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.