Over at BackChannel, Jane Porter has an interesting story about Odyssey and how it entices college students to churn out thousands of pieces for almost no money:
“These types of networks have petered out because it is resource intensive to work with contributors,” says Claire Wardle, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
That’s where Odyssey believes it has developed a secret sauce with its Invisible Hand. Despite the ominous name, it’s a workflow tool that organizes stories by subject matter and content, ranking their newsworthiness, topic, and popularity. Stories that come in are ordered and organized from most relevant to least depending on a range of factors, and then funneled to the editor focused on the pertinent topic, such as sports or politics.
First, the algorithm feeds stories to community editors—locally based individuals who are not paid for their job—to be edited. Then they’re sent off to content strategists — the company’s name for its in-house editors, who are all responsible for managing 20 communities each comprised of around 12 to 25 writers. That means a content strategist is editing anywhere between 240 to 500 stories per week. The Invisible Hand is what keeps these editors from losing their minds, managing their workflow so they don’t waste time sifting through stories to determine what their priority should be.
Theoretically, Odyssey’s model provides a nifty way to scale content production. In reality, as the piece gets into, it’s a lot harder to make people contribute high-quality content in perpetuity unless you’re paying them handsomely.