Project 1: core team and beta site: closing report

This project was to hire a core team, and build and launch a minimum-featured beta site with automated content licensing and acquisition.

General report-back

There were two major parts to this project:

  • get 1000 publications on Paperight.com, and
  • build a basic working site to replace the working demo site, adding instant document delivery.

We achieved the 1000-publications target on time (see the report on our blog for details). Reaching this target required research of product leads, sourcing of documents, compilation of metadata, and the listing of each product on Paperight.com, in addition to the prepping of documents for sale via the site. Our content manager Tarryn did a marvellous job of planning and driving this process. We brought in an intern, Michal Blazsczyk, who helped a lot with the legwork of getting this done.

We did not hire a software developer. During the recruitment process it became clear that we would build a better product faster if we contracted a software company rather than an in-house developer. So Arthur spoke to several software companies, discussing the project in detail with them. These were narrowed down to two companies – Realm Digital and Double Eye – who had built large book-selling sites for major clients before, and had a range of applicable in-house experience with the book industry and with automating PDF manipulation.

This process took three months. Ultimately, Realm Digital were chosen. Based on extensive interviews and discussions with contacts who’d worked with them, they offered better front-end design expertise and a more impressive track record.

We completed a functional specification for Paperight.com with them, based on which they drew up a full development costing. The costing was based on the fact that all code would belong to Paperight or be GPL-compatible. This meant Realm could not use proprietary tools they normally relied on, which raised development costs well beyond our project budget.

Depsite the high cost of developing with Realm, the process of finding them and developing the functional spec – which showed we had a good team understanding with them – convinced us that they were still the best way to get a slick, solid product built quickly. So we decided to close this project and apply for the software-development budget in a separate pitch document.

This means a large part of the funds in this project were not used, and can be released back into the pool.

Objectives achieved

1000 publications available for sale on Paperight.com.

An important first stage of software development was achieved: a thorough functional specification for Paperight 1.0 was created, along with UI designs, briefing documents and UX flow diagrams.

Objectives not achieved

We did not build software for instant PDF delivery.

To keep us going without this, we refined the existing site so that we could trade with it, and designed back-office workflows that allow us to manually deliver print-ready PDFs to clients within 24 hours.

Measures of success

Before: “We expect immediately to see our pilot-testing outlets respond positively to improvements in speed and ease of using the beta site over the prototype (WordPress-based) site”

After: We do not have the new site to do this comparison. This measure has been included in our Project 3 pitch.

Before: “we’d like to see them using the site on their own for buying content for customers, for content we haven’t explicitly told them about, and visiting more often per month than they visited the prototype site.”

After: As above, we cannot make a comparison yet, since we’re still using the original site. We did have two unassisted licence requests from unsolicited outlets. This small sample showed that the existing site can be used to run Paperight while we build instant document delivery in Project 3. The site visits by registered outlets cannot be measured with the current site, and we have not yet had repeat sales from those outlets that have bought licences.

Before: “we’d love to see more than a dozen new outlets registering and using the site based on word of mouth, without our active promotion and guidance.”

After: Running the original site, we have had 15 outlet registrations, of which:

  • 11 were unsolicited
  • 6 are consumer-facing copy/print businesses
  • 4 are school teachers
  • 5 are private individuals (publishing/education professionals and parents of school-going children)

Budget

Original budget: R257000

Actual spend: R92500

Returned to pool: R164500

Item Budget Actual Return to pool Comments
Senior developer 160000 20520 139480 Spent on functional spec for Paperight 1.0
Content manager 48000 54720 -6720 VAT incurred since this was paid through EBW, who are VAT registered
Office space 24000 5760 Worked from Arthur’s home. Budget shifted to interns.
Interns 18240 Used office space budget to pay interns R4000 × 4 months: Michal Blazsczyk (Jan–Feb) and Nick Mulgrew (Mar–Apr)
Register Pty (Ltd) 6000 681 5319 Used a cheaper registration agency
Computers for 2 15000 7299 7701 Computer for Tarryn, but no developer
Software 0 Provided by EBW as planned
Printing costs at testing sites 4000 0 4000 Not used, since we didn’t have the new site to test.
TOTAL 257000 92500 101 460 155540

 

Outputs and deliverables

IP Author Owner
Metadata for and online listing of 1000 publications Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Prepared PDFs for same 1000 publications Varies by document Content is public domain or content-specific rightsholders, packaged presentation owned by Paperight
Site design for Paperight 0.5 (WordPress) Original design by Elegant Themes Inc, heavily modified by Arthur Attwell Original design Elegant Themes Inc (licenced under GPLv2), modifications Arthur Attwell
Site code for Paperight 0.5 (WordPress) Auttomatic and others, modified by Arthur Attwell Various, licensed under GPLv2
UI, wireframes and briefing documents for Paperight 1.0 Arthur Attwell Arthur Attwell
Functional specification for Paperight 1.0 Realm Digital Arthur Attwell (in IP agreement between Realm Digital and Shuttleworth Foundation)
Cover thumbnail designs (220 as of 13 Mar 2012) Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Workflow/process documents (hosted on the Paperight wiki) Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Michal Blazsczyk, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight
Blog posts, including content report on first-1000-items Paperight team (Arthur Attwell, Tarryn-Anne Anderson, Nick Mulgrew) Paperight

 

Learnings

Regarding content, the surprising thing was how smoothly it went. This was largely due to Tarryn’s dogged determination and meticulous planning and execution. It’s also unlikely we would have made the deadline if it hadn’t been for intern Michal Blazsczyk. Michal approached Arthur out of the blue for an internship, and this was fortuitous. We’re glad that we had the opportunity to bring him on: in an industry where skills are rare, it’s important to be able to bring in talent when you see it.

Much of our content-related learning was operational: we learned a lot about the mixed quality of open sources of content, PDF technology, workflow best practice, and getting new team members up to speed fast using wiki-based ops manuals.

Regarding software, we learned from research early that hiring a software developer in-house is a huge risk: their productivity is impossible to predict, and all your eggs are in that one basket. Then we learned how long it takes to be sure you’ve found the right software development company. If we’d known it would take so long, Arthur would have pushed harder earlier, but the process is underpinned by a myth that ‘tomorrow we can start writing code’.

We also learned that the cost of building open software can be significantly higher than building software on proprietary platforms, where the development industry has come to rely on proprietary platforms for fast rollout and licence-based annuity income.

On the side of this project, we learned that – with the exception of a handful of small businesses – it is very difficult to get commercial publishers to agree to provide content until the business is trading with a proven footprint. This led us to focus on a great open-licensed and public-domain-based catalogue.

Exit/Sustainability/Viability

This project was the first step in a series of projects leading to overall sustainability for Paperight.

Conclusion

We definitely achieved our content objectives and we’re extremely pleased about that. We now have a great starting catalogue with which to promote Paperight (see project pitch 2). We also have a growing list of sources of further open content.

We didn’t get far enough with software development in the time we planned. While we’re very happy with the foundation we’ve laid (great suppliers, UI plans and functional spec), we didn’t get a chance to achieve and test some of our key software-related objectives. Those have now been transferred and refined in a new project (pitch 3).

Next steps

The next steps are to build the Paperight 1.0 software planned and specced in this project, and then to promote Paperight to outlets. Project pitch 3 continues the software work. Project pitch 2 is all about promotion, while continuing to build and refine the content catalogue.

 

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