Founder/President Richard Anderson has a vision with Village Soup. I heard him a while back at a Journalism That Matters conference where he described his Knight News Challenge grant project [audio file of Richard’s chat from JTM]. It seems he too is a philosophy in search of a platform.
According to Richard, the Village Soup concept is similar to the VISA chaordic organization, where member banks collaborate with development of a “shared” product, while being co-branded with a common identity. Under the “commons” – Richard’s idea for a similar Village Soup structure—members suggest future developments to the software and may develop other cooperative relationships.
Richard built Village Soup to support hybrid online and print operations. He rolled out the open-source version this past spring and his team has spent the summer building out the enterprise version. The enterprise version expands on the capabilities of the open-source version and it is built on a different software structure to allow for greater scalability and integration.
On the Knox County site, the site sports a feature story rotator, placement for small button and banner advertising and the business membership “offers” in a right-hand rail.
I’ve met with Richard and his team around the franchise concept. I explained that my goal was to reach the hyperlocal operator, some of whom would happily function without a print component. Village Soup’s sweet spot is in the community newspaper niche and I think the online only operation took them a bit by surprise.
Of course, the software is flexible enough to accommodate an online only operation. Just turn off that module. But was I buying more software than I needed?
Being on a tight budget, I wanted to know whether the open-source platform could be deployed for my project.
While the software is open-source, that doesn’t necessarily make it accessible to any old tinkerer. I would need a software developer to help modify the software. Plus, it’s not scalable to the franchise concept. Translation: No multi-site function to deploy content and advertising across the franchise network…a key to the larger franchise model.
But the enterprise version is being redesigned to provide that flexibility…at a cost.
With the larger “franchise” project to consider, I not only had to think about the affordability to the single site operator, but whether I could create some economies of scale to make the costs actually lower than if someone were to do this on their own.
On the revenue side, the business membership model creates a unique revenue stream different than display advertising. Businesses pay a monthly fee to be able to post “marketing” content in the Biz Offers section of the site. I had tried a similar marketplace on the now defunct mytopiacafe.com, but our advertising department at my former legacy media organization felt that function would devalue the current print display ad buy. No such restraints are in place for the indy operator, so the business membership plan can be packaged as part of a cohesive media buy.
So there’s still a larger looming question as to whether there’s a viable business in the hyperlocal space. Some like baristanet.com and westseattleblog.com have proven the concept in the microscale. However, couple that with the idea of a cooperative/franchise-like relationship on the macro level and you’ve got to scale to make it work.