Letter from the editor: TBD is a little less TBD

Welcome to TBD. We’re pleased you’re here.

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Erik Wemple, TBD Editor
Erik Wemple, TBD Editor (Photo: TBD Staff)

This is a brand-new site that covers news and culture in the Washington, D.C. metro region. It has been under construction for nearly a year, a gestation period that has seen a fair amount of speculation as to just what TBD would be and do.

Let’s recap some of the memorable comments. One journowag said the site is “God’s work.” Another called it “the most watchable new news site of the year.” Countless job applicants referenced its potential to revolutionize journalism. “You’re the future” was a common refrain. The Washington Post was a bit more guarded, writing that TBD “is wading into a crowded pool.”

Not so crowded when God is clearing the way!

All the talk of TBD’s implications is a luxury reserved for those who haven’t had to build the damn thing. Far from fussing over the site’s place in the world, we’ve busied ourselves with less dramatic matters — like preventing our weather page from telling readers that temperatures in Washington climb five degrees between late afternoon and the dead of night. Or pushing our iPhone app out the door (it may be a couple more days). Or getting our comment box to stop printing the word “null” next to the photo of the commenter. Creepy.

As of 12:45 this morning, those were just a couple of the 30-odd bugs that continued to plague TBD. We’re hoping they’ll be gone by the time you check in. If they’re not, we’ll just tell anyone who asks that this was a soft launch. It’s August, after all.

We could have waited a day or so longer to squash all those bugs. But we decided that eliminating them post-launch would align with our philosophy — namely, that we’re TBD, a site whose development is always uncertain, forever under construction. Sculpting this product in plain view of users, we figured, would present a refreshing break from the tradition of launch perfectionism.

Actually, that’s a lie. We launched with a few bugs because some Web-savvy people out there did some URL guesswork and smoked out our testing platform. Good for them; we’re tired of making a site for one another.

So here it is. A news site. It won’t serve you a cup of coffee, no matter what you click on. Yet it does have some features that we’d be remiss not to mention. Let’s go by the numbers.

TBD has an aggressive news-filtering machine powered by an entire staff of journalists who scan the region’s blogs, newspapers, and magazines every day. They categorize all the stories from sources in our coverage area so that you can find them with virtually no effort. Just tap your ZIP code or neighborhood into the “My Community” box, and you’ll get the entire “news feed” for your area. Never again will you end up out of the conversation. Moments ago, I entered my ZIP. I found 55 stories written over the past 72 hours from 30 sources.

TBD has a staff of six people whose job it is to reach out to you. We invite people who enjoy social media to join the more than 1,700 people following @TBD on Twitter, more than 400 Facebook friends of TBDDC, and the nearly 200 friends of TBDDC on Foursquare.

TBD has a network of 129 community bloggers, covering neighborhoods across the area as well as topics such as sports, transportation, entertainment, and dining.

TBD has about a dozen reporters. One of them writes nothing but lists. One is all over pedestrian life. One holds politicians throughout the region accountable. Three carry a year-round obsession with the Redskins. Three are covering some of the fastest-developing communities in the region. Three are the final authority on all things arts and entertainment.

And finally, a request: Stay with us as we add new features and functionality to the site. For months we sat in meeting rooms riffing on the site’s possibilities. We drew up plans — on paper — all manner of interactive gizmos for weather and traffic and sports and entertainment. Then our development team let us know what was doable in the year 2010. We’ll spend the coming months rolling out the stuff on the back burner.

With the support of the Lord, of course.

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