Progress Report: On The Cusp
I just happen to be "up early" this morning - a euphemism which I intend to employ assiduously in the future because it is so much more appropriate than "up late" on so many levels - and reviewing the content here in the nascent days of the new iccfa.com I realized that very little of it has been written by me lately.
It is officially January 3rd which is slightly disappointing considering my promise to have the site live on January 1, but we can just go ahead and file this among the long list of missed deadlines that has defined by life on this Earth.
This is going to be a busy weekend. The good thing is, we now have templates for all the major sections here. Click on the Cafe Resources link and you will see that they all actually point to something albeit much of it empty.
But the content is coming. I have on my laptop an archive of about 300 articles from the ICCFA library, representing a random sampling from the late 1800s to recently (and about 1/20 of what will eventually be available here), all scanned by my trusty assistant Elizabeth, who recently requested some time off to eat broken glass which she said would be a nice change from the scanning project. Hey if anyone knows a painless way to turn really old books into searchable text, do tell. Anyway, my job is to cut and paste a ton of these .rtf files into article pages, and then develop a sensible way to make them accessible to you, our visitors, via the Reading Room. There will be caffeine in my immediate future.
The Screening Room is done, such as it is. I think there are about 20 videos there, with over 100 more to come, but please don't hold your breath for those or the 400 or so audio files because that little media outpost represents the one totally completed sitting room in this mansion we are building which currently has numerous unfinished windows, holes in the floor boards, and exposed wiring: So while we'd love to get a lot more video there for you to enjoy, I ask you to just be grateful for one place you can go without fear of mice nesting in your coat pocket.
(And by the way, the "high bandwidth video" link just takes you to the same videos as the low bandwidth one. When our visitors are ready for high definition, we are poised to deliver, but for now we will spend some time acclimating our members to youtube-level quality, which is really pretty good.)
Judy Faaberg has been a true blessing as our first real tester and user at the site. It's like being asked to arrange doilies on the tables while workmen are still demolishing walls and jackhammering the floors, and Judy has been a real trooper through the rough-carpentry month of December. There is a custom-labeled bottle of cabernet headed in her direction when the dust has all finally settled.
A big step forward coming out of this weekend will be that everything here is arranged enough to get the ICCFA staff and leadership involved in the Web site. We will need to gently steer them away from the live wires and pitfalls, but I am pretty confident the framework is in place to get the real expertise of the association into this project. I can't tell you how enthused I am for that to happen.
Right now the major online interaction we provide is through the Yahoo group "ICCFA Network." It's been ok, a good solution for this stage of the association's evolution the past few years.
An undeniable fact is that many people in our industry still do not spend a great deal of time sitting at their computers seeking interaction. Of the ICCFA database of members, we still only have e-mail addresses for about half despite asking constantly for almost 10 years on just about every form we send. So it has made sense to use a free service like Yahoo for our networking e-mail "listserv." As most of you who have bothered to read this far into my blog post probably know, quite a few really great attempted online ventures in our industry since 1996 have tanked because of lack of participation.
The ICCFA leadership is of the opinion that this trend is changing, and consequently they authorized spending a little bit of money to put this association modestly close to the leading edge of nonprofit social networking. (OK, "modestly" means about 7 years behind the cutting edge, but in today's economy a nice sitting room is preferable to a wallet-shredding auditorium.) Our goal over the short term will be to make this site presentable, and encourage more participation from members who might not be totally up to speed on what all you can do online.
"Visit the Cafe once a day" will be the catchphrase. With the talent pool and overall great people we have in this association, I personally think the time is right that this really could work.
And good that we waited for this time! ACA-ICFA-ICCFA has been approached for innumerable online ventures over the years, many during the period when literally every American's Internet access was through dial-up. This has been on our radar since I got my first "icfa.org" e-mail address in 1996. We were seen as the cutting-edge association well over a decade ago. Most of these proposals were from really, really smart people who were way ahead of their time, and while it sucks that their projects did not pan out, our responsibility as an association is to be exceedingly careful with our members' dues payments. I remember 11 years ago sitting at a table with reps from an Internet start-up company pitching a comprehensive new online venture for ICFA to invest in, and one of our most savvy Board Members leaned over and asked: "Aren't you just chasing ghosts?" My first reaction was, "Man, that is cold." But it was 100 percent accurate. This association would have lost a fortune getting involved in a major online endeavor in 1998, because our industry simply was not there yet.
Now, I think it is not so much a matter of whether our industry "is there," but the basic realization that society is quickly getting there. Cable-Telephone-Internet packaging is now ubiquitous. You don't buy one without at least considering the three, and with competition almost everywhere it means almost everyone is poised for affordable broadband. Much as I have hated them, I have to say hand it to Verizon because they are pushing the old telecommunications monopoly model to the breaking point. In my neighborhood right now, I get to choose between DirectTV, Verizon and Comcast for TV, and between the latter two for TV, Internet and phone.
What this tells me is, the former 50% of ICCFA members with Internet is going to ramp up in a big way in the next couple years. They will be buying it as part of a package at their homes and businesses. And if many of them are suddenly online, maybe the Cafe will become one of their regular places to visit. It is worth consuming a lot of caffeine to try and make that happen, if you ask me.