If you love it, set it free…

My biggest problem is sticking with something – I love the ideas creation process, and the excitement of creating something new, but 90% of projects when ‘completed’ have only really just begun. For instance, The Visual Dictionary, a typography photography site I started some years ago, was great fun to develop, and build up, but it has subsequently been over-shadowed by other projects since I launched the site. That being said, there are still daily submissions, and still receives decent traffic. I really want to do something with it, to refresh the design, its functionality, and generally invigorate it a little bit, but I don’t have the time currently.

I think the same is likely to happen with The Disposable Memory Project, which is already taking a fair amount of my personal time to curate. There is no doubt that this project is a long-term one, I expect it to run for a minimum of five years, by which time I may well be on other projects which need my time.

So, how to ensure that the DMP continues to exist and grow over the next five years with the possibility of me not being at the helm? Well, its all about the community!

When I originally threw together the blog suggesting the idea, I had planned on releasing cameras around London personally, making it a relatively small and managable idea – but when it grew from being London based to having a presence in almost 45 countries, with a handful of emails coming through every day – the management shifted into a more involved job. We have some wonderful people who are already helping out by acting as local representatives in countries who accept the cameras mailed to them to save on postage. The next step will be finding people who are happy to help out maintaining the site and project itself, performing updates on the blog and camera tracker so I don’t become a bottle neck.

The tools don’t currently exist to make it particularly easy to update the site (its all run off a database, but it doesn’t have an interface to update the cameras very easily, other than the excellent phpMyAdmin), so I’m very much focusing on creating those tools to allow others to help out in managing the site. I don’t ever want the site to become ‘automated’, allowing users to create their own codes and updates via the website as I think the personal touch is important in responding to people – but we can still automate much of the grunt work like uploading images, geotagging the updates, etc.

In any project, working out the shift of ownership from creator to community is a pretty important consideration once you start to get an amount of growth. Whilst you shouldn’t start out with this in mind, you might need to think about it earlier than when you’re at breaking point. Equally, don’t be afraid to relinquish control to members of your community who are advocates or offering help, as they’re just as eager to see the project succeed as you are. I know my efforts are usually better in helping create and drive projects, and direct the vision, rather than day to day detail. I don’t want to see the project stall because of my potential lack of time, so if that means “giving up” the project in some way, I’d rather that than neglecting it.

It is something often forgotten in commercial projects, that a project launching isn’t the end, but the start (unless you’re creating something broadcasty, rather than conversationy).

I don’t actually see it as ‘giving up’ the project at all, more of a graduation from a personal project to a community based one – which is the best thing in the world. Creating an engaged community is the hardest thing to achieve, but if you do manage it – you need to reward them for their support however you can, and I reckon ownership is a major part of that reward.

Disposable Memory Project at the IPA

I was asked to talk last night about the Disposable Memory Project at an event held by the IPA in London. The videos of the talk should be online within the next week, but in the meantime, the slides are available here and on slideshare.

Update: Chris from Vizeum wrote about the event here for an overview of what was spoken about.