Agiility, Metrics, and More
Be nimble: Start small. Work fast. Fix things on the fly. Try something. If it works, scale it and, if you can, use feedback to perfect it. If it doesn't work, ditch it and move on.
Doing a lot of little things quickly, and making sure your audience knows you've done them, will buy you the time and, more importantly, the audience confidence you'll need during the long period between deciding to do big things and completing them. And audiences will forgive mistakes as long as you show you're learning from them.
Own the means of production: Programming and design; audio/video capture and editing capability; Flash expertise; posting capability - do not allow any of them to be controlled by anyone but News or your mission will bog down quickly.
If you're offered help, take it. No one will ever mistake Greensboro for Silicon Valley, but we nevertheless received offers of technical help in a variety of areas. Accepting that kind of offer will not only head off mistakes but also reinforce the notion that building a community Web site takes a community effort.
Measure as much as you can. Track story and blog page views. Don't let your news judgment be compromised by these numbers, but try to have something out front aimed at satisfying audience demand.
Find a way to say yes and to meet people where they are. You want to tell your community's stories. Your community wants its stories told. You're on the same side. Make it easy for people to post their news - whether text or multimedia - on your site. Offer training to people in the community who want to contribute but feel they lack the skills.
Underpromise and overdeliver. Anything involving computers always takes longer than you think it will.
When I left the paper earlier this month, we still had not completed some of the ambitious goals we set for ourselves four years ago. But our Web site was a different and much better place, and the work continues today.
Lex Alexander is a writer and consultant based in Greensboro, NC
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