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Community news site to move entirely to Facebook

With increasing competition, the Maryland community site RockvilleCentral.com announced this week it’s going to shift its publishing to Facebook. All of it.

“As of March 1, all new Rockville Central content will be found solely on our Rockville Central Facebook page. We hope you will join us there,” wrote Brad Rourke in a blog post. “Everything you have come to know and love about our articles will also exist in Facebook. You can comment, share, and interact – all with more ease and in one place. We’ll no longer have conversations in two different locations.”

Like many community news sites are noticing, as more people use Facebook, conversations are split between the sites and their respective Facebook pages. “Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?” asks Rourke, explaining that there’s plenty of news coverage in town, but not a central place for community. “We will focus instead on trying to build community and providing content and services that are different and not currently offered by others,” he said.

For online news folks, that may sound absolutely absurd. Suicidal, even. But it may be a stroke of brilliance, especially for part-time hyperlocal sites that aren’t generating ad revenue. Community is the secret sauce of hyperlocal. The key differentiator.

At MyBallard.com, the neighborhood site I co-founded that grew into Next Door Media, we have a vibrant community both on and off the site. We keep a close eye on our Facebook page, which recently passed 5,000 fans and is still growing fast (in a single Seattle neighborhood!) Like the MyBallard.com forum, it’s become a community bulletin board.

For us, switching dozens of advertisers to Facebook isn’t an option, since selling Facebook posts is most certainly a violation of its terms of service. But for Rockville Central, which has one advertiser than I can see, it’s not about online advertising. Editor Cindy Cotte Griffiths told Nieman Lab that they’re considering other revenue streams, like hosting conferences and community events — a natural extension of a huge Facebook presence. And when you first visit the Rockville Central Facebook page, you’re asked if you want to sign up for an old-fashioned email newsletter — which by itself could become a decent revenue driver.

Again, this could be brilliance. But there’s one other thing to think about, as explained by a Rockville Central Facebook fan: “This issue for me is that Facebook has always been a personal space that I use to interact with friends in my most personal voice. I don’t really like having updates from one of my news sources now woven in among my ongoing conversations with friends. Not a matter of privacy, but of having one ‘mental space’ now intruded on by another domain.”

Interesting point. Your thoughts?

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