now, just about where I hoped to be. I'm not quite sure how I'll pay for the server next year, but I'm sure it'll work out.
The site would obviously be absolutely worthless without the other authors. Many have come and gone, but a few have been with us for more than just a bit. It's a thankless job, one that pays nothing, and yet a few dedicated souls have stuck with it for years, and a few new have joined us this year and really added something special. The other LISNews authors do a great job of posting some very interesting reading. They all deserve a pat on the back for the work they do.
So that's the people, what about the other stuff?
This past year we went through some big changes. A move to Slashcode, the Google ads, and a move to our own server are just some of the back-end changes that had an effect on how things run. We've also changed socially. LISNews became politically charged during 2004, the journals and comments have come alive with partisan heat that we've never seen before. Maybe that will pass with today's elections, but somehow I doubt it.
After year two, I asked a few good questions:
"How do we grow, keep ahead and change over the next 2 years? How can we encourage more users, more visitors, and get more authors? How do I stop paying for this damn thing, and how can I stop it from sucking up all my time?"
I found an answer to one question, but most of the others remain. I still don't know how we can keep growing, and how we can attract new users. Though I'm also not quite sure why we need to grow. There's not really anything in it for any of us, and growth only brings more of the usual troubles, so why is it growth is good? I have no answer for that one, other than it feels good that more people are interested in the site. Growth seems like the natural way to go, I guess it just feels better than shrinkage (not the Seinfeld kind of shrinkage, but rather readership).
Two years ago I also made some good observations:
"My goal has always been to get to know others through what they post to the site, and get to know what people are interested in based on what they read. It has been to bring in the thoughts, opinions, and biases of others, to bring balance and breadth to the news we highlight."
I'm not sure we really reached that goal until the journals started getting used rather heavily this year. The journals and the Slashcode Moderation system have raised the level of participation to a new level. Now we really can get to know the other LISNewsterz through their journals. It's not uncommon for the journals to have more comments than the index page many days. When they're not political battlegrounds, the journals are some of the best reading on the web.
So what does the future hold?
Maybe a move to the new version of Slashcode? Slashcode is still largely a mystery to me, and I'm actually afraid to do much with it at this point. My biggest, bestest, brightest idea for the future continues to be original reporting. Since day one I've been hoping we'd find a way to run more original stories. More authors? If everyone was like Rochelle we'd have too many, but luckily not everyone is so devoted. Some days we run too many stories, other days not enough, though I'm not sure what "just right" would be. Another idea for the future, Iâ€™d love to meet more of the people involved in the site in person. Like I've written on this day each year for the past 4, The future of LISNews is still not clear to me at this point, and it's not from lack of ideas, but rather, too many ideas, and no time to move on them. With a house, a few jobs, and a wife, my time is more limited than ever, and the one thing that is usually easy to let slide is LISNews. You can just guess what will happen when we start having kids.
My goals were modest when I first started the site, which is probably the biggest reason why I never gave up. Set your sites low and you just can't fail. I just wanted to see if there was a need for a librarian Slashdot, and if there was an audience for a librarian news site. I think so far the answer to my questions has been yes. If I had more time my goal moving forward would be to focus on our strengths and develop with some new ideas that will help inform people, and really make LISNews a vital and useful resource in the LISWorld. One question I get asked quite often is why did I start the site (the other is why do I keep going). I've never had a good answer for that. I'll just quote Karen Schneider, quoting me, "Because it wasn't there." I wanted to see if I could do it, I wanted a Slashdot for librarians, I wanted to learn to run a web site, and I hoped it would look good on my resume. As to why I keep it going, it's just a habit now, and most of all, it's still fun. I like the community, and I like reporting on what I find interesting and being able to share things I learn.
Regrets? Only a few, the one that comes to mind first is losing Michael McGrorty as an author. He wrote a few great columns, and was criticized heavily. I saw something in him that most other LISNewsterz didn't, and I'm sad to have lost him as a contributor. We've lost some others I regret, Rory, and some of the other original authors, and a few other people over the years made an impact and then moved on. People come and go, that's how it will always be, and that's how it's always been. Not everyone sees value in LISNews, some people grow tired, lose interest and move on. My biggest regret continues to not being able to do more with the site. From not being able to write enough, to not being able to fix bugs, there's a million things I could do better, but simply don't have the time. More than anything I'd love to have more original stories. I don't know if the LISWorld needs another source of original reporting, but I think we are uniquely positioned to provide a new, original, and interesting voice in that arena. How we could do that remains the big unanswered question.
Like I wrote last year, Bill Drew deserves special mention for taking on the wireless blog. I like having the ability to have separate blogs, run by different people, but under the LISNews umbrella. This is something I hope to be able to extend further in the future. I'd like to find editors for each of our current sections, and add others I've not yet considered. More collaboration, more cooperation, and more involvement from more people can only help make LISNews stronger. Our strength comes from our diversity, breadth, and depth... there must be a nice slogan there somewhere. That may be overly optimistic, diversity also leads to flamewars and anger, unfortunately.
There are far too many people involved with LISNews for me to be able to thank everyone, and that's the beauty of it all. I've always tried to make LISNews open to anyone who wants to participate. I think collaboration is the key to success in most ventures, and LISNews is certainly no exception. I've never thought of LISNews as "my site," because it truly is a group effort, I just keep the thing running and post some stories. Everyone who has put their special "author powers" to use deserves a big pat on the back for the time and effort they spend here. The authors are really the most important part of the site. They are the people who post the stories that keep us all coming back. Maybe someday I'll be able to pay them for their hard work (that will take more than just a few G00000GLE ads). I'm not sure that LISNews will ever have an advertising department.
I just hope the site will remain interesting for people. I don't want LISNews to stagnate, but at the same time I don't want to move to quick and try things that are not of any interest to our core audience. The site continues to be interesting to me, and I hope we can continue to make it interesting to others as well. As we grow new features will, I hope, add to our usefulness and help us to grow further. We've already come farther than I could have ever imagines, so in my mind I've already succeeded.
Please consider helping us if you have some time; share a story, write a story, moderate or simply leave a comment. As always, I value your feedback.
Last, but not least, congratulations & thanks to Rochelle for hitting post 1,000! Thanks, and here's to hoping for another 1,000.