Did Assignment Zero Fail? A Look Back, and Lessons Learned
mtippett | July 16, 2007 at 10:23 amby
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In 2006 Rosen began conceiving of a vast project that would entail a large number of both professional and amateur contributors. In November, Rosen flew to San Francisco to meet with Wired News editor Evan Hansen. Newly acquired by Conde Nast, the publisher of Wired magazine, Wired.com was looking to experiment broadly and boldly.
So Hansen was looking for a platform to explore citizen journalism, and Rosen was looking for funds to create such a platform. The two decided on the rough scope of a project. It should be called, Rosen decided, Assignment Zero, a name indicative of the still-nascent character of citizen journalism.
And now that the dust has settled some interesting observations are emerging:
“It’s like throwing a party. You program the iPod, mix the punch, dim the lights and at 8 o’clock people show up. And then who knows what is going to happen?”
One of the key problems confronting the project managers was technological. How to build a site that would allow large numbers of contributors to sign up and participate in meaningful ways?
The site developers turned to was Drupal, an open-source publishing system that's become one of the leading platforms for community-driven projects. The designers built in numerous topics for contributors to colonize when they arrived. But the AZ team chose to hold off recruiting editors until after the launch, with the result that when contributors signed up, they essentially arrived at a ghost town.
Jay expresses the challenge we all face in this space:
“What we learned,” says Rosen, “is that you have to be waaaay clearer in what you ask contributors to do. Just because they show up once doesn’t mean they’ll show up over and over. You have to engage them right away.”
And the network is now the people and not the institutions:
one of the lessons that was learned from reporting on various crowdsourcing projects: Essentially, it’s all about the community.
And then there's the citizen dentist problem:
Asking contributors to “write the story on open-source car design” had all the appeal of asking people to rewrite their college term papers.
Jordan YermanThese members have powered this story: