Lessons Learned from Ourmedia.org

Marc Canter, co-founder and initial funder of Ourmedia.org has posted his personal comments about the web site’s first year of operation. Although I have been an advisor to Ourmedia.org — my name appears as Audio scout, whatever that means — I’m not at all close to its innerworkings, and I consider both Marc and co-founder J.D. Lasica to be good friends. I’m not qualified to comment directly on Marc’s post with regard to Ourmedia.org, but I think he makes some very important points for similar sites including IT Conversations and The Conversations Network. So in response:

On volunteer labor. I agree wholeheartedly with Marc about the fact that you need to pay people if you want to get something done. You can’t depend on volunteers for important stuff, which is one reason why we now pay the postproduction team at The Conversations Network. We always have, in fact, starting with the distribution of the old Tip Jar from Day One, back on April 1, 2005. We can’t afford to pay a lot, but it’s in keeping with the importance of what we do. It’s not as critical as a the activities of a broadcast station or a newspaper when it comes to schedule, but it’s more important than “whenever.”

However (!) volunteers are an excellent way to gauge the passion behind a project, and some projects should indeed die if there aren’t enough passionate volunteers to make them happen. As we roll out our grassroots portion of The Conversations Network, we intend to pay for the development of the software (an infrastructure cost), but not for the producers, engineers and writers. If no one is interested in producing a particular program as a volunteer, that says a lot about its value to our listeners.

Federated IDs are the way to go. Absolutely true. In the new site for The Conversations Network, a disproportionate amout of code, time and debugging went into (and still goes into) the single-signon sytem that couples WordPress, punBB and our custom code. Ugly stuff.

Make sure to make it clear what you expect from investing almost $100,000 into something. Absolutely the case. Perhaps the good news is that no one here had that kind of money to invest in The Conversations Network. Although I and the other managers are essentially working for free — which I admit is unrealistic in the long term — we’ve achieved financial stability for the medium term. We’re about to expand into three or four new channels in April, and the general guideline is that each of them has to be self-sustaining through underwritings, and by the end of this year, I expect those volunteer managers will become paid part-time contractors.

All of us in “new media,” particularly in the non-profit space have a lot to learn, and hopefully we can continue to share the experiences from our successes as well as from our mistakes and our failures.

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