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J-Learning Achieves Lift-Off

A year ago, Hop Studios began an ambitious, challenging, fascinating project: To develop a how-to guide for community journalism sites. It’s done, and it’s called J-Learning, and it’s spectacular.

The project was funded by J-Lab, The Institute for Interactive Journalism.  J-Lab is based at the University of Maryland, and has a really noble mission: to promote innovative news experiments that improve public life.

Well, when J-Lab approached us to help them develop this multi-phased project, we were thrilled.  Still are thrilled.  In fact, I’m positively amazed at how well this project came out.

What we’ve done in the past year, is create an example of well-done community-service website that encourages discussion on and around the topic of building community, reporting news, and creating well-run websites.  It’s currently 81 articles, 75,000 words, 180 images, and a heck of a lot of work. It also represents one of Hop Studios’ biggest and best projects to date, and I’d love to hear your feedback about it.

And in the mean time, it’s also a wonderful example of a working community news and information site that includes a raft of features. There’s…

  • per article commenting

  • discussion forums

  • an article rating system

  • an auto-detectable syndication feed

  • it’s all done with really efficient and snazzy CSS layouts

  • it adjusts to any size monitor

  • it has a collapsable navigation bar that remembers its state as you navigate the site

  • you can subscribe to certain articles to keep track of discussion

  • there’s private messaging and a member list

  • the site search is extremely powerful

    With all this, the site still does the most important thing that any site can do: it loads fast. Yep, amazing.

    So, what does it cover?  Well, current, it helps you go from zero, through
    initial planning of your community site,
    registering a domain name,
    finding web hosting,
    hiring a designer or developer,
    buying hardware and software,
    basic HTML,
    page layout and design,
    file management (including wikis),
    databases
    ...

    ... and if I do say so myself, the databases section is particularly well written and interesting ...

    ... It then goes on to describe photography and graphics,
    audio,
    video,
    animation,
    community data (don’t just wonder what it is, click it!), and of course,
    blogs.

    Finally, we took a stab at
    advertising and marketing,
    sales, fundraising and e-commerce,
    tracking your users and
    law and ethics.

    Is the site perfect?  no.  I wish it had been done in wiki format, and I wish we had more on almost every topic.  I also wish we’d gotten it done sooner—small news startups, and citizen journalism, and hyper-local community media, are all the rage now, and the sooner we launch this, the sooner we can start participating.

    But that’s probably just the little imperfections that we see ‘cause we made it.  Between Susie and I, there’s a lot of pooled journalism and website experience.  This website is only the beginning—I expect that there could be a textbook based on this.  So stay tuned for even more news about J-Learning.

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