Saturday, April 24, 2010

Creating an Online Writing University

It isn't often that writers will admit to learning something from lawyers, but the Solo Practice University has developed an educational network for new lawyers that I would like to adopt for new writers.  In this framework, writers would seek out writing instructors who share similar interests.  Yet unlike the Solo Practice approach, I believe that a writing website could overcome the need for membership fees by placing the writers and instructors on equal footing...
The impetus for this idea comes from Andy, one of our new students working with the site.  During our first meeting, he recommended that the website should build relationships with visitors by becoming more interactive.  And as he said it, he asked what exactly I wanted the website to do.  And I'm glad he did.  Over the past few months, I've been so wrapped up in thoughts about "SEO" and "Marketing" and "Content" that I hadn't exactly considered what the website should actually do for writers.  My thinking was that we'd place well in the search engines, and then teach online courses to all the gobs of new visitors.

But that isn't a good business model, not in the dynamic environment of the internet.  For starters, a website must adapt to the number of visitors.  Currently, we don't have enough visitors to support a dedicated writing instructor.  In the future, we may have so many visitors that it's impossible to meet the demand for writing courses, and then we would be turning away writers who could be the lifeblood of the site.

The response, then, is to set up a site which can operate more independently, wit features which wouldn't require as much oversight from myself and the other students working with me.  But it can't rely upon some automated responses from a computer.  That would run counter to the idea of establishing a personalized experience for each visitor - the whole reason I started the site.

Yet there is a way to foster community among writers without having to personally provide every moment of interaction.  It's the Facebook and MySpace approach to online community: social networking.

Currently, we're researching how to make this work.  But the goals are simple.  Anyone who visits the page will be able to set up a profile.  From this profile, instructors would be able to offer courses.  Students who take these courses would be able to rate the courses and comment on the instructors.  Meanwhile, since the students will have their own profiles, instructors can actively seek out students to teach.

The trick will be using this system to earn enough money to keep it going.  I believe that with a large enough base of people, this is easily possible.  Every instructor will be able to teach an unlimited number of free workshops, but then they would pay the site some percentage if they charge money for their courses (somewhere from 5-15%).  Since the instructors would pay only if they're earning money from their efforts (and only a percentage of what they're earning), they can attract a base of customers without forking over money.  Since the students only pay if they sign up for a paying course, they can remain active on the site without having to fork over any of their money, either.

So this is the plan for now - putting together an online university for creative writing.  Though I suppose it would be more of a Netflix U. - take the courses you want, rate the ones you like, and give feedback.

As always, comments are welcome.  If you have suggestions for making this system work, please let me know.





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