A Drupal-based DailyKos
by Shai Sachs, Sun Jan 11, 2009 at 11:17:07 AM EST
Yesterday's post on the next steps forward, in light of Soapblox's near-meltdown, generated some very interesting suggestions and questions, and even a bit of a good old-fashioned programming language holy war, in the comment thread. Alert reader Jon Pincus also pointed me to Pam Spaulding's very insightful thoughts about Soapblox. Pam gets right to the heart of the matter in pointing out that the issue underlying this meltdown is money, or lack thereof. Progressive bloggers aren't wealthy, and some of them failed to pay even Soapblox's reasonable monthly fees.
I do not think there will ever be a single, ideal blogging platform for all progressive bloggers, for the simple reason that each blogger will make her own decisions about where and when to post. Soapblox may grow and thrive for a long time to come; I hope it does. But I would also like to see the development of an alternative system that is every bit as easy to work with, and every bit as cheap, as Soapblox, but with a stronger technological foundation. Ideally, I would like to see an alternative system that is more feature-rich, and capable of supporting the next wave of progressive organizing that is already beginning.
In particular, I believe that progressive Drupal developers will need to produce a "Dailykos-lite" version of Drupal, which makes it easy and cheap for progressive bloggers to start new blogs whose functionality imitates that of Dailykos. Moreover, I think we will need to provide a turnkey solution for starting and hosting a Drupal-based Dailykos-lite blog with a reasonable monthly fee, similar to wordpress.com. Using such a hypothetical solution, a progressive blogger would be able to do the following, at minimum: give front-page access to multiple bloggers, allow readers to post and recommend diaries in a sidebar, promote user diaries on a case-by-case basis, allow readers to rate one anothers comments, ban trolls, and add special sidebar features from time to time. Such a system should be easy-to-use, and should require no more than a few minutes' setup time in order to get up and running.
The big question is, how will we pay for the development of such a system; even more tricky, how will we pay for the maintenance of the system? Setting the development question aside, I think the maintenance question is one where there is some room to innovate. Instead of using the monthly-fees model - reasonable though it may be - it might make sense to develop a hosted system in which a certain portion of advertising space is set aside for the hosting provider, and all revenue from that space is given to the hosting provider. Other revenue-sharing models - e.g., some percentage of all affiliate or merchandising sales - are also possible, but this kind of model would ensure that, as long as people using the blogging platform, there is a steady stream of revenue available for keeping the platform afloat.
There are, incidentally, other opportunities lurking in the shadows of such agreements. The hosting system could also provide help for bloggers who meed legal protection, it could develop a library of licensed artwork available for bloggers to use in their graphic designs and individual blog posts. Or it might be possible for the hosting system to become a full-fledged support agency for bloggers, capable of licensing bloggers' writing for republication; arranging speaking engagements and book deals for popular bloggers; helping bloggers land consulting engagements; providing health insurance and other typical job benefits; and more. Some of these ideas are a bit exotic or, to be honest, entirely unrealistic, given how little money is available to support blogging. But I think it's important to remember that creating new opportunities for bloggers means more than just developing fancy software.
I'd love to hear more from progressive bloggers about what kinds of things they want or need out of a blogging platform. Starting with the very basics, what kind of features - in addition to those listed above - do you need to go about day-to-day blogging? How much are you willing to pay for those features, or, if you'd rather not pay, what kinds of blog platform business models are palatable to you? What other forms of support could a robust platform provide?