"It's super ambitious -- and a culmination of my life's work," Ken Freedman, general manager of beloved independent radio station WFMU, tells Billboard. He's referring to Audience Engine, a free and (truly) open-source piece of software, developed by Bocoup that Freedman oversaw the creation of. Audience Engine's goal is no less than changing how media outlets from radio stations to magazines interact with, and keep, their audiences. Oh, and make money.
The story begins 16 or 17 years ago, when Freedman requested a piece of software that would allow its non-technical radio staff to post their playlists online. (Up to that point, some tech-savvy WFMU disc jockeys had been hand-coding their lists in HTML live on the air. Freedman tried to teach his staffers the ropes succeeding with but one.) That piece of playlisting software was built by a single person, who kept adding to it as its features -- like online donations and crowdfunding, which account for 70 percent of the station's fundraising -- became more and more popular. "It wasn't scalable," Freedman says with a laugh, explaining that the tech developed for the WFMU website was too unwieldy to be brought to any other station, even though people had been asking.
Three years ago -- 14 years into the development WFMU's website, for those counting -- the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which provides funding to New Jersey-based non-profits "whose work has a direct and meaningful impact," gave Freedman and WFMU a $15,000 grant to explore how to create a version of the software underneath WFMU that could be used by other organizations. A proposal was created after a year of research; the Dodge Foundation gave them $200,000 following its delivery, and $200,000 the next year, and $100,000 this year, to create it.