The distinctive software platform the Banyan Project offers to affiliated community-level news co-ops is tailored to Banyan’s multifaceted model—and it is far more robust than community-level news efforts can be expected to create from scratch.
Banyan has developed digital tools that plug into and strengthen Largo, a version of the open-source WordPress publishing software. Largo, which is designed for nonprofit Web journalism efforts, is tended by the Institute for Nonprofit News, a nonprofit that makes it available to Web publishers at no cost. INN made an Innovation Fund grant (the Knight Foundation provided the money) to Banyan so it could develop the new software tools; Banyan’s tools are open source and available at no cost to any news site that can make use of them, whether they affiliate with Banyan or not.
The Banyan platform for news co-ops includes six crucial components, some of which arise from the tools Banyan built, some from Largo, and some from other software:
- CMS/Publishing: The software brings together news, features and other information—text, still photography, audio, video and data display—into a seamless news presentation. The news presentation design comes from Largo, which draws from the best practices of successful existing news sites. The software offers readers a variety of ways to read a co-op’s journalism in addition to going directly to its home page, with options from once-daily emails of headlines to RSS to email alerts.
- Collaborative Journalism: Easy-to-use collaborative journalism tools are crucial to co-ops’ success. Banyan's platform offers readers an array of responses to what they read: 1) click a box to say whether the story was helpful; 2) send the editors a direct message with suggestions, corrections or information for further stories, 3) post a comment about the story; 4) join a discussion group on the issue that the story advances, if only to read what others are saying; 5) invite other people to the discussion group; 6) start a discussion group if none on the issue exists; or 7) submit an article, images, audio or video for publication. These tools, along with analytics, provide editors of affiliated co-ops a high volume of reliable and useful feedback. The software also offers readers a chance to flag stories as offensive to the value proposition of relevance, respect and trustworthiness, and to track and aggregate all such complaints for the editors.
- Civic networking: The software provides a welcoming “public square” for people to come together in community, to learn from each other and other resources, and to use bottom-up Web tools that enable them to harness the power of networking to organize to take action on issues of mutual concern. This software draws from the best practices of high-functioning Web communities. It is designed to ensure 1) easy access by less-than-expert Web users and 2) a welcoming space in keeping with the value proposition of respect and trustworthiness. In addition, it opens community space for each school and other public community organizations. It also offers space for, or links to sites for, freecycling, resource swaps, time banks, and other activities in which people help each other to enrich their community.
- Viral Tools: Every page offers readers an array of easy ways to invite others to read an article or to invite them to join a discussion or otherwise engage. Such “viral” features help build news co-ops’ audiences in a trustworthy way -– most new readers will arrive because someone they know has invited them.
- Back office: The platform includes a reader/membership database with a reputation-tracking algorithm. It processes online membership payments and renewals, and other payments including advertising and contributions.
- Membership marketing: The software uses nearly frictionless techniques to help readers understand the value of their news co-op’s community to their lives—and to make it painless for them to act on their understanding by enrolling as paying members. It can track and analyze reader behavior to detect signals that that the time is ripe to make special membership offers, and automate offer-presentation accordingly. Further, it can enable enrichment of the relationship in ways that maximize membership renewals.