Friday, November 24, 2006

 
Loose Change and cash flow

Friday morning
Development spend: £4890 plus 100 euros (bought media player licence)
Cups of tea drunk this morning: Four
People working in shoffice this morning: Two

Pouring down with rain today but feeling fairly sunshiney.

Some University wages came in so finally able to buy the licence (a whole 100 euros!) that means we can start working on adding video and audio to the new version of the site. The license will mean we can buy the media player script developed by a young Dutch developer (http://www.jeroenwijering.com/) which fits with the open-source, non-corporate ethos of sweeble. But there's still a lot of other work to be done yet before we can start on adding the script.

And I've had two more responses from the emails I sent out to bloggers and citizen media champions. Rachel, from http://rachelnorthlondon.blogspot.com/ sent an encouraging response and offered to help spread the word when I was ready to spread it. And Dan Gillmor (http://citmedia.org/) wants to know more.

It's a start. But I am much clearer that a) I don't start pushing until sweeble looks the way I want it to look, and b) when I am ready I need to push further.

This afternoon, I've pulled the sweeble launch team together for a meeting to try and push the timetable along and finalise the redesign. I want to have the new version, the one I'm ready to push, up and running without glitches by mid December. Everything's taking way too long.


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Spent the early part of this week putting together a lecture for next week on online journalism. Not entirely certain I'll be saying the sorts of things the university is expecting from me about convergence and such, but I think I'll be saying the sorts of things that will get the students excited about what's out there, what's on its way and what they could be doing online now, not just when they graduate.

During the research I was wandering around some of the darker edges of the web, looking at how extreme pressure groups are using it - like the BNP's new volunteer video area, BNPTV: http://www.bnp.org.uk/bnptv/bnptv.php. The internet is the means, we can't blame it for the ends it delivers.

But I was also really excited by how individuals with beliefs have created new forms of journalism - using the material that's buried around the web. There's already been plenty written about the Loose Change teenagers (as was) but I finally got around to buying the v2 dvd and watching it this week (http://www.loosechange911.com/). I was blown away by it as an example of how non-journalists can build a story just from the web, publish it through it and create something bigger because of it.

Loose Change could not have existed without the web and, regardless of whether you agree with the arguments the video is making, it does show how much of mainstream media is built on lazy, bear-baiting journalism.

Friday, November 17, 2006

 
Keep going, keep going...

Friday morning
Development spend: Same (but feeling guilty about unpaid invoices)
Chocolate biscuits eaten today: None (so far)
Rat neighbours: At least one

Not that I'm likely to stop what I'm trying to do but this really isn't easy on your own. Even with a bag of Skittles to eat and Loretta singing in the background.

That make-all-the-difference grant for sweeble development is stuck in quango bureaucracy. Two weeks after approving the funding, I got a letter today from Coventry University asking me to fill in a supplier information form before they'll add me to their accounts file in order to give me the grant they're holding for me - which the letter says will be paid 30 days from invoice date (what invoice?) and after a purchase order has been received (?). Grrr..
So, basically I'll be lucky to see any of the cash this side of Christmas. God knows how I pay the £1500 overdue invoices and the four grand of work I've just approved in the meantime.
Keep going, keep going....

Have had zilch response from the emails I sent out to media freedom champions, looking for help with growing sweeble. Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, Suw Charman - maybe they just get too many of these sort of emails nowadays, or maybe they've stopped being interested in what people they don't know are up to.
And then there are the bloggers I've contacted - Chicken Yogurt, Burn Money, Dr Crippen, Random Reality, World Weary Detective, Stuart Hughes, Call Centre Diary - also zilch.
Thank you Cough The Lot for trying to help but I'm not convinced any longer that there's a community of bloggers out there, just thousands of people wanting to do their own thing from the isolation of their own blog.
Keep going, keep going...

Found out that one of the reasons sweeblers were having problems with stories disappearing before they could post them was because the timeout for the story creation page was set to 24 minutes. Don't know many journalists who could rattle out a story in that time, never mind people going online for the first time to write about something that matters to them.
It's been changed to four hours.
In the meantime, the new work is being done but none of it is working and ready for release on the site and Lloyds still haven't set up my banking properly so I can pay for the video player license and get that development underway.
I bet Craig Newmark didn't have these problems.
Keep going, keep going...


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I've given my rat neighbour a name - Rosie. And decided she's a young single mum and therefore a potential sweebler.
As long as she stays in the woodshed and that 8ft strip of grass stays between her office and mine, I won't ask anyone to kill her. Although I might ask her for advice on staying focused on a goal - getting sweeble out of the mud can't be any different to climbing the bird table to steal the best bread.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 
White House, Microsoft and birdcage tales

Tuesday morning
Development spend: same
Number of worried canaries: two
People working on sweeble today: five

Spent past two hours trawling US blogland looking for potential sweeble champions, and kept getting distracted by 'what next?' stories about the US election.
I find it hard to take seriously any sentence that includes the phrase 'The White House' or 'The Speaker' and I blame West Wing for that.
The sitcom 'Yes Minister' did the same for me with the Thatcher government, but at least then I was able to see there was something real and scary happening in politics off screen.
I'm just glad there are plenty of people in the US who do still take what happens in the White House seriously and are committed to affecting what happens there. And that they've stopped hoping Jed Bartlet will sweep in and rescue us all.

