Why We Transformed TNC Into An Open Publishing Platform

Early last year we kicked off an experiment, which saw us open up the site partially to contributions from pretty much anyone. Even though we were convinced this was the right thing to do as we pushed on with our vision of creating an open platform for expression, we were scared shitless because we really didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if people would even respond to our invitation — why would anyone want to write for us and not their personal blog? Also, we didn’t know what kind of submissions we would get — anyone who gets an opportunity to say anything to a large audience can decide to say all sorts.

To our biggest surprise, the submissions came. Well, it started in trickles but eventually picked up. Then, we noticed that they weren’t even half as bad as we expected. To be honest, some of them were damn near awesome and some of the in-house columnists we have today were drafted in based on their submissions.

After taking on submissions from over 100 contributors for about a year, we knew the experiment was successful and it was time to roll out the larger BETA phase, which would see TNC transform into an open publishing platform. A few weeks ago, we announced our contributor monetisation project and by so doing, threw the floodgates open.

For the benefit of those who do not know, let me take some time to explain what exactly an open publishing platform is.

No, it is not a magazine.

No, it is not an online newspaper.

No, it is not exactly a blog.

An open publishing platform is designed for people and publishers who want to experience a deeper level of discourse and engagement outside of what they get from publishing in their personal spaces such as social media and even personal blogs. I’m not a fan of comparisons and benchmarking but for the sake of explanation, a popular example of such a platform is www.medium.com.

As a writer or even just an average human being, you have opinions about everything. From music to movies, to the Kardashians, Buhari and of course Donald Trump. Sometimes, you need more than 140 or 160 characters to express that opinion. Even though some platforms offer you more than 160 characters to express your views, you may not get the feedback you’re looking for. I know how I felt as a blogger back then when I would work so hard on a post and end up with only one comment like “nice one”. It can pain.

We have spent the last 5 years building a community and an audience for TNC. Without spending a dime on marketing we hit unimaginable numbers simply because of the quality of engagement on the site. The moment we started testing the open platform, we brought in some funds and started driving traffic to the site to guarantee more eyeballs will see every single post published on the site and this is evident in the numbers. As of today, our average comment count per post is 40 and most of those comments are actual engaging feedback and not just “nice” or “seen”. Again, I don’t want to compare but from my interactions with colleagues in the industry, I know thats a very high figure.

To top this off, we decided to monetise contribution to the site. Some will say we don’t need it because whether we pay or not, people will contribute. However, building a culture of open expression is only one part of our vision. The other part is ensuring those of us who are really good at telling these stories get some kind of reward for it. Whether it’s fiction, a real life personal experience or just your views on a topic, it sure must have taken you some time to put it down in words. If you did that so well that you were able to connect with people who read it, I believe you deserve some kind of reward for it and this is why we decided to start paying contributors.

Now, I’m aware that some aspects of this transformation haven’t gone down well with some members of our community (or old acquaintances if I can call them that). Most of this is either because they do not understand what is going on or they are just being emotional and struggling with the change. Either way, I’m here to inform them today that we definitely have you in mind.

Like I said earlier, I do not like benchmarking — as much as we can be likened to a platform like Medium, the truth is, we are not the same. Even though we are an “open platform” we have still kept one level of approval for all our submissions before they get published. We have in-house editors who basically scrutinise submissions for proper grammar as well as ensuring they conform to our community rules. We have this because we believe it is important for us to keep our level of engagement. People will only give you feedback if they can read through and clearly understand your post. Other similar platforms allow contributors publish directly without editing but it is important to note that most of them have carefully developed algorithms which scan through the content on their platforms to suppress (hide) the bad stuff and promote the good ones. Maybe we’ll get there someday but, as long as our submissions are still manageable by our editors, we plan on keeping the human element. We also have our community rules which helps us keep the engagement sane and respectful. If you post a comment that goes against the rules, it will be deleted and if you persist, you will get blacklisted from the site.

We have also kept our in-house columnists who still churn out content with the same high standards many have come to associate with TNC. In addition to this, we are currently developing our recommendation engine which basically allows us to look through the many posts on the site and pick out the ones we feel you’d like based on pre-communicated preferences and then send them your way. This will ensure you get to see what you like. Until then, you can always visit the site or the app and look around and I’m sure you’ll definitely find something that will interest you.

In the past few days, we have published posts that some felt we shouldn’t have either because they contradicted the opinions of the majority, they weren’t properly “researched” or they came off as condescending. To these people, all I’ll ask is that they look at our positioning statement — EXPRESS YOU. Like I said earlier, we are not a newspaper and so we do not hold our contributors to journalistic standards. Even if we were a magazine, it is important for us to note that opinions are what they are — and most times you will find people who disagree with them. This shouldn’t stop you from expressing yourself as long as you’re in no way hurting (directly or indirectly) anyone.

Occasionally, I join our editing team to scrutinise submissions and I always emphasise my objection to any form of censorship. This is why diversity was a key factor in putting the team together. No matter what your socio-economic status is, no matter how seemingly “backward” your ideas are, you will have a voice on TNC. Why? The answer is simple — if you don’t engage, you will never ever learn. If you don’t learn, you will never grow. Our social responsibility here at TNC is to create that enabling platform where those who have knowledge and those seeking it can interact respectfully without judgment. If, for whatever reason you are uncomfortable with this, then I’m sorry but this new TNC might not be for you.

Next week we are going to pay our first set of contributors and I am super excited about this. We have The Writer competition featuring judges and contestants from all over Africa coming up in May and we are working on many other projects I can’t get into right now. TNC has definitely grown from one man’s dream into a bigger shared dream and we have you to thank for it. I give you my word today that no level of pressure will derail this vision. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever you do, as long as you have something to say, TNC will always be available to serve as your platform.

Continue to express you.

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