A fast-growing online publishing industry has been waiting for an easy-to-use, versatile and affordable publishing system for years. No one knows this better than Jason Norwood-Young, founder of start-up 10Layer, who wants to rival large international development houses with a new publishing framework.
Until recently Norwood-Young was the head of technology at the Mail & Guardian Online, coding systems for the publishing company often well into the early hours of the morning.
He brings a unique perspective to 10Layer that many of the publishing products available on the market do not have.
With more than 10 years’ experience as a journalist and editor, Norwood-Young has a keen understanding of the trials a newsroom faces on a day-to-day basis, especially when it comes to getting technology to work for them.
Now, Norwood-Young and his business partner Guy Taylor plan to tackle publishers’ challenges with what they term a high-end publishing framework.
“Initially, it will be for the online market, but we are also hoping to support print publications, probably by next year,” says Norwood-Young.
The idea stemmed from many frustrating hours searching for a system to implement at the Mail & Guardian. “We were looking for a product that would be flexible, scalable and customisable,” he says.
What was available did not meet the M&G’s needs.
“Publishers are faced with three equally unappealing choices,” he says.
Paid-for systems available to publishers are expensive and often are not fully customisable, says Norwood-Young. Free services are too broad and often need large-scale tweaking to get them to provide any value to publishers.
“We inevitably ended up with the third option, which is developing it ourselves. Of course, it means most publishers now have large development teams, which they shouldn’t have to because it’s not their core business,” he says.
As a framework, 10Layer will be split into two segments: the content management system and the publishing system. Together, they will mimic the newsroom and all its functionality.
Norwood-Young says it will handle versioning, workflow and will allow different gatekeepers to perform different roles simultaneously. And that’s just to start.
The system will be commercial (pay-for) open source — Norwood-Young is a big fan of Linux and other open-source software — and customers will be able to customise and build on top of 10Layer’s software if they want to.
“Publishing is a highly competitive industry and publications need to be flexible and need to be customisable to stay ahead,” says Norwood-Young.
Current affairs website The Daily Maverick will be one of 10Layer’s first customers and will have a proof-of-concept system up and running by the end of the year.
SA is a growing market when it comes to online publications, but Norwood-Young is already thinking far larger than the estimated 100 local publications that could use this system.
He estimates the global market has between 20 000 and 30 000 publishers. “We are hoping to be in the international market within two years. The SA market is simply too small to support us,” he says.
One of the more exciting products in development at 10Layer is a service called Convene.
At its heart, Convene is a commenting system for publishers, where readers are given the opportunity to comment on article. But on top of traditional commenting systems, Convene tracks and profiles readers according to which stories they comment on.
People with similar topic interests are then linked together and can engage in other discussions around a specific topic.
Norwood-Young says the idea for Convene flowed from a presentation by author Clay Shirky at the recent Tech4Africa conference.
Shirky explained that the media no longer controlled the discussions its readers were having. Discussions happened around the media in other social online areas. With Convene, Norwood-Young wants to bring those discussions back into the publication’s domain.
“The value for the publisher is they keep the readers’ discussions on the site, instead of letting them go somewhere else. Discussions still happen under the publication’s brand,” he says.
Norwood-Young’s vision for 10Layer is simple. “I want to commoditise high-end content management systems and show the larger players that they won’t be able to charge a fortune for these systems anymore.” — Candice Jones, TechCentral
This profile is part of a new section on TechCentral focused on technology start-ups in SA. TechCentral’s purpose in launching the section is to profile what our start-up entrepreneurs are doing and to highlight some of the interesting technology ideas coming out of SA. Do you have an interesting tech start-up? Are you doing something out of the ordinary? Why not drop TechCentral’s editor a line and tell us about what you’re doing?