February 8, 1996Some recent notes
There are a number of events and decisions that have brought Sight to this point.
As I have alluded to in the About Sight section, Sight was started as part of a company called Mediastorm by then Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Brian Storm and Frank Barbieri. Their concept of Mediastorm was that it would be an interactive media publishing company specializing in photography. Sight was one portion of that plan. Sight was conceived of as an online source book. A source book, in its printed form, is a type of publication art directors and photo editors have on their shelves for times when they are looking for a photographer of a particular style or location to fulfill an assignment, or when they are simply looking to see what new talent is out there in case an assignment does come up. Photographers pay a lot of money -- thousands of dollars -- to have a page of photos and contact information in a source book.
Brian and Frank figured they could show more pictures at a smaller cost online than traditional source books could. They called friends and contacts and lined up an impressive list of seed photographers that they would give a year's free time to for their help in getting things rolling. In the first few month of Sight, which kicked off in the winter of 1995, they put up the work of Ken Light, Tom Landecker, Joe Traver, Laura Kleinhenz, Jim Sugar, Robert Gumpert and George Olson. All of these photographers still participate actively with Sight. In the mid-summer, Brian and Frank had a chance to work for Microsoft News Network and decided it was too exciting to pass up. Indeed, they were in on many of the pre-launch decisions which shaped that service. As part of their contract with Microsoft, however, they could not continue to run Mediastorm. They graciously decided to pass on the business to my wife Nancy and me. We decided to concentrate only on the online portion of the business, called Sight.
Our intention was to continue Sight along the same lines as it had been conceived. It seemed like an exciting opportunity. At that time, my Web experience consisted of a few months of playing with my own home page. The scope and sophistication of Sight was at first a bit intimidating. I learned a lot of HTML by examining the work of my predecessors. However, I felt I could immediately make an impact through a redesign. The front end of Sight was particularly in need of sprucing up, so I set about this task. In a few weeks I came up with the design that is essentially the same today. I was going for a bright, clean, sophisticated look, that would be flexible enough to accommodate format additions and changes. I have received a lot of positive feedback about the design.
Even as I proceeded with the upkeep of Sight, I was uncomfortable with the concept of it. Its success would hinge on my abilities as a salesperson and marketer. However, my instincts and abilities come from having been a journalist and publications designer. Sight was not really a publication. There were wonderful photographs, but not much commentary about photography. I was also uncomfortable with the thought of having to make photographers pay to show their work. I felt this might exclude photographers who were doing excellent photography, but perhaps not making a lot of money.
Secondarily, I wanted to work with photographers, not for them. I didn't want to feel as if I owed them because they had paid. Rather, I wanted the relationship to be a collaboration. We could both benefit. They would get publicity and I'd get wonderful photographs to work with.
Also, the feedback I had been getting from people who had found Sight was mostly from people who were photographers or who just loved photography. While I heard from a few art directors types, I felt like I couldn't ignore the apparent majority audience, comprised of people who would appreciate the photographers' work but wouldn't necessarily be in the market to hire them.
I was somewhat committed to the idea of producing an online photography magazine when I listed it as such in Yahoo. Although Sight hadn't changed, my concept had. I wasn't sure what the content would be, I just knew I wanted to give people something to read, as well as pictures to look at. The first move in this direction was to ask the photographers about their work, and their responses instituted a feature called "3 Questions."
The listing with Yahoo has proven to be very valuable. More than any other source, Yahoo brings in consistent traffic. The numbers have consistently stayed at several hundred visitors a day since this listing.
An article in Photo District News, despite it being based on the original concept of Sight, also brought in a good amount of traffic. Surprisingly, being listed recently on PDN's "hot list" on their online version thus far has not brought in much traffic. I will talk about the numbers game in more depth in a different essay.
In an attempt to consolidate the project in my life, I decided about this time to make Sight the subject of my graduate project for my Master's in Journalism here at the University of Missouri. A positive spin-off of this was that it would force me to really think about what I was doing in a broad sense. I had to do research to see what other people were saying about online publications. And, I had to find a way to quantify what I was doing. How many people and what kind of people were visiting Sight, and what did this mean?
To begin learning about who was visiting Sight, I put up a guest book in the beginning of December. While I haven't done any formal analysis, I do know that a good portion of the people who come to Sight, are as I suspected, photographers themselves.