I just saw comments from two noted journalism thinkers, Jeff Jarvis and Mathew Ingram saying more or less the same thing. It's amazing to me, because it's the flipside of what I've been wanting to do for years -- develop software for writers and thinkers without trapping them into a tech industry business model. Today the software is inexpensive to make and operate. That isn't the problem, we know how to make the software, the problem is attracting a critical mass of users.#
I think there is a way to do it. The challenge is not making the software, it's getting the users have to show up. What will convince them to use a system that lets them write for free, gives them a permanent archive of their writing so they don't get locked in and lets them use whatever writing tools they like? I can't convince them on my own. I'm not famous enough, trusted enough, or whatever. When I do it, it doesn't happen.#
What I think would work is to get the support of foundations. Then, with the resources, hire professional testers to be sure that as we add features, the software keeps working. Use some of the money to hire a real PR firm to pitch the idea to pubs, tell writers we want to make the tools they want, without the gotchas. But wait to pitch until there's something they can actually sign on to and use. #
When I was at Berkman, a very long time ago, we tried to get support from the tech industry, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Google -- but they wanted to do this stuff themselves. Now I'd suggest asking the Knight Foundation, Newmark, MacArthur, not sure who else. This is far from my area of expertise. And it's not the money we need so much, but the endorsement. Grants would say: We looked at the idea and the people involved, and thought it was worth creating the service. #
The users are the key. They have to trust it. Just going out straight, as a pitch -- well I've tried it. The problem is they expect software they use to come from VC-backed companies or huge multinationals. The foundations invest in projects at news orgs that are more proof-of-concept than actual systems people can use. This project would be different, its goal would be to get a public system up and running, cloneable, free to use, with features competitive with Medium and Substack. #
Summary: Foundations acting as VCs, to get specific production software built to enable reliable and open systems to flourish, where the VCs always have gotchas, these projects would be guaranteed not to have them. The only ROI is the system itself, developed and up and running and freely clonable. No business model, guaranteed.#
Last update: Friday March 18, 2022; 10:33 AM EDT.
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