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Was also distracted by the new 'bird feeding station' (sic) I put up in the garden on Saturday. The birds have finally cottoned on to the new food source and I've got a a healthy crop of visitors this morning - blue tits, robins, squirrels, and rats.
Seems a side effect of feeding the birdies in these modern times is you also attract visitors of the squeaking rather than twittering variety.
The new garden visitors are making my two canaries (Buffy and Spike) nervous - especially when the rat ran past the window I leave open near their cage.
Another sweeble metaphor really. If I'm opening the web doors to anyone to post their story anonymously online, it's not just the sparky robins and plump tits that will be visiting, it's the rats I hadn't expected too.
But I think sweeblers will have enough sense about them to make their own minds up about what they want to read on sweeble and to keep their distance from what they don't like.

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Sweeble's new development phase is underway with a big block of work currently being done on the free ads and swapshop and another on user interaction.
Am also waiting to buy the license for the video player (waiting for Lloyds Bank to set up my online banking so I can pay for it).
The player, assuming it works for us, was built by a Dutch developer bloke on his own. Like everything else about the way sweeble is built, it hasn't even sniffed at Microsoft's trouser leg and is open source and as independent as we can make it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

 
Two dimensional living and Skittles overload

Friday morning
Development spend: not paid invoices yet
Number of Skittles eaten in last hour: less than 100, more than 50
Websites skimmed this morning: eight

Working my brain today over what and how. Still not sure whether I should be publicising sweeble properly yet, while it's still so very beta-stage, but how do I get stuff up there if only a handful of people know about it?
I've had discussions this week with developer Neil and the design company working on the site look, to start moving forward some of the revamps and Big Ten tasks I mapped out in last week's brain splurge.
But that's left me even more cautious about promoting sweeble yet when I know what's in the pipeline. What I don't want is for people to visit once, read a couple of stories, then bugger off because there's not enough to keep coming back for.
But maybe that's inevitable at the start. I wonder how many videos YouTube launched with, or whether they got there by buying in a batch of material to seed the site with?
In any case, that's one of the routes I'm trying over the next few days - talking to journo friends about chasing contacts to get sample first-person stories up there. When I do decide to push sweeble, I need to make sure there's enough of a mix to spark visitors into wanting to put up their own stories.

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Teaching journalism students is starting to get a bit weird. My head is so full of sweeble all the time, and future journalism, and the democratisation of news delivery. Then I'm yanked out in the middle of each week to teach first-year journalism students about the importance of being an old-style journalist. Well, not actually old-style, actually current and foreseeable future style journalism, but to me it's the past.
The students are mostly great, but teaching them interviewing skills yesterday and explaining why we still ask for ages and whether a woman is married, then going through using quotes and reported speech and why reporters can't comment in their story - it feels like I'm working in two dimensions at once.
But that's my issue, not theirs. It's important that they learn the techniques and the principles as the background skills to becoming good journalists. Being able to write a good, tight story quickly is part of their craft. The bigger issue is whether the industry itself - particularly local newspapers - is looking for anything more from them nowadays than to be good at their craft.
Newsroom cutbacks and lazy editorships mean most reporters spend too much of their working day filling set spaces around adverts with words, and too little chasing down new stories and looking into the dark corners of their city or town.
That's why local newspapers are losing readers - not because they don't have enough community information or because the Internet kidnapped them, but because they don't have enough new things to tell their readers about the place they live in.

Monday, November 06, 2006

 
Whisky thinking and Big Ten worries

Monday morning
Development spend: Same (but invoices stacking up again)
Forms filled in this morning: Six online, three paper
Grants approved: One (yippee!)

Friday was a bit of a rollercoaster day.
On the ultra-plus side I finally got confirmation through that sweeble had won an innovation award - ten grand to help me pay the costs of launching and developing sweeble (yippee!).
On the less-plus side, I have to spend £10k plus its match value within five weeks because the offer is four weeks overdue. But hey, I'm a woman - I can spend to deadline.
Also less plus is still not having a lot of stories on the test site yet, but the contacts with bloggers is helping and the feedback is positive. On the very-plus side, I got a great email from the guy who runs Cough The Lot (www.04gh.com) and it's good to have people coming across sweeble for the first time and liking the concept, I still worry in the down times that I've got it completely wrong.


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On the very-unplus side, my tenants gave notice which means one of the income sources allowing me to stay out of fulltime work while I get sweeble going is about to dry up. Fingers crossed it won't take me too long to find new tenants for the riverside apartment I can't afford to live in myself.
On the better-plus side, the gubbins for the business bank account I finally managed to get open arrived. The nice man at Lloyds stayed helpful despite my currently having two surnames, three addresses and a company that had previously been dormant for six years.
All I need now is to get the award money paid into my new account soon and then I can pay this newest pile of invoices with my company cheque book instead of out of my savings. Shiny!


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Friday evening was spent with a whisky and a whiteboard rethinking what to do next with sweeble. In the two weeks since the test site launch, the handful of people I've told about it have put a handful of stories up but not enough, and there's a whole new batch of glitches that need ironing out on the site and I've only got one developer working with me. Plus I've now got new ideas for things I want sweeble to include.
Getting the award offer means I can now do some of those things but the spend timescale, coupled with the difficulty in finding people quickly with the skills I need, is a bit of a bugger.
I was getting stuck on which step next and distracted by flat letting agents and server size worries. So I did what works for me - switched the phone off, poured a large one, stacked up CD favourites and picked up a marker pen.
And now I've got ten big tasks to do this week and know where I'm going again.
The biggest challenge is still going to be finding people to help me get there. Sweeble's one developer, Neil, has done a brilliant job but he's swamped and one of my big ten tasks is to find a second person to make the code changes quickly - and that's not easy working from a shed in the middle of Staffordshire.

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