Now, I had something all ready to post, but I loved Chris O’Brien’s post on Mistakes I Made With The Next Newsroom Project that I’m going to do one of my own.

I’ve been working on Placeblogger, a 2007 News Challenge Winner, with Tish Grier, over the past year and a half. Like a lot of technical projects, Placeblogger had a ski-jump-like curve of complexity and features; when you’re making something new online, you often do a ton of work in the background before anyone sees anything at all.

That’s one of the things that makes our most recent release so satisfying; it’s a great moment when you, and users, can see and feel the changes you’ve been working so hard on.

Like Chris, I had assumptions at the beginning of our work that proved incorrect, the biggest of which had to do with hiring for the technical aspects of our work. If you’re building out a new service, website, or piece of software, you have a number of options:

  1. DIY. This costs the least money, but depending on your level of sophistication, is the least predictable. It’s not always possible to predict how long it will take you to learn what you need to know to get the job done.
  2. Small-bore outsourcing. Break your job into pieces, and use your personal network or even sites like eLance or Rentacoder to get the work done. This is fast and can be effective — but only if you’re really clear about how the pieces fit together.
  3. Large-bore outsourcing. Look for a complete team that has experience working together and includes the skills that you need, from technical architecture, to database administration, to design and UI work. This is reliable, but not always fast, and you pay a premium for the integrated service. If you choose wisely, you’ll get excellent quality work, because effective teams are often effective because they have very high quality individual players.

We ultimately chose option #3. While I still think this was the best option for us, I now realize that we neglected the option of bringing on what I like to think of as a “technical cofounder.” I can say quite honestly that I did not think that we could or would find a technical lead for our project who would be as passionately committed to it as we were (how many people are there who are really passionate about local blogs? Now, how many of them are excellent PHP coders and UI designers)?

Tish Grier, who is Chief Community Officer for Placeblogger joined with me in doing some mentoring for people who applied to the 2009 News Challenge, and one of the things I counselled them to do was to start the teambuilding now, and don’t count out the possibility of a civic-minded programmer joining your team.