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Well, Well, Well.

May 06, 2008 By: Nick Keenan Category: Community Building, projects

Are you trying to tell me something, Theater in Chicago, with your launch of a Chicago Theater Opening Night Calendar?

I’m happy to lose that chore… but I’m uneasy about what this means for us.

I guess I am going to have to copyright my ideas that will actually generate any web ad revenue before launching them. Not that that will save me. Because this move makes me think of these guys like the Borg: assimilating all these trendy and on the face generic Web 2.0 ideas (podcasts – which they have been doing since the beginning – dynamic databases) into their site and reaping the ad revenue from being the “one stop info shop” for Chicago theater but not really generating the kind of online community involvement that will make a project like this valuable to the artists and not simply profitable. Maybe I think this about them because I don’t know them very well. Maybe we should talk.

I don’t bite – do you?

What do you chicago readers out there think? Am I off base here in thinking that they’re doing the MOST for any listing service in town, but not the BEST they could be doing? Are Theatre in Chicago’s listing services worth supporting and buying into, or do you believe that a community-driven site would have more potential?

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11 Comments to “Well, Well, Well.”

  1. So, If I understand…this calander on their site just appeared? No one even called you and said “hey this is a great idea…I think we’re going to do it too?”

    Well, I would be hard pressed to find people who are part of the chi-town theatre blog network who aren’t aware that this has been a baby of yours for a while?

    Have you reached out to TIC for a response?

  2. Mark at Theatre In Chicago is a pretty stand up guy and, if you contacted him, he would surely have a discussion with you. Now, Joe Stead is also a contributer to the site and, in my experiences with him, he’s not a stand up guy. Talk to Mark.


  3. In addition, I would have a hard time thinking that the site out right copied your idea intentionally or maliciously. Their site has been improving bit by bit over the last couple of years and, I believe, was designed to be a comprehensive, helpful site to those in and outside of Chicago long before we ever started talking about how things can improve. I think that instead of working against the site, you could probably most certainly speak with Mark and even offer to join forces to help since he gets a lot of visitors to the site.


  4. Indeed, dv, no contact. I’m not so much upset that this particular feature was repurposed on their site, because the calendar is a chore for me to keep up, and they’ll do this particular feature reall well. There aren’t a ton of submissions on my end, so it means research on my part and it’s a natural fit for Theater in Chicago to do, since they theoretically have all the data anyway.

    What makes me suspect that their calendar is a copy of my calendar is that the opening night calendar is not a natural, logical progression for them, and they don’t really diverge much from my idea. There’s a ton of features that you can build into a calendar like this when you have data collected like they do… but they didn’t get creative with it. In fact, they REDUCED the number of features, since you can subscribe to my calendar in Google, iCal, and outlook.

    As I understand their mission, they’ve been more about helping patrons find theater they like, but not as much about helping develop the theaters themselves and making it easier to produce theater. I’m almost certain therefore that the idea was lifted from this blog or after hearing about the calendar project, but I agree, I would also have a hard time thinking that it was a malicious act. But if they are capable of repurposing ideas under their umbrella, that becomes a problem for me when I talk about the many other ideas for applications like this that I talk about on this blog. I find it valuable to include a wider community in the development of the ideas. But now I’m afraid that the ideas will be sucked up by folks like this before I find the time to program them.

    That’s no problem, right? Then it gets done for the community faster. The problem really is that so far I don’t really jive with their mission and their perspective on theater, which I’ve gleaned from the content on their podcast. Yes, they had the first theater podcast in town, but it isn’t exactly an exciting listen. I think in many ways they follow the critical lead of Tom Williams, which means they’re in the business of promoting theater that is safe for suburban patrons. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, unless you claim to represent all of Chicago theater. They appear, based on their content and actions, to be a company that’s really interested in promoting a kind of proto-broadway glamour without any real depth of analysis or emotion of the work. I’m perfectly fine with them to do this for the benefit of patrons who want to experience that kind of theater – I wish them no harm – but I’m NOT okay with trolling the internet and picking up other people’s ideas if that means I don’t get to succeed in my developmental mission. My mission on this blog is to help theaters grow and find an audience without sacrificing their individualism – the things that make them different and worthwhile. And so far, TIC seems to generate a lot of ad revenue for themselves but effectively waters down the rich scene we have here into something prechewed and palatable.

    A big part of me wants to help them and ask to jump on board and work together, if they’ll have me. I have a lot of ideas and energy for this kind of thing, and I’d love to team up with another programmer and an outlet that already has a strong audience. But another part of me is suspicious of that impulse in me. That suspicious part says that it should not be acceptable for a website to claim to promote the full scope of chicago theater and ALSO be the sole editor of what constitutes that scene. That is a system that will always serve to marginalize work.

    I believe it should be an open system, like Amazon: Anyone can sell their show, but the system itself will seek to promote those shows with patrons who express an interest in that kind of theater. That’s an idea I can get behind.

    But I suppose it’s all theory, isn’t it?

  5. All I know … on the producing end … is that a lot of our audience members have found our shows through Theatre In Chicago. If they’re from out of town and google “Chicago Theatre”, the site pops up on the first page of the search and that’s been helpful to us. The owner of the website has come to our fundraisers and also pops our reviews up as quickly as they would Wicked’s, so, if GreyZelda represents the “little guys and gals”, which I’m quite sure we do, then they’ve treated us equally. Yeah, they’re not claiming to do what the League does, but The League didn’t do much for us at all. And I don’t have to pay Theatre In Chicago money to be listed. I don’t think the website was created to “Help” theatres … it’s created for audience looking for a quick, equal look at what’s out there. Their Review Roundup is really nice. Their picture gallery is very nice. And, they get shows listed as soon as the press release has gone out.

    I dunno … I guess I’m trying to say that TIC isn’t created to be a humanitarian/political website that wants to join the Chicago Theatre Blogosphere in saving the world. And, how do you know that they stole your idea exactly? If you’re concerned with that, seriously, contact Mark. He’s a very fair, nice person, who probably, honestly, doesn’t know you from that guy over there, but would like to run his website conscientiously like the rest of us. And, yeah, I don’t know him THAT well, but … I wouldn’t point a finger or make quick judgments until you know the facts from his end.

    How are they marginalizing things? They’re creating an unbiased website that advertises BIC alongside GreyZelda. I, personally, see nothing wrong with that. And, it’s put people in our seats.

    And, if things are published on the Internet, I’ve learned, from hard knocks, than they’re not safe from people trolling, stealing, using without credit or asking your permission. You could look into copywriting your page, if you’re worried about that.

    Seriously, contact Mark. His email’s right on the site and he’s not a bad guy who would probably welcome your questions and concerns.


  6. Playing devil’s advocate, The league has done it for a while, how is that different from you starting one as well.

  7. This is a tricky one, I think. It’s hard to know other peoples’ motives – and sometimes even harder to know when the motive or the outcome are most important. Sort of an ends vs. means problem.

    I think it would be very exciting if this is something that you could contribute your ideas/energy to but of which you wouldn’t have to be the sole spearheader. There’s a difference between things that are ad-revenue generating based, and something purely for the good of the comunity-based. I wonder if there’s a middle ground where it could be revenue generating where the revenue benefits the community?

    Also, as much as I love the League calendar (because New Leaf is a part of the League and so we get included), I think this IS different, Tony, because it’s endeavoring to include anyone, regardless of membership to that organization.

  8. You guys are right, though. I’m being a crazy paranoiac on this thread, and I think i’m forgetting myself. it’s certainly plausible that they’re offering an alternative to the league, and aside from all that I should just shoot them an email and get the real skinny. we can’t afford to have ownership of these ideas, and I lost sight of that this morning.

  9. Hi, I caught word of this and thread and just thought I would give you a little background on the opening night calendar project on my TheatreInChicago site.

    This calendar has been one of the more requested features- mainly by the PR firms, members of the Jeff Committee, and some theatre companies. In all honesty when I started the planning of the scope of this project (months ago) I did not know about your project. I did know that the League of Chicago Theatres had an opening night calendar on their site however and I heard many comments from people that they wish there was a place that would include all openings and not just those openings of theatres in “the league”. This lack of full coverage by the league seemed to be causing some issues which I frequently heard about. For example, Marriott Theatre (who is not in the “league”) is scheduled to open the same night as Avenue Q and that of course would have been a nice conflict to avoid.

    Furthermore, many have told me that theatre companies often would inadvertently open against a large theatre’s opening and wonder why there were no critics and press at their opening.

    The first “design” of my opening night calendar looked more like a traditional calendar (with a separate calendar box for each day). However, once I noticed that on some days there are over 10 openings it made that calendar look pretty bad and was not too easy to read. So I switched it to the AJAX type calendar with the listings to the left. Also, the search feature seemed key so the AJAX type display seems to work better in that regard.

    In this initial launch I did leave off some features due to the time and because I wanted to see the reaction before launching a full breadth of features. As you mentioned, you currently can not “subscribe” to the TIC calendar via Outlook, Google, etc. If there is a lot of interest in the calendar I plan to add these features as well as a simple RSS feed and a “what’s new” feature that will simply list the most recent additions to the calendar so you can easily see the new scheduled openings. There is also plans to rework the problem mentioned above and have a “printable” version of the calendar.

    As far as the mission of the site, it is really to support the Chicago theatre scene. The site tries to do this of course by promoting all of the theatre productions. However, if the site can also facilitate with the opening night scheduling so there are fewer conflicts it may translate into more press getting to the smaller shows and thus they can cover more productions which I believe also helps support Chicago theatre. As such I believe that the opening night calendar does help support Chicago Theatre and thus is “a natural, logical progression” for us.

    Also, I would just like to address your statement that TIC appears “based on their content and actions, to be a company that’s really interested in promoting a kind of proto-broadway glamour without and real depth of analysis or emotion of the work”. For the most part that is an accurate statement in that the site is still mainly interested in promoting the shows. The primary objective was to provide users a resource to use when planning a night out at the theatre. As such, I leave the “real depth analysis and emotion of the work” to critics, blogs, pubs, etc. That is the whole purpose of the review round-up section. I link to the reviews so users can read further analysis of the work. You will never find a “Theatre In Chicago” written review on the site. I have a small goal to somewhat beef up the articles section and have a little more in-depth coverage but as of now I leave the analysis to the publications, critics, blogs etc.

    Going forward, I can definitely say there are a lot of projects in the pipeline that I am currently working on. In the past few months I launched the Theatre Map, Video Previews section, Photo Gallery, and Opening Night Calendar and hope to crank out some new features soon. With no disrespect, I can assure you though that I don’t “troll the internet and pick up other people’s ideas” but instead just react to the need of theatres and listen to feedback and try to find ways to make the site better. I am always open to suggestions and it sounds like you have a lot of great ideas and I would greatly welcome your feedback and suggestions. Thanks!!

  10. very cool. thanks for the background, mark, and i’m sorry for being off base here. as we’ve found in other discussions in the theater blogosphere, nothing gets quite as combatative as two people with similar ideas. clearly, i’d love to talk with you further about this and better coordinate our efforts.

  11. Because both TIC and the League calendars are more easily poised to keep a calendar fresh with the latest data, I’m putting my calendar on hiatus. However, I’m aware that at the moment mine is the only calendar that is subscribable. So if you have a strong need for that, please let me know and I’ll try to accomodate!


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