Lessons from a Tour de France project

July 2013

A few days before we went live with our Tour de France multimedia story at Zeit Online, the Guardian’s dev team shared their lessons and experiences while making Firestorm. It made me smile more than once because we had to deal with similar issues. If you want to understand what’s happening behind the scenes of a Snowfall-type project, do read the Guardian’s wrap up. It’s great, first-hand advice.

A few additional thoughts looking back on our Tour de France project:

100 Jahre Tour de France wouldn’t be live without the immense coding/developer know-how within Zeit Online’s team. Period. This know-how has to be in-house. (Side lesson: Recruiting diligence pays off.) 

Don’t confuse coding with simply implementing someone else’s editorial ideas. The toolset that coding brings into a project like Tour de France is often the ignition itself for great ideas. 

The fence around departments is going away. Reporters contribute precious UI feedback. Developers come up with fascinating editorial input. The more cross-border mindsets in your team the better. 

Coordinating the team was an illuminating experience. In the early stages your top priority is playfully brainstorming a broad variety of possible storytelling approaches without stalling the creative engine. Then there’s this invisible threshold from where a team needs sincere navigation to meet the deadline and sync efforts towards a polished, lovely end product. Think change of roles within a role. #tricky

I assume that every team building on top of the Snowfall concept has to deal with copycat grumbling. But that’s missing the point. You wouldn’t blame BMW for building cars only because others started building cars first, right? What we see is vigorous, healthy competition for the best next step following the initial move by the New York Times. 

There’s a reason so many newsrooms try to experiment with variations of Snowfall. Nobody is thrilled by the multi-column, ad cluttered and at the same time strangely malnourished article template that has been a lame industry standard for years now. So you’re getting it wrong if you think that newsrooms want to copy Snowfall. What they really want is to break out of a dead end article pattern.