Always throw away the prototype! Lessons from innovation grantee Issimo

Our journalism innovation grants are about to close, and our jury will soon have the daunting task of sorting through a pile of incredible ideas to further Australian journalism, and trying to guess which ones have the most potential. So this is a very good time to look back at past projects. What worked, and what didn’t? What lessons emerged? We ask each of our grantees to document their journeys so we can spread their insights to others. Here’s a one-year update from Nick Cooper, the developer in the dev-designer-editor family-run team behind ISSIMO.IO.

Issimo has put a stake in the ground to develop the next generation of digital publishing.

It has been an exciting period since the Walkley grant. Issimo began like all startups – thinking big picture in order to reinvent everything from the ground up. But it is the rocky road from fantastic ideas into a solid service with actual customers that determines which startups survive.

Issimo's front page.

Issimo’s front page.

Issimo has been steadily building our real services, engaging clients to validate and invalidate our assumptions, and publishing articles via Issimo Magazine to ensure we are constantly aware of the needs of today’s publishers.

See Issimo in action

The Walkley Magazine gave Issimo a trial run in December, using the platform to feature finalists for the Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism 2015. See the 2015 finalists page.

We are most excited about our editing system. With so many “walled gardens”, or great systems that wall you in to prevent departure, springing up — from Apple News and Flipboard to Instant Articles, SnapChat and Google AMPs — the core need to have a single ‘home’ for journalism has never been clearer. Future content will roam to wherever the readers are and into whichever format they want, but it still needs a central point from which to launch and a home to come back to.

The heart of Issimo itself is surely the article layout. Content lives on cards, which can be moved around the page, stored in temporary holding areas, remixed, restyled and shaped to make web ready interactive articles. The mantra is to always keep it simple. Based on feedback, the article layout editor is now real time (like Google docs) for effortless collaboration, and we have been ‘plugging in’ other components such as menus and navigation, feed data streams, allowing cards from Twitter, Youtube, Wikipedia, and upgrading styles for theme support.

We have learned a new respect for text and formatting functionality. We have synthesized design to its rawest form. We have taken in the complexity and moving goal posts — and yet refused to complicate things. It has proved to be an exciting challenge.

In the process we have learned:

  • Validate ideas as soon as possible.
  • Always throw away the prototype.
  • Implement unit tests everywhere to prevent bugs from ever existing.
  • Double your time estimate. Then double it again.
  • Everything is a story.

As the technical member of Issimo, it has also been an entirely new adventure for me into the vibrant world of Australian publishing, with so many lessons learned that professional journalists would no doubt count as obvious.

We have yet to open Issimo to the public, but the core features (publishing articles and cards to feeds) will be available on ISSIMO.IO in the near future, as well as custom launches from select early partners using Issimo technology.

The Walkley Foundation programs have been a fantastic step in this journey and we highly recommend other journalists with a technical bent to get involved.

Best of luck to all.

— Nick Cooper, Co-Founder ISSIMO.IO