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article imageDigitalJournal.Com Unplugged: The Interviews

By Bob Norman     Feb 21, 2007 in
The three big guns of DigitalJournal.Com, Christopher Hogg, Alex Chumak and David Silverberg, let down their defenses and open up to the Wolfman. See how the site is changing and where it might go from the eyes of the men who control it's fate.
Everyone remembers their first. The way your hands tremble as you make your move. You stop and hesitate, should you or shouldn't you? You take a deep breath,reach out your hand,and click the activate button. Your first story on Digital Journal is out there for the world to see. You wait to see if people like it and you know you could have done better if you'd just taken your time. Right away you start looking for your next story,your next fix. You want it and you want it now. Welcome to the world of DJ addiction.
Next month will mark six months of posting for me here on DigitalJournal.com. I decided I wanted to take a look at how much the site has changed in such a short time and take a few guess at where I thought it might be going. Then I realized that most of you could care less about my opinion. For God's sake,this was my first post,
How the hell do you listen to somebody who's first story was only four lines long? But that's the way the site was in those days,short cut and paste stories were common. Knowing I'd blown any chance at credibility I had to rethink my plan and find a way to make this work. That's when I turned to our illustrious leader Chris Hogg and asked if he and his cohorts,Alex Chumak and David Silverberg, would be willing to give me their opinions on the evolution of DigitalJournal.Com and it's community. Much to my surprise they all agreed and graciously gave me their time to answer my questions. This is what happens when the Wolf get's loose in the henhouse.
I sent the same set of questions to all three of them with small modifications to fit their position in the company. My goal was to take a look at how much the site has changed and where it might be going in the future. They gave me honest and insightful answers and really impressed me with how open they were with me. After all that,let's get to what the big men said!
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I started off by asking,”How is what Digital Journal has become different from how you first conceived it? .“
I wanted to know if what the site had become was what they envisioned. Chris began by saying,”When we launched the user-driven aspect of the website our goal was to collect and document great news and websites, while at the same time give financial incentive to contributors. With so many blogs and news sites around the world, we hoped the site would become the one-stop place for every news junkie and blogger.“ He continued,”But the community growth, quality of writing and users' constant ability to find interesting and breaking news has surpassed even our own expectations. The DigitalJournal.com community is by far the most unique on the Internet.“ Dave had a slightly different view,”I'm also pleasantly surprised to see how tightly-knit the DJ community has become -- there's hints of romance, friendly antagonism, shared experiences, and even birthday wishes. It's heartening to see bloggers working together in order to help improve a site that's designed just for them.” To finish the group,Alex had his own unique ideas on the evolution,”You can write a history book on the evolution of DigitalJournal.com but i will sum it up: DigitalJournal.com was conceived as a standard, rigid news source written by a small staff. We knew that becoming one of the major online news sources was impossible unless we came up with something new for the Internet. Now, with a community of friends and many, many bloggers our goal of creating one online source for news is being achieved.”
My second question was more about the might have been. I wanted to know,”Is there anything you would have done differently in the beginning that might change how the site is now?”
Surprisingly enough,there weren't many regrets. “We're very proud of what we've created with DigitalJournal.com and I wouldn't have done anything differently in hindsight,”Chris said,” It sounds simple, but too many developers focus on building what they want, rather than what their users want. We are operating on a very customer-oriented business model where the users decide the direction and we offer input along the way.” David and Alex seemed to agree with Alex saying,”All of the changes came out of natural evolution with the changing times, fads and trends. We always look ahead, trying to find ways to improve our service.”
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Next in line was to cast the looking glass towards the future and see what they thought was in store for Digital Journal. I asked them,”Where do you see DJ being a year from now? Five years?”
“I envision DigitalJournal.com rocketing to unparalleled success,” David began,”the kind of height that'll populate the site with a diverse array of bloggers and professional writers from across the world. I predict the site's features will only get more intriguing and useful for the site's members. In five years, I see DJ as the number-one Web community for breaking news and original video, where not only bloggers will go to post stories but where news junkies will go to get caught up on news before it hits the mainstream.” Chris agreed saying,”The Balkanization of the Internet has led to a lot of fantastic content being produced every day. The problem is: You often can't find it without looking hard and knowing where to look. We hope to help readers find news that interests them, the same way a search engine helps you find content.“
Then I wanted to explore the way that all of them had become so much a part of the community rather then staying at arms length. I posed the question,”The staff have all become a vital part of the community, many of us consider you friends. Did you plan for it to happen this way? Are you happy with the result? “
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“At first, I didn't think the community would bond so tightly with the writers. I've never experienced that before.” Dave remarked. “But once the DJ members started involving the staff in group discussions, we knew there'd be a friendship that will make the site stand out from the rest. I'm very happy with how DJ members treat us like family, and vice versa.” Chris was just as positive,”As a community, everyone's contribution is equal and we constantly strive to show that. To bring everything together, we began featuring users' news alongside our own and blending it so their was virtually no distinction. The result has been a very tight-knit community that we are proud to be part of.” Alex was up-front about the fact that he was uncomfortable at first with the interaction,”I was not comfortable with the value of my opinion and did not want to interfere with debates as it is a standard way of running most websites these days. Inevitably, the intelligent conversations drew me in and turned out be one of the most rewarding aspects of the site. I am hoping that DigitalJournal.com will be able to maintain this level of maturity, friendship and intelligent debate.”
My last question was about us,the users, and what we could do to help insure the success of Digital Journal. I asked,”In your opinion what's the biggest thing the DJ community can do to help the site flourish?”
Chris began by saying,”What separates DigitalJournal.com from other user-generated sites is the fact there is actually content here – it's not just another link site. We hope users will continue to put great effort into writing comprehensive stories that cover all the important facts put them in their own words. “ Dave agreed saying,”Post original and fascinating stories that the mainstream media misses. There's already a CNN and Google News out there, so we encourage our writers to find stories that other journalists might have missed.“ He continued,”Offering practical advice is helpful for everyone, as long as it's done with tact. When DJ members work together to help boost the site's writing quality, only good things can come out of that.” Alex just summed it up,” It is hard to ask for anything more from users.”
At that point I thought I was done,but at the last second I came up with a question to tax their imagination,”If the sky were the limit,what would your DJ wish be? What's your dream? “
Chris was satisfied with things the way they are but Dave answered,”For DJ, I'd like to see writers and stories from all corners of the world. I'm thinking Africa, Australia, small villages in Canada, an island in the tropics. What I like about DJ stories are their diversity, but I'm hoping more international attention will translate into a global reach for the site. Once the site starts attracting citizen journalists from unlikely countries, I'll be extremely satisfied.“ Last but not least was Alex who had his own technological spin for his answer,”I have some experience and knowledge in the field of Artificial Intelligence, so the next big evolutionary step for DigitalJournal.com could be employing A.I . for personalization, filtering, cheater detection and other laborious and/or inefficient tasks. “ That sounds like a plan for the future.
So there you go. I'd like to thank all three of these guys for just being terrific with a rank amateur. If there is a more giving and welcoming place on the internet I haven't found it. I'd also like to give credit to everyone who does this for a living. This was,by far, the toughest project I've done for DJ. It's easy to speak in your own voice,it's much tougher to incorporate the words of others.
OK community,what do you see the future of DJ as being?
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