How to Build Your Own Community Funded Reporting Site

If you are an entrepreneur – I am handing this one to you on a silver plate.

Just about every week I get an inquiry from someone to start their own version of Spot.Us. From up North (Canada) to down South (Brazil) and all the way over to Australia. I’ve gotten requests on how Spot.Us can expand to new regions. So here it is….

The code for is 100% open source.
(Technically I haven’t slapped an OS license on it. But I will.. promise. And in the meantime, this is a poor man’s version of it: “you can use the code.”)

I wanted to wait until I had some more features to do this post. And now – those features are ready. Since we are also in the Chronicle today – I figure it is a good time to give away any secret sauce we might have.

What this means:

  • We have absorbed 90-95% of the cost to start your own community funded reporting site.
  • It can be nonprofit or for-profit. You could end up making LOTS of money if it works for you! …. just don’t forget to hire me πŸ˜‰
  • I’ll help. If somebody is very serious about this – I will get on the phone or even meet in person to talk about how you can do this.

The steps and the general costs

  1. Download the code: Which has lots of new features!!!. Cost = $0
  2. Buy a URL: cost = $10
  3. Get hosting: cost = a few hundo’s a month. Use Amazon EC2 to save some money.
  4. Get a merchant account (also need a payment gateway): A few hundo’s on installation + about 3% off every credit card transaction. You can use PayPal to save on installation and if you are a nonprofit Google Checkout will save you the 3% credit card charge.
  5. Get up and running: You’ll have to hire a Ruby on Rails person to install the code from step one and sync it up with the merchant account in step four. I worked with a firm called Hashrocket. They wrote the original code so they know it best and should be the most cost-effective. A good RoR developer can cost up to $140 an hour. But they won’t have to do any heavy lifting – so somebody who is adequate (maybe $70-$80 an hour will do). Total cost: anywhere from $0 if you call in a favor to $1,000 – still relatively cheap in context.
  6. Change the text/images: You will probably want to change some of the text/images on the site. Replacing “” with whatever you call your organization. Change the text on the about page, etc. I would recommend looking over the terms of service, privacy policy etc. Make sure you are cool with all of it. I recommend hiring the developer from step five to set up your own computer to run an instance of the code – so you can tweak this text to your hearts content without having to pay somebody an hourly rate to administer your text changes. Images: You might need to hire a designer if you are particular and have that person look at the CSS of our site to make sure the new images conform, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

Want to discuss more? Ask questions in the Google Group we formed for people that want to launch their own Community Funded Reporting site based on the Spot.Us code.

Next steps

  • Find some reporters.
  • Or: Just put up pitches yourself – as we’ve started doing on Spot.Us. If you raise enough money – then I gauruntee, you’ll find reporters.
  • Go forth and report.


  • Put up a pitch that is really a beat: “I will cover city hall in town X for Y months. If we can raise Z dollars by time this is done – I’ll continue coverage for another Y months.

Feel free to contact me: david at spot dot us.

Why would I give this away?

  • I am young and naive.
  • It will make me look good if others try it.
  • I believe in it.
  • I’m required to by the terms of my grant from
    Knight Foundation πŸ˜‰

So if you are serious – get in contact with me. I’ll give you a tutorial on the admin interface of the site and we can talk strategy.

7 thoughts on “How to Build Your Own Community Funded Reporting Site”

  1. Fantastic news! We’ll be looking to incorporate the code as part of the effort. I’d love to partner with any other organizations who are also looking to install the code to help troubleshoot errors, gotchas, and integration issues with other codebases.

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