DNN Retrospective, 2008: Birth of Boutcasting

DNN Retrospective, 2008: Birth of Boutcasting The DNN team at WFTDA East Regionals 2008 in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo: Xena Paradox

Each day this week, we’re gearing up for our 5th Anniversary celebration by bringing you our first-person recollections of a year from DNN’s history. Before reading this chapter, you might want to start with Justice Feelgood Marshall’s take on our birth year, 2007.

We didn’t invent Boutcasting. Oh, sure, we coined the term, and when you want to find a “Boutcast” you probably turn first to DNN, but the individual elements that make up that experience were pioneered by different people, in different places and times, often for totally different purposes. What we’ve brought to the table, we think, is context: we’ve put the pieces together in ways that, alongside our written reporting, photos, score tracking, and rankings, helps you decide what’s relevant to you, what to get excited about, and why.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I pick up DNN’s story where Justice left off, a little bit of Hurt Reynolds derby backstory. I found modern roller derby (or should I say, it found me) in 2004, when I learned that my co-workers Rahel, Lisa, Lehanna, and Julie were now, by night, actually Rae’s Hell, Lisa Lawless, Li’l Hateful, and Jinx.

By early 2005 their league, Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls, had begun bouting. By summer I was running the scoreboard; by New Year’s I was Head NSO, by Spring 2006 I was spending my disposable income on derby travel (including Dust Devil 2006, modern roller derby’s first tournament, when Everything Changed), by July I was one of RollerCon‘s first manager-level volunteers, and by September I was managing all NSOs for Bumberbout, roller derby’s second tournament ever.

Clearly, the derby monster had eaten my life. I got “the derby email” at work that fall… you know the one? The email that says, “you know, we like you, and your performance is good when you’re focused… but when you’re at work, you have to actually, you know, *work*.” And, it got me thinking: when was I last so motivated about anything? The rest of my life had been pretty stagnant for a few years, but in derby, I had become a part of something, of building something wholly new and fun and exciting and interesting.

So, at the end of 2006, I hit the reset button. I had a bit of savings tucked away, which I supplemented by craiglisting half of my crap. Stuffing the rest in storage, I packed the essentials into the Hurtmobile, fired up a new blog at Have Derby Will Travel, and hit the road, confident (though never presumptive) in the knowledge that the derby family I’d already forged across the country would want to be part of the adventure. And, you know, let me crash on their couches.

Confession to everyone who hosted me in 2007: I used your shampoo. I’m not proud.

One key feature launched on Have Derby Will Travel remains a feature of DNN to this day: comprehensive listings of recent scores and upcoming bouts. Before late 2006, finding interleague scores was an exercise in sometimes eye-bleeding frustration (remember MySpace, anyone?). Realizing I couldn’t be alone in this, I set out to provide the solution, by listing all the interleague bouts and scores I could find.

When Justice launched DNN, he proposed to expand the scope of this list to include intraleague bouts as well. As I was near the end of my 9-month road adventure, I saw the wisdom of wrapping up Have Derby Will Travel and migrating the non-travel-blog elements to Justice’s new, long-term effort.

Here, at the beginning of 2008, we pick up DNN’s story. Just as I’d settled in as DNN staffer #2, Justice received a fateful email from Gnosis:

From: Gnosis
Date: February 19, 2008 1:29:31 PM EST
To: justice@derbynewsnetwork.com
Subject: Derby News as it ought to be

Justice,

I’m writing to gauge your interest in an idea that I’ve had floating around pretty much since Nationals last year. Would you be interested in some sort of merger between DNN and leadjammer.com?

Since you launched DNN, you’ve been able to accomplish something that I never did – to engage the derby community and provide news from a variety of sources and contributors. Leadjammer has had a lot of contributions, of course, and has had periods of enormous traffic, but your hard work as a ref, skater, and reporter give you cred and connections that I’ve never been able to build as just a “superfan”. I also haven’t been able to keep up with my site lately, as many have noticed. I still #$@!ing love roller derby and watch it whenever I can, but keeping up on this sport takes a lot of time, as you know.

So I want to throw that idea out there. I haven’t fathomed exactly what such a merger would be like. I do know that I have several ideas that could make a “supersite” totally kick ass (and be easier to manage/update).

What do you think? Worth discussion?

-Gnosis

Since 2005, Gnosis’s Leadjammer site had been the leading aggregator of derby news tidbits from around the internet. Early on, DNN had purposely staked out a somewhat different beat with its focus on game action reports, but the opportunities opened up by bringing it all together were undeniable.

Within weeks we’d sketched out a new site structure, built the groundwork on the Drupal content management platform that Gnosis (the skilled web developer of our crew) was most proficient with, and (with help from Slugs Bunny and Master Bates) developed a basic art design and our original double-oval logo. The week before ECDX, we replaced DNN mark 1 and Leadjammer.com with an ominous-looking countdown timer, culminating with the launch of DNN 2.0 on June 20, 2008.

Boutcasting would debut the very next week, though it wasn’t our plan at the time. During DNN2 development, we’d begun discussing ideas to take Gnosis’s 2007 Tournament liveblog experiments to a more detailed level, perhaps even extending to (GASP) jam-by-jam coverage! Doing so seemed likely to require a great deal of programming work to create a multi-user liveblogging platform, but we decided to search for off-the-shelf options… and stumbled upon the fledgling CoverItLive.com.

CoverItLive seemed to encompass our entire wishlist of features, including an updateable scoreboard function, and we couldn’t wait to try it out. With the inaugural Battle on the Bank unfolding that weekend, we seemed to have an obvious opportunity — except that the Doll Factory didn’t yet have internet onsite.

Such predicaments, we forge ahead. We’ve got friends at the event, we thought to ourselves; they have cell phones, they can send text messages… why not try relaying their texted observations into the liveblog tool? Might work, might be a total frustrating disaster, but for sure we’ll learn from the attempt, and we know there are people who are grateful for any shred of information we can squeeze out. To the delight of many, it actually worked very well!

So began a now familiar aspect of DNN’s live offerings: even if we’re not sure we can make a live coverage effort actually work, we’re going to go ahead and try anyway, and we’re going to invite you to watch. Sometimes that means we fall on our face in a very spectacular and public way. Other times, we surprise ourselves with an unexpected success. Most often, though, we’re able to quickly improve on our initial concept by incorporating your feedback. We’re not going to stop experimenting, and we’re not going to stop inviting you to watch our high-wire shenanigans.

A few months and a couple of test-runs later, we set out on DNN’s first trip to provide live, onsite coverage from major derby events: WFTDA West Regionals in Houston, to be followed by East Regionals in Madison the following weekend. Joining the litany of firsts were our first (and second) sponsors, Sin City Skates and Broken Cherry — just in time, because years of travel costs had begun threatening our very participation in derby!

I’d had a bit of success soliciting donations to support my travel blogging the previous year, so, largely on a lark, we put a Paypal donation button on the site during our live coverage. Much to our surprise, you used it… and, used it kind of a lot, generating several hundred dollars of support for DNN almost unbidden during those two weekends. We’d found the funding model DNN relies on to this day: Sponsorships and advertising, supplemented by voluntary contributions; never a paywall.

But Westerns 2008 had an even bigger reveal in store. Early in the first day, comments in the text boutcast alerted us to the existence of live streaming video. Unknown to nearly anyone, Houston’s Bill Shirley had set up a USTREAM account, pointed a laptop webcam at the track, and fired up a broadcast. The results were far from spectacular: ambient audio, no score, no pan or zoom… but it was proof of concept, and that’s all we’ve ever needed to see.

By the following weekend, we’d worked with Madison’s Eddie Lizzard to tie the Hinckley Productions East Regionals DVD shoot into a live stream of our very own (our first of many very satisfying collaborations with the Hinckley crew). $3 Bill brought his streaming rig to WFTDA Championships, where the crew from MavTV let us take the rough switch from their fancy multicamera shoot… and live video was firmly established as a core Boutcast element.

Finally, lest we required external confirmation that DNN was an actual thing that actually existed, 2008 saw us featured in conventional media outlets — first in the Madison-based Isthmus, and shortly thereafter in the no-shit Paper of Record(!). I tell you what, you never forget your first Gray Lady name-check.

Also, this happened.

It wouldn’t take long for Mercy Less to realize that she had agreed to marry not just me, but DNN as a whole. The rest of us would take a little longer to catch on.

The story continues tomorrow with Justice Feelgood Marshall on 2009.