The software the nonprofit Banyan Project Inc. will offer to affiliated community-level news co-ops will be tailored to Banyan’s multifaceted model—and it will be far more robust than community-level news efforts can be expected to create.
Banyan is developing software components that will 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 provided Banyan with a grant to develop additional software tools; Banyan’s tools will also be open source and they will be available at no cost to any news site that can make use of them, whether they affiliate with Banyan or not.
The platform Banyan will provide to news co-ops will include six crucial components, some of which arise from the tools Banyan is developing, some from Largo, and some from other software:
- CMS/Publishing: The software will bring together news, features and other information—text, still photography, audio, video and data display—into a seamless news presentation. The news presentation design will draw from the best practices of the most successful existing news sites. The software will offer 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. Readers will be offered an array of responses, with these as a minimum: 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, will provide editors of affiliated co-ops a high volume of reliable and useful feedback. The software will also offer 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 will provide 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 will draw from the best practices of high-functioning Web communities. It will be 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 will open community space for each school and other public community organizations. It will also offer 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 will offer 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 will build news co-ops’ audiences in a trustworthy way -– most new readers will arrive because someone they know has invited them.
- Back office: The software will include a reader/membership database with a reputation-tracking algorithm. It will process online membership payments and renewals, and other payments including advertising and contributions.
- Membership marketing: The software will use 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 signing on as paying members. It will 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 must enable enrichment of the relationship in ways that maximize membership renewals.