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Category: Sustainability

Update: Making DocumentCloud Sustainable

Dec 9th, 2015


Anthony DeBarros

In the last year, the DocumentCloud team’s completed a lot of work that’s been visible — such as our responsive page embed and WordPress plugin — and even more that’s been behind the scenes, including faster image rendering and improved reliability.

Our goal’s simple: We want DocumentCloud to give you the tools you need to find news in documents and tell stories with them.

At the same time, we’ve been having a lot of conversations to lay groundwork for perhaps our biggest challenge: making sure DocumentCloud has the financial resources to continue its civic mission and develop technically to match our users’ changing needs. What started in 2009 as a great idea has grown up into a full-fledged software product serving thousands of journalists worldwide. In recognition of this, our most recent grant from the Knight Foundation directs us to find ways to generate the revenue needed to ensure DocumentCloud’s future.

Many of those conversations have been with you — our users. Whether casually at a conference or in a formal interview by phone, we’ve talked with reporters, web producers, editors and application developers to find out how you use DocumentCloud, the features you like best, the improvements you’d like, and — relative to DocumentCloud’s sustainability — the extent to which newsrooms value DocumentCloud and would consider paying for its services.

We’ve learned some things. We’re glad to know that DocumentCloud remains valuable to you, and if the price is reasonable and our platform’s competitive, there’s a good chance you’ll talk with your managers about supporting us. But you’ve also made it clear that newsrooms are watching budgets more closely than ever, and we need to keep proving our value. We hear you.

We’ve also learned more about you — for example, that DocumentCloud users aren’t monolithic. For some, we’re the go-to tool for amassing and researching hundreds or hundreds of thousands of documents for investigations and news applications. For others, we’re mainly a publishing platform — a great way to enrich stories with notes, complete documents and now responsive pages. We’re happy being both, and we’ve made sure this past year to make improvements to DocumentCloud that serve everyone.

So, out of those conversations — as well as ongoing study of analytics around user and platform activity — we’ve placed several efforts in motion:

  • We’re developing a pricing model for the platform and will begin charging for certain levels of access at some time in 2016. We’ve yet to land on specifics, but we are committed to providing a free usage tier as well as discounts for non-profit news organizations.
  • We’ve engaged University of Miami assistant professor Vamsi Kanuri to help us conduct an analysis of DocumentCloud user preferences related to features and pricing. Later this week, we’ll send a survey to a set of DocumentCloud users. If you get one, please help us by completing it!
  • We’ve been opening DocumentCloud on a trial basis to paying customers from fields including education, research and libraries/archives. Many have long believed that DocumentCloud’s value extends beyond journalism, and the early results are encouraging. We’ll share more about this in the months to come.

Thank you for using DocumentCloud and for sharing your thoughts with us.  What we learn from you informs our plans on how to build better tools for making the news.

Also thanks to our advisers, who have shared their thoughts on the business, technology and civics of news. Each has been full of ideas and wise counsel.

We love hearing from you. Please reach out to us any time at or via Twitter.