Notes: Surviving Your Own Collaborative Project

Micheal: K10K began with our dissatisfaction with the other sites out there, they didn’t update enough…

Heather: I realized that photographers have been taking pictures of themselves in reflective surfaces for a long time. Originally called “Jezebel’s Mirror”. Starting working with Aaron Cope (?) to do all of the back-end. Started very slow, but then grew to 700 and that’s when they moved to the back-end.

Derek: Hand coding a submission site, like a sign, "Please come in and let me work for you."

Heather: Lots of frustration. Collaboration with a back-end person has really expanded the possibilities. The gallery is an attempt to provide springboards because the site had become unwieldy and intimidating. Themes are community based.

Derek: Some themes emerging: technical, content, and ???.

Michael: Technical aspect is really interesting. We used to be hand coding, only two pages to update. The moment we added news function, so we enlisted the company I was working for to sponsor a back-end. If we hadn’t done the back-end early on it wouldn’t have grown like it has. The new version has everything completely dynamic. We had to build it ourselves.

Derek: You wouldn’t know what tool you needed to build until you had the hellish experience of hand-coding.

Michael: Hooked up with programmer (Per) because he was working at the same company I’m at and he was weird.

Heather: I had the domain and I had an idea, I posted a plea on one of my personal websites, about 15 people responded and one name caught my eye because he was a common contributor. We began a 6-month dialogue, the whole site was created through email, some IM conversations, and one telephone call. I went home to Ottawa for Christmas and I took him out to lunch.

Michael: Most of the projects I’ve worked on geographical issues don’t really matter that much.

Derek: New K10K feature, the Matchmaker. I’m working on a new back-end on Fray with someone I met through that. [:)] Let’s talk about horror stories. You start because you like things, but you end up in charge, responsible, it has side-effects and sometimes it leads to tension.

Michael: Two lessons I’ve learned, people take everything personally and they associate you with what you do. K10K is a small part of what we do, the site isn’t me. I find that odd. Most of the horror stories are related to nasty emails. When I reply to the really nasty ones sometimes they respond and apologize because they were drunk. They use the email form! When I look at a site I don’t like, I don’t say "you suck" I just close my browser.

Heather: One of the more difficult problems is people who don’t understand the point of the website. The guidelines have grown over the years. A certain size and under a certain file size. It’s about reflective self-portraiture. Some of my favorite images that didn’t make it. I have a trouble telling people why the images were rejected. Up until last year, if it was reflective it would get in. As a fine arts student, I don’t have issues with the human body. Then there was Phil. Showed picture of someone who put a mirror in the toilet. My limit is: your ass [haha].

Derek: Finding your boundaries. The submission pages start really small, "Send a story." Then they grow and grow. On Fray the posting script checks for length, not too long or too short. Goldilocks posts. Some examples of weird comments.

Michael: One of the headaches is that we say no to a lot of stuff. So many that we reject for various, very subjective, reasons. Every time I do that it breaks my heart. A lot of stuff just isn’t good enough, we can’t use it.

Derek: Numbers?

Micheal: 70 people per week for stories, hundreds for links.

Heather: 20–40 a day.

Question: How do you work your relationships with back-end people or designers.

Michael: I’ve worked with Toke and the other people for a really long time, so there isn’t an issue. When new people come on board there is a trial period. There has to be a ‘god’ in a collaborative project. 50/50 doesn’t work unless you’re married.

Heather: A lot of issues we’ve dealt with is crisis management. Where we run into trouble is with the hosting, everything breaks. Might be front-end or back-end. I’ll send off an email to Aaron, and we’ll end up having conversations. It’s a lot about patience. When it’s free you have to respect people’s lives.

Michael: But it’s a balance, if someone isn’t dedicated then they probably aren’t the person for the project. It isn’t that hard finding people to work with. Find someone who is as dedicated to you.

Derek: When asking for submissions of writing. If you ask for 500 words, you get a 1000, but if you ask for a 1000 you won’t get it. Make up a deadline. Be understanding when things slip though. It’s a labor of love.

Question: Some advice about rules.

Heather: Participating in a collaborative project is a privilege and not a right. How do deal with people who harass you? Remember it’s your project. Don’t be afraid to take charge.

Michael: You have to be a benevolent dictator. I can’t think of a site that doesn’t work that way.

Me: What about wikis?

Michael: I’m not familiar with that.

Derek: K10K would be very interesting as a wiki. [laughter]

Question: Virtual community with real community overlap.

Michael: I really enjoy things like this (SxSW) where you can meet people who I wouldn’t have met if not for the website. Plus there’s the love aspect.

Heather: When people come to San Francisco I want to meet them. I love looking at people’s photographs; I find it fascinating. Some submissions make me cry.

Derek: These sites are billboards for what we believe in. You attract other like-minded people.

Heather: Another aspect is that you encourage them to build their own sites. I’ve gotten emails where people take things inspired by the Mirror Project.

Michael: When we started I didn’t know what to do and so we emailed people and they gave advice and it helped us shape where people go. If I can inspire anyone else to do the same thing that’s beautiful.

Heather: If you see a site that’s similar, email the people who are creating that. Share experiences.

Question: Open source tools for this? What about copyright?

Derek: Yes. Look at the things you do manually and see how to automate it. There are lots of thing

Michael: Grab javascript, code, whatever, but don’t touch our [censored] pictures.

Heather: We’ve been considering open-sourcing the back-end.

Derek: On copyright you have to be careful when you present other people’s work on your site.

John Stynn: In my situation, it’s not a business relationship Citizen X has lost its programmer, critical that your passions are in line. The guy who just wanted the resumé piece is long gone.

Micheal: Our programmer guy is just a part K10K as anyone else.

Derek: I’ve been farming out more and more; if I go, I want the site to continue. It’s a challenge.

Joshua Davis: I know all three of you personally, but if you run a collaborative website, you get a lot of submissions, lets talk about ISP bills. How do you deal with traffic?

Michael: We’ve had a ton of trouble. We put a notice, we need a good hosting deal. Then we need a free hosting bill. Otherwise it would be like $10,000 a month.

Heather: I haven’t been that fortunate. I pay about $40 a month. Every month I get bandwidth notices. We’re looking at redoing the whole site, how we can use less resources. I’m looking for a new hosting company. Every two to three months something happens and it’s frustrating. There is a dream company that could deal with these labors of love.

Michael: That’s not true.

Heather: I went to Media Temple and they wanted a lot of money.

Derek: Fray started with a friend with a server. We had a big fat pipe, started hosting sites there. We were laid off and years later the box was still there. Eventually someone tripped over the power cord. No one knew whose it was anymore. Now I pay through the nose like everyone else.

Question: Is anyone considering co-opting bandwidth?

Derek: A good ide… [At this point my battery cut out. The last question they all discussed why they do it and why they love it.]