Are we launched?

It’s fitting that I’m writing the first blog post for Coats2Coats after returning from the Block by Block 2010 conference in Chicago.

The conference drew a well-balanced crew of community journalists and news bloggers, academics and foundations. The BxB blog captured the highlights of the sessions and the Twitter feed caught the quotable moments. You can even watch a video of me from my bar camp on revenue, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But the best moment was when someone, in the middle of a session, blurted the question that best captures the interactive space. She asked, “How do you know when you’ve launched? I mean, are we launched? Are we still in beta? What are we?”

Great googly moogly. How many times have I asked that question?

I remember asking it when I was building for The Modesto Bee, way back in 1996. Pieces of the site had been live for weeks, hidden inside a labyrinth of nested files. We were live, but not really. I’d been living on caffeine and flat foods for six weeks and could feel each hair on my head tingling. Are we launched?

Or through the late 1990s, launching redesigns and niche online products for McClatchy in Sacramento. We did the portal thing with Zip2 and the community-publishing thing with Waveshift, built small business sites for the chamber and the online classroom catalog for The Learning Exchange. Everything out there in the open, all except the index page. Are we launched?

Shopping sites. Classified verticals. Aggregator tools that ingested and RSS tools that broadcasted. Registration walls up, registration walls down. Comments and chat channels. Databases upon databases. SMS alerts sent to tens of people. Are we launched?

And the stuff no one outside could see, the sausage process. Reorganizing newsrooms to be web-first. Restructuring rate cards to capture online value. Building a web-only staff, then integrating with print/broadcast teams, reversing that, repeating it, ad infinitum. Negotiating partnerships with media companies, bloggers, Yahoo. Acquiring companies and selling off others. Are we launched?

Or the philosophical and transformational journey. From bundling classifieds and bundling spots with banner ads to selling audience. From thinking platform to thinking audience. From one-to-many to sparking conversations. From selling advertising to providing solutions. Are we launched?

It may be the koan of interactive media. There are traditional and rational answers, which benefit by being simple and direct and wrong. And then there is the intuitional reply: Two open hands, face up.

Are we launched? Let’s answer it together.