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Posts Tagged ‘hyperlocal’

EveryBlock.com relaunches as community site

The local news site EveryBlock.com rolled out its first-ever redesign with a new focus on community. Up until now, the site has been a “news feed for your block,” but it’s expanding to become a platform for discussion and recognition around neighborhood news.

(Full disclosure: In my job at msnbc.com, I’ve worked with EveryBlock on the new site. Msnbc.com acquired EveryBlock in August, 2009.)

“Simply put, there’s no great way to communicate with your neighbors online,” says founder Adrian Holovaty in a blog post. “How many people become Facebook friends with their neighbors? How many people in American cities can even name more than a handful of their neighbors?”

The new EveryBlock enables people to post items to their neighbors — for example, a missing pet, upcoming yard sale, an alert about a suspicious vehicle or a question about how to clean up the corner park. Users can “thank” people for their contributions and earn “honors” for being a helpful participant. Through expanded profiles, users can get to know active neighbors nearby.

“Instead of the social graph, it’s the geo graph,” Holovaty explains. Instead of friends or followers, proximity is the connection. “We deliberately haven’t added things like ‘friending’ to EveryBlock; we’re sticking to a lightweight community approach rather than reinventing the wheel. If you want to follow your neighbor’s personal life, friend her on Facebook; if you want to talk about neighborhood issues, use EveryBlock.”

A few email groups and neighborhood blogs across the country have created thriving news communities, including the Seattle blog network I co-founded with my wife, Next Door Media. The problem, however, is these communities are few and far between. EveryBlock is focused on creating a consistent platform that ties meaningful conversations together by proximity. “This is a huge opportunity, and because we’ve already got an audience of people who have registered their interest in given neighborhoods and blocks, we’re in a great position to do it,” Holovaty says.

If you’re already an EveryBlock fan, the new site still has all the news and data you expect to see. You can “follow” multiple places on an integrated dashboard, which also ties to a daily email. Items can be shared via Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, the new site has a loftier mission: to make your block a better place. “The new EveryBlock isn’t just about reading what’s happening in your neighborhood. It’s about getting to know the residents in your community and turning discussions into real-world actions to make your block a better place,” says Becca Martin, EveryBlock’s community manager, who also runs her own Chicago neighborhood site. “The addition of features such as user profiles and Neighborhood Honors are just the start of our plans to transform EveryBlock into a hub for neighborhood conversation.”

And EveryBlock is thinking about these new features in ways that enhance — not compete with — existing neighborhood blogs and local media sites. Stay tuned!

Holovaty will be chatting live on Poynter.org at 10 a.m. PT on Tuesday.

Plus: Here’s Mashable’s story today about the EveryBlock relaunch

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AOL buys Outside.in, to integrate with Patch

AOL is acquiring the hyperlocal blog aggregator Outside.in for $10 million, reports TechCrunch. That’s $4.4 million less than Outside.in’s total funding to date. As you might imagine, AOL plans to integrate Outside.in’s aggregation in Patch, its network of hyperlocal news sites.

The acquisition means that Patch can beef up its coverage through aggregation, which conceivably would include links to competing hyperlocal newspapers and blogs. Or similarly, Patch can reduce its original coverage by relying more on aggregation. Either way, today’s news illustrates that AOL is still invested in Patch’s success.

(Full disclosures: I work at msnbc.com with EveryBlock. And I co-founded the neighborhood blog network Next Door Media.)

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?

Yahoo Local (and hyperlocal) debuts in beta

Yahoo is just beginning to roll out its new local product — which was hinted at earlier this year — starting with beta pages for San Francisco, Brooklyn and Michigan. You can select a city, or drill down to a neighborhood, like the Mission District in San Francisco. Each page is a rolling list of aggregation, contributor posts via Associated Content, events and nearby deals from more than a dozen providers like Groupon and Living Social.

Many of the headlines, especially at the neighborhood level, originate from neighborhood blogs. You can post an event, or sign up with Associated Content to become a paid contributor. “We have launched Yahoo! local in a few neighborhoods and towns to refine the experience while gathering more content for the next set of cities,” explains the site.

While this is still in beta, at first blush, it seems to be a rather minor effort compared to AOL’s steep investment in Patch. It’ll also be interesting to see how — if at all — Yahoo plans to blend its new local product with its Neighbors forum.

Shakeup at TBD.com, Brady quits

The honeymoon is over for journalism darling TBD.com, the DC news startup owned by Allbritton. Jim Brady, who has led the startup as editor, has quit over strategic differences with TBD Publisher Robert Allbritton. The site launched in August.

“As we talked about the next phase of our growth, it seemed clear to Jim and I both that we had some stylistic differences,” Albritton said in a memo published by Fishbowl DC. “So with mutual respect – and in my case a lot of appreciation for the work he has done across the company for the past year – we decided to shake hands and go in different directions.”

Those stylistic differences, according to Fishbowl, centered on original content vs. aggregation and technology. Allbritton, the blog says, wants to invest more in content. Writes Allbritton in the memo, “Fred Ryan and I have made a decision along with editor Erik Wemple to begin a new round of investment in journalistic resources for TBD. To me, the creation of outstanding original content has always been what will determine the long-term success of TBD.”

As everyone knows, original content is expensive — and Allbritton says he’s going to hire more TBD staff to add to the 50 employees already working on the site (that’s in addition to resource overlap from the TV station, cable channel and Politico.com). Is this the road to profitability? It’s certainly worked for Politico, Allbritton’s other venture, although that site attracts a national audience and derives much of its revenue from a print extension.

No word on what this new investment will mean for TBD’s aggregation philosophy and partnerships with local bloggers — two areas of innovation. With Brady’s departure, TBD Editor Erik Wemple will take over.

Meanwhile, as TBD itself has reported, the Washington Post appears to be preparing to launch a new hyperlocal venture that’s “even more hyperlocal than the Patch sites that are now spreading around the region.” Stay tuned, this should be interesting.

What do you think? Where should TBD focus its investment?

Good advice for journalist entrepreneurs at ONA

“If you are a journalist and you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to have a serious, serious attitude adjustment.”

That was Michele McLellan’s advice leading off the “Turning Bits into Bucks” session here at ONA 2010. After researching hundreds of sites as part of a Reynolds Journalism Institute project, McLellan said most startups are too focused on content, and not focused enough on economic sustainability, non-profits included. “Foundations don’t want to fund operations, they want to fund new ideas, so get over that,” she said, explaining that many non-profits will have trouble keeping the grants coming.

Mike Orren, founder of Pegasus News, offered great advice on the sales front. “The biggest lesson is it didn’t matter the number of users we had if the ad community didn’t know who we were,” he said, explaining how PegasusNews.com had amassed a big audience in its early days, but had trouble gaining traction selling ads. “Ad decisions are not necessarily made rationally.” Orren said the best approach is to sit down with local businesses, listen to their problems and help them figure out how to solve them.

At one moment of the panel, J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer questioned whether journalists themselves should be “making the ask,” or getting out and selling ads. Orren said that journalist entrepreneurs need to “get in their head” where to draw the ethical line, and he said that practically, it’s easy to find people to write for free, but not sell ads for free. Rafat Ali, also on the panel, was a little more blunt about Schaffer’s comments. “If you can’t make the ask, you’re in the wrong business,” he said. Rafat started PaidContent, juggling coverage and sales in the startup’s early days. It sold to The Guardian.

KING TV’s Mark Briggs showed several examples of startups that are showing promising strides: Civil Beat, Windy Citizen, Med City News, We De People and Next Door Media. West Seattle Blog and Oakland Local were also mentioned as promising business models. (Full disclosure! I co-founded Next Door Media, and we recently partnered with KING TV and the Seattle Times around a local ad network).

AOL's Armstrong answers question, 'Is Patch evil?'

On stage at the Online News Association’s annual conference here in DC, AOL chief Tim Armstrong (left) was winding down the keynote session with NPR’s Vivian Schiller. That’s when USC’s Robert Hernandez (right) walked up the microphone and dropped the question that some in the audience wanted to ask, “Is Patch evil?”

When Armstrong asked him to elaborate, Hernandez brought up the allegations of long hours and low pay, as well as how corporate AOL is now competing with many grassroots hyperlocal sites in communities across the country.

Armstrong answered the first part of the question with a few stats: 75 percent of people who work at Patch are paid as much or more as their last job, and 25 percent of them are freelance. As for the long hours, Armstrong said, “This is a startup.” And here, in part, is Armstrong’s answer to second part of the question:

“I live in one of the most resourced communities in America, there are blogs in town, they don’t cover my needs as a consumer. If you think it’s evil, put on your consumer hat for a minute. You guys are press on press, press on AOL, press on Patch, everybody on everybody. You know, what’s the consumer need in the town, and are you meeting it? Instead of writing articles about each other….”

“We also have a lot of partnerships that the press doesn’t write about, where we’re doing content with blogs, or content with newspapers, where we’re joining content forces. Nobody covers that…. ”

“I’m going to say something that, strategy-wise, I don’t know where we’ll end up on it. It’s highly likely we will do more partnerships around Patch, also. I think there are cases where there are local blogs we’d probably love to partner with. But in essence, we’re trying to run something that fits a consumer need. So if you feel it’s evil, just make careful it’s not media on media. If you start with the consumer, I don’t run into too many consumers who in the Patch borroughs who think what we’re doing is evil.”

So a little bit of news here — Patch may forge more partnerships, even with local blogs. For independent news sites out there, what Armstrong says about the consumer is important to hear. It’s not about who’s local or who’s from out of town, it’s who’s better at serving consumers, both the audience and advertisers. Armstrong is saying by extension, the “I’m local” defense will have limited shelf-life.

By the way, Hernandez’s question is the moment of ONA so far. The moderator referred to him as “evil man,” drawing big laughs from the crowd. The question spread like wildfire across Twitter (he’s @webjournalist), even becoming a trending topic in the DC area. Some are even suggesting making T-shirts. “For the record, I’ve been on the fence about Patch, but knew it was on everyone’s mind,” he wrote on Twitter. “Someone had to ask.”

What do you think of Armstrong’s