A common trait of successful online news and magazine sites is, surprisingly, a developer blog. Think of a developer blog as a look into the minds of the people building the site: what limitations they have, what they’re working on, what they believe their readers want or need, success stories of how they built interesting things, and even day-to-day tidbits that remind readers that the site is built by thinking, feeling people instead of a faceless entity.
- I’ve heard many excuses for not wanting to have a developer blog:
“Who would update the thing? Our team is busy!”
“No one wants to read stuff like this, they want to read the news.”
“We absolutely cannot publish this information, it’s secret. What if someone were to copy us?!”
“We’re developers, not writers. We wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Taking the time to write blog posts takes us away from being able to build the technology our team needs.”
The list goes on and on.
But for teams who do make the effort to create and update developer blogs, the rewards are great. I’m going to walk through some of the benefits of creating a developer blog for your site, using excellent existing blogs as examples of how to do this well.
I believe very strongly that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach others and share your knowledge. This has become apparent to me from many directions including mentoring, teaching, writing tutorials, giving talks and training others. I always learn more each time I share with others.
This industry moves so quickly. Suggestions on things that work and things that don’t as well as best practices and “how to” articles are invaluable for people. A solid “why we did it this way” or “the fastest way to do x” type of article can save other developers a great deal of time and make them eternally grateful to you. Google recently changed their Maps API Terms of Service, causing a lot of confusion. Chris Keller from Madison.com wrote about the changes and narrowed down the important bits for others affected by the change.
At The Chicago Tribune, the team is not just interested in educating itself and its blog readers, but also the community. Joe Germuska blogs about his presentation to Hacks/Hackers Chicago in October, posting his slides and sites he referenced throughout his talk.
ADVERTISE TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN LICENSE / SELL / GIVE AWAY
It might not happen all the time, but occasionally your team may create new applications or methods of doing things which are so valuable they’re worth selling or licensing. In 2005, The Lawrence Journal-World newspaper from Kansas released an open source tool called the Django web framework, and they ended up spinning out a software division to sell their customized CMS now called Ellington CMS. A CMS coming from a media organization is a huge deal, since every media team I talk to vehemently hates their CMS.
The ProPublica News Apps team released a new feature earlier this month called DocDiver, and they announced this on their “ProPublica Nerd Blog.” The blog post included how it works, why they built it, and nerdy details on how it works. The project was built on top of the NYT DocumentViewer app and expands on that open source project.
KUDOS AND RECOGNITION FOR YOUR TEAM MEMBERS
Recognition and respect are two of the most important things you can help your team members achieve. Developers and technologists who feel appreciated are more likely to stick around, work harder and be more loyal employees. Industry recognition for your team circles back to help your organization improve its image as well.
Last week, Poynter.org published an article by Matt Thompson on why journalists should be ‘showing their work’ while they create and learn. He mentions paying it forward, building data literacy, increasing the impact of your work and more.
GETTING TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
The worst thing that can happen to an industry is that it stagnates and no innovation occurs. Developer blogs are the perfect way to share your disruptive ideas with others who might be interested in doing something similar or building off of your idea.
My favourite example of this this year is from a Maine newspaper, The Bangor Daily News. Tired of a typically clunky workflow which involved a lot of cutting-and-pasting, the team built a new workflow out of Google Docs and WordPress. The Bangor Daily News dev blog is here: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/. You can read more about their new workflow here: http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/how-to-run-a-news-site-and-newspaper-using-wordpress-and-google-docs_b4781. And here’s a short video showing the process:
BUILD A COMMUNITY
What if you had a whole community of individuals you could get to give you input, suggestions, or even build things with your data and resources? Think of how much more you could achieve.
The Guardian’s Data Blog has done exactly that. A very active blog, The Guardian Data Blog releases new sets of data constantly in raw form. Sometimes they’ve been able to build charts or interactions to tell a story with it, and sometimes they simply provide the data. At the end of each article, they ask “Can you do something with this data?” and ask people to contact them or post visualizations on their Flickr page.
The result is a fascinating body of work, which is much more diverse having community input, and is definitely larger than what The Guardian could have produced on its own. That kind of interaction and dedication by a community makes your site and publication much more interesting and valuable.
SHOW OFF YOUR CRAZY IDEAS
My dad used to tell me, “It ain’t bragging if you’ve done it.” If your team has built something amazing, solved a really tough problem, or tried something crazy (even if it was a colossal failure!), why not tell the world? The New York Times launched its “beta620” labs project this year, and the site is specifically for trying out wacky ideas and experimenting. So far they have created some projects which are simply experiments they’ve learned from. But they’ve also created products like the Times Skimmer, which end up as full-fledged products in the main site or in their mobile apps.
HIRE BETTER EMPLOYEES
We all know hiring good developers, designers, UX designers, content strategists and other technology positions is tough and getting tougher. People want to work for respected organizations doing interesting things. Advertising for free on your developer blog that you’re using new technology or being creative is a wonderful way to help the right people find their way to you.
At The Guardian, they have been hosting “Guardian Hack Days” and “Developer drop-ins” this year, both of which help expose their team and technology to potentially excellent candidates for future hiring. A developer looking for his or her next role would find articles like these very telling about office culture, priorities and work ethic, all things which are near impossible to discover in an interview.
If you’re considering creating a developer blog for your news or magazine application, be sure to keep an eye on the following blogs which are great examples of how to write, teach, influence and share well:
ProPublica Nerd Blog :: http://www.propublica.org/nerds
Bangor Daily News Dev Blog :: http://dev.bangordailynews.com/
Data Journalism Blog :: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/blog/
LA Times Data Desk :: http://projects.latimes.com/index/
Madison.com Labs Blog :: http://labs.madison.com/blog/
beta620 from The New York Times :: http://beta620.nytimes.com/
The Guardian Data Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog
The Guardian Developer Blog :: http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/developer-blog
Chicago Tribune News Apps :: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/