Web Site Launch Best Practices
May 25, 2007 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I am an old media expert, but I need to understand new media pronto!

Due to a large failure in our company, I am now tasked with developing and managing a workplan for launching our new online publication. I am looking for best practices and common pitfalls in launching an online publication. Case studies, white papers, articles, books, (even dictionaries focused on IT terminology) would all be helpful. Ideally, there is a seminal work detailing mistakes big media companies commonly make in planning, developing, testing and launching their sites.
posted by redarmycomrade to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
No, you're fucked.
posted by TonyRobots at 4:10 PM on May 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Unusually Useful Web Book is an great starter for the non-technical reader, and assumes no prior knowledge. It touches on most of the concepts and considerations that go into producing a site.

Web Redesign 2.0 is a fantastic book with lots of practical advice that outlines a complete workflow for planning, producing and launching a web site. While it is focused on redesigning an existing site, most of the book is applicable to a new site too.

Neither of these is specifically for a media company launching a publication online, but they contain a lot of general web knowledge that will be relevant to your situation.
posted by chrismear at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2007

This is a large part of my job -- I work for a blogging company, and we help a lot of traditional publishers and media companies move into the contemporary web world.

Simply put, there are no good extant resources that offer a comprehensive overview of the process, certainly not ones that would be credible to those who are native to this medium. This doesn't necessarily mean, as TonyRobots said amusingly, that you're fucked. But it may be helpful to realize that your primary challenges are cultural changes, not technical ones. The technologies for a lot of this stuff, though evolving quickly, are fairly mature.

If you're in a traditionally journalism-oriented organization, then Jay Rosen's blog is an invaluable resource. If you lean more towards TV, book publishing, film, or other media, there just aren't great answers yet, though great conversations on these topics pop up regularly across a wide number of blogs.

(It may also be useful to point out that you're looking for sources that are definitive, centralized, and authoritative due to their method of publication. This medium tends to lead much more towards qualitative, decentralized works that earn their reputation over time by people responding to them conversationally, through links or comments or passing-along of info.)

Feel free to get in touch with me (anil@sixapart.com) if I can help out.
posted by anildash at 4:43 PM on May 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

You're so fucked, and I say this as an old-media type myself. Imagine a chap came up to you and said "I'm a website expert, now I need to know how to launch a publication. I need a book on printing presses".

It's like radio and telly -- they're both broadcasting, but that's about it. One thing you could get out of it: start writing that book on mistakes old media companies make. You'll make a lot of cash.

Chapter 1: Getting the old media expert to do the launch.
posted by bonaldi at 5:44 PM on May 25, 2007

Really, really fucked.

You need to hire someone before you can't afford to anymore.
posted by Jairus at 6:40 PM on May 25, 2007

I see a couple of Nathan Barleys that need to get over themselves. They don't know whether you're fucked or not, they just still believe the hype from 1998.

"Man, the print media, they don't get it. No one will even remember what paper is by 2002, dude!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Anil Dash gave you the best answer to your question as currently stated. The answer is, "no."
But as for first-hand input, don't even think of developing your publishing software in-house. Not unless you're really really confident in the team in question.
posted by Firas at 6:59 PM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mayor Curley: You prick. As I said in my answer, I'm old media. Seriously. I have inky hands at the end of each shift. And I'm watching us trying to tool up for new media, in the hands of well-meaning people like the OP. I know we're fucked, which is how I know OP's fucked.
posted by bonaldi at 8:20 PM on May 25, 2007

From an oldie to another:

What anildash said: it's cultural, not technical.

The simple fact that you are here to ask this question shows that you know more than you think about new media: they are places where people meet (and sometimes ask questions).

This is not so strange a concept: in every daily newspaper, there were always a couple of columnists who received a lot of mail and whose columns were half filled with readers' comments or questions. That's what "new media" is.

But media on the Web are not sent (launched) to the consumers. Like Mefi and others, the best of them (all natives) are not products, but places.

So if you have a topic around which you can build a place and invite people in, great, you can do it. It begins with welcoming people: offering them an identity. Web media starts with a personal page for every contributor. There are several tools around to do this. I highly recommend to read one of the great experts in the field, a legend among us..

And yes, since you ask, new media are synonymous with "communities". The old media don't like it very much but are going there; screaming and kicking, sure, but that's where we are pulled and they have no choice. It's a lot more fun to embrace it.

It's a great time to create media on the Web.
You are a lucky guy.
Good luck and keep us posted.
posted by bru at 8:39 PM on May 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was at a BBQ this evening and spoke with a lawyer who recalls his enormous law library where he'd pick up a book and access the information he sought but "The younger guys in the firm can just find what they need so much faster. We do 'reverse mentoring' where they share their techniques with us older partners."

Do the same. Connect with a hungry, intelligent student/intern/recent grad who gets it.

As for reading material, consider these requisite:
Cluetrain Manifesto
The Hughtrain Manifesto

If you only read one, read Hughtrain.

Best wishes in your endeavor.
posted by drinkspiller at 8:43 PM on May 25, 2007

The good news: you're web-savvy enough to be using this place, and you know you don't know enough.
The bad news: There's so much broad knowledge involved I really wouldn't know where to tell you to start. A few good books and web sites might help with overall strategy/approach, but they won't be much use when you get to the details (and the details really matter).

You need an expert. That doesn't mean stepping back and handing over responsibility, it means having a knowledgeable person there to talk things through with. I'm assuming there's some kind of budget for getting this publication online, and spending a big chunk of it (perhaps 20-25%) on planning/preparation is essential.
posted by malevolent at 12:56 AM on May 26, 2007

Contact this guy, he's well-respected among new media types.
posted by ejoey at 3:16 AM on May 26, 2007

Additionally, take with a pinch of salt all advice from anybody who's known as, or who thinks of themselves as, a "thought leader" in the field of new media, or who says that blogging will come to redefine all media, or that print is definitely dead, or that traditional journalistic methods are being completely swept away by the wisdom of crowds and user-generated content.

Remember that these people can only pay the rent on the apartments because they stick to this line. I'm not saying they're not acting in good faith, but their viability as professionals depends on one kind of future being true, as opposed to all the others, so they will literally not see evidence to the contrary. Keep an open mind.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:22 AM on May 26, 2007

[on their apartments, naturally]
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:23 AM on May 26, 2007

As others have said your main problems will be more to do with culture and the quality of your content rather than technology. One of the most important decisions will be how to launch the publication since it is easy and common to produce something technically and editorially OK which dies for lack of investment by its audience. If your publication targets readers of a wide age range then I'd recommend piloting with a mixture of those in their twenties and those nearing retirement. The former group will enthusiastic and au-fait with what makes a good online publication, the latter group will have more time on their hands and useful political connections. The people in the middle will be too busy and not that knowledgeable.
posted by rongorongo at 12:35 PM on May 26, 2007

Additionally, take with a pinch of salt all advice from anybody who's known as...

game warden raises an excellent point: There's a ton of absolutely wrong-headed absolutism, but new media shouldn't be approached in a dogmatic way. Having a blog or a wiki or something is just another tool to do your job well -- it's not religion. And beware of anybody who approaches you as if they're preaching religion.

Lots of traditional media organizations are going to make the transition successfully and retain great new media brands. Stodgy old NBC owns vibrant and popular community iVillage, and the BBC's been all but revitalized by its own web presence, reaching an American audience they never connected with before. And there will be tons more examples, as long as you don't let the significant and undeniable challenge you're facing intimidate you too much. :)
posted by anildash at 6:34 PM on May 26, 2007

Best answer: You should certainly do everything you can to educate yourself, but you absolutely, positively should not put yourself (or allow yourself to be placed) in a position of solo accountability on this project. It is neither realistic nor fair to expect someone with no experience in this kind of thing to deliver a project under perfect circumstances, let alone dig one out of a hole. Good lord.

Fortunately for you, there is a tried and true way to solve your problem, one that companies in your situation do every day--hire experts to help you out. At the very, very least, you should immediately begin looking for an experienced individual consultant who can ride shotgun with you on this and hold your hand through the process. If you don't already have a battle-proven staff to deliver the work, though--and it doesn't sound like you do--then that's only going to go so far. The best way to try and _ensure_ that this whole thing will come out well is to find a well-credentialed agency that can pick this project up, put a dedicated, experienced team on it, and just do it.

You may or may not feel that you've got the budget to do something like this. Especially if that's true, then your first area of focus shouldn't be about trying to figure this out on your own--it needs to be about building an argument for why your company needs to invest in expert help, and then driving the selection process.

(Full disclosure: I've spent the past 15 years of my career at exactly the type of agencies I'm saying you should hire, but I promise--I'm not just trying to drum up business for my industry, and I'm not getting all huffy about who can or can't do this type of thing. If you weren't already in a deficit on thing, and you had all the time in the world, I'd say it could be a great learning experience for you and your team to go it alone. Anyone else here who does this professionally, though, can tell you that we get hired _all the time_ to dig projects out of a hole like this. The only thing worse than rescuing a project that a company tried to handle internally is one where they made two or three attempts to handle it internally before they called for help.)

There are lots of folks here who can give you pointers on building an internal business case for hiring out the work, as well as guidance on managing an RFP process, but I think you might want more than anecdotal support. Before you do get to the point of trying to hire a full-blown agency, it might be a good idea to try and find the kind of solo advisor I described above--someone who you can probably hire for a couple grand to sit down with you, map out what you're _really_ facing, and then help you decide what to do. That kind of advisor can help you build that internal business case, sell it internally, manage the selection process, etc (and is someone who you can hopefully trust a lot more than some faceless blowhard on the Internet ;) ).

Best of luck on this thing. For what it's worth, this sort of problem really does get successfully solved every day. It's never easy, but it can definitely happen.
posted by LairBob at 9:54 PM on May 26, 2007

Hire young people and listen to them. You may know more about magazines and traditional media, but they will know more about online communities and behavior. Since (I'm guessing) what you're looking for is some sort of middleground between traditional magazine and full-on Web 2.0 community, I believe that such a fusion is possible.

In the end, listen to everybody's suggestions, but keep an eye on the bottom line and make sure that you decisions make good business sense. Some things have changed and some things haven't, but one constant is that your business MUST make money.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: There are some great, honest, answers here, and I appreciate the work of those who posted thoughtful answers.

I suspected there would not be one killer white paper, but I’m surprised there aren’t more examples, or anecdotal articles providing a framework or worst practices. I’d appreciate more of those if you know of any. I need to bone up on specific tactics while I’m hiring an expert.

For instance, an article on why “2.0” sites remain in perpetual beta would be great. (Note: I don't need MeFi to answer this. I need an article to discuss it and like topics).

I’m surprised there is not at least one major book that says “here is a broad, generalized five-stage process for launching your new publication” with some details behind it. I feel that if I hire the right kind of expert, he/she could give me a ten minute speech on that framework before asking any specific questions.

Again, thanks to everyone for your help. As many noted, we’re fucked. But it’s not the end of the world for me. I get to play on the web for awhile with somebody else’s money.
posted by redarmycomrade at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2007

« Older Hello?   |   GENET! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.