Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Bootstrapping a Videoblogging Army

Mon, 11/16/2009 - 13:19 -- rprice

Every time I happen to catch a few minutes of the nightly news, I kind of want to vomit. The scare tactics, the way they talk down to the audience, the insanely short clips, and the tons of other tricks that mainstream media uses to bolster ratings and viewership really grind my grindable parts.

Then we have the exact polar opposites, like Orlando Event TV - Orlando Event TV this and several other shows produced locally are really trying to show everyone what it really means to be a citizen of this community, and they are all about the transparency. When you watch this video of Mark Baratelli in Winter Park, for example, the voice is completely different than the nightly news. He is much more watchable than a talking head in a TV studio.

I had a similar dream not too long ago, and that manifested itself as Orlando Scene TV and a bunch of other sites, like Orlando Video. The honest truth here is that I was not able to keep the momentum going for long periods of time. Producing video and being an unstoppable advocate for your product take a lot of time, energy, and the cooperation of a passionate community. Then there's a question of money - how can I pay my rent, etc. if all I'm ever doing is recording people's rock shows and theatre performances. It just never added up for me.

Then a little while ago I realized that the only way to really get a local indie TV project off the ground would be to distribute the workload as much as possible.

What does this look like? Well, now that I have the idea from The Art of Community to come up with a list of teams and their responsibilities, I see the teams as follows:
Internet TV and Local Events Community
Let me be clear about a few things:

Audience

The role of the audience here is to let us know that we are giving them something they want, and to give us some ideas to keep moving this machine forward. Kickstarter (or something like it) could be a powerful force here: we can hold certain great ideas for ransom unless there is a certain amount of community support. The audience laid out here is really a fraction of the audience, the most passionate 2%. I also think this group will be web-savvy enough to have their own web sites or popular facebook profiles (hundreds of friends), and they will want to use these channels to help us promote our cause.

Tech Leads

Aside from pushing buttons, I also put these people in the role of "product designers". If Jony Ive has a lot to do with the success of Apple products, then we should be able to assign a few people in our community a similar amount of responsibility. These people are very highly skilled, and may only contribute once every few years, when we redesign the title graphics and the website, or they may help us create fliers, blog badges an mini-sites on a more frequent basis. These are also the User Experience designers - in charge of the overall way in which people interact with the product.

Producers

Here, a producer is anyone who makes something. That means hosts, script or show notes writers, video editors, etc. A production team could be all of one person, or it could be as large as 5 or 6. It really depends on the skills of everyone involved and the scope of the particular project. A large goal here would be to make sure that anyone who counts as a producer could technically do everything by him- or herself if needed, but it's really a question of time. Like I said before, this is the repetitive and time-hogging part, even if we can streamline the whole process.

The other key is to make sure that everyone owns his or her work, not only from an intellectual property perspective, but in a support fashion as well - if someone has a question about the restaurant you reviewed, you should be the one to get the notification and reply. In this way, people may start to develop a "beat" or even "channels" of information, and it could make sense to give certain producers their own sites. Pulling a line from The Starfish and the Spider, the producers give little more than spiritual guidance to the community. He can suggest large projects or hair-brained schemes, but he will be on his own unless they get a decent number of other community members to support and participate. These ideas can even come from the Audience, but as they don't often produce content, an audience member will have to find a champion for her great idea.

The last piece of this puzzle for me is the equipment. We only need a few REALLY expensive tools - many people already own a computer, and video editing tools are freely available. Coming by decent video cameras is what used to be difficult, until recently. If you really want to spend some green, go ahead and get a Flip or a Kodak - even most consumer still cameras have pretty nice video capabilities. However, this still costs anywhere from $100 - $350, and that is a large financial barrier right now.

What if we could make the cost of entry $30?

That's such a small amount, we could probably raise a few hundred dollars from our community and outfit an entire army with these cheap video tools in no time at all!

I heard about the Coby CAM3000 Mini Digital Camcorder on a podcast I regularly listen to, The Daily Giz Wiz. As far as I know, this is the absolutely least expensive (yet decent) tool for capturing video made by a well-known manufacturer. I plan on picking one up just to field test it - it's so affordable, why not?

The other part of my plan here is to get some training and best practices in the heads of these videobloggers before they get out in the wild. We already have some community spaces and LOTS of events happening, so the material is always out there. We could pair up one new guy with an experienced producer and mentor them in the basics. Make sure they know not to film in too much or too little light, how to get some decent sound, introduce them to some basic video editing, and how to post videos. This might take one long day or a few evenings out, but there will be a certain point when a new producer will just have to get out on her own and start learning by doing.

We won't just "give" out these cameras - they will have to be earned. If we apply some sort of a value to the camera - say, 10 points, and videos another - say 1 point for a video shorter than 3 minutes, 2 points for a video 4 minutes or longer of a reasonable quality - later when we can offer better equipment - the Kodak Zi8, or the Flip Mino HD, or perhaps even other stuff to barter for. I also have this thought right now that if we have any advertising revenue to share, it will be based on your continued contribution of at least X points in a 1-3 month period - we would probably need a way to make sure that we always have fresh content coming in, so we need to assign deadlines to keep people from getting lazy. As soon as this machine loses a certain amount of momentum, it might as well not be running at all.

That's as far as I'm going to wander into this thought experiment for now. I don't have a great picture of how other organizations do it, and this is just something I've been stewing on for a few months when I really get the chance to think about it, which is not very often at all. I'd love to take a look at how NowPublic and a whole bunch of other public media entities handle this. There are lots of questions unanswered here, but I've been struggling to really write down and communicate this idea to a large group for a while now.

If you'd like to talk more, I think we should wake up the PodCamp Orlando mailing list. I'm going to send this same text out there to see if we get any bites. Please blog about this, tweet it, point to the list page, get everyone who might be interested involved in the discussion.

Tonight is a Florida Creatives Happy Hour, and Friday is MOOM. We should be having a Likemind on December 4th, and another Happy Hour on December 21st. If you'd like to talk in person, these days are really good ones to engage me and others who are interested in making Orlando more awesome.

Update: We now have a project planning site - if you want to get an invite, leave a comment below, and make sure you fill in the email field.

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