I’m glad to say that SochiReporter, my Knight-funded project, launched on October 27. This was a very important day for me, and for our team. We tested SochiReporter for about two months before the public launch, inviting both web experts and users to comment on various aspects of the site.

In the days before the launch, I didn’t sleep a wink. But this is natural. I was very excited about the launch, and did my best to convey how cool and innovative SochiReporter is to the journalists and students that gathered on launch day in the hall of one of the best schools in Sochi.

Generating Content

We have been working on this project for almost a year, but we started generating content a few months back. At the end of July, we organized a seminar about the web and new media for students in Sochi. We also announced a contest that would give prizes for the best photos, text and video. So between August and October, students were generating content for the site. We provided the students with some nice gadgets to help with their reporting, as well as some basic knowledge about blogging and other skills. This meant we were able to launch with lots of original content.

Site Design and Structure

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For me, design is really important. As my designer friend who works for a lifestyle magazine told me, “folks are subconsciously attracted by good design.” We had a great time working with four designers from Cetis, which is one of the leading design studios in Russia. I call our design “adrenaline.” It’s really colorful and bright, and each section has a personal touch. Please take a look and let us know what you think. You can also view a video about the creation of the site:

In terms of the structure of the site, I believe we were innovators. As I understand it, innovation is a process that aims to combine existing tools to create a new product.

We created a section on the site called Time Machine. It enables a user to go back in time to any day (starting from October 2009) and see which material was uploaded. This is basically a way of archiving and storing information, and it’s very useful when it comes to sites like ours.

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Other innovative sections include the Guidebook, which is a wiki-based virtual guidebook of Sochi. (I wrote the first Russian guidebook of Norway when I was 21, so this section is important to me). I believe that the Guidebook creates a sense of community, and it’s a great element for any community-oriented website. In order to create the Guidebook, I made agreements with the publisher of the best travel guidebook for Sochi to provide us with basic travel information. So we’re starting with information provided by professional travel writers. Then, as the city changes, users will be able to edit and add to the Guidebook. We already have some local students writing about Sochi’s museums.

Marketing

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We launched with a major presentation of SochiReporter at the 2009 Russian Internet Week. This is a big web industry exhibition organized in a huge venue in Moscow. It was great to be a part of this expo, and many people were interested in our project. We had a small but comfy stand with walls that were covered with samples from the site.

In Sochi, all of the local television channels covered the launch, as did the online media and some of the local papers. I realized how much the publicity helps when, days after the launch, I was recognized by a waiter in a café. He had seen me on television.

Thanks to our seminars back in July, most of the local journalists had already heard about SochiReporter. This helped create a sense of anticipation for our launch — and helped make it a success so far. The number of registered users is gradually growing and new stories come up on SochiReporter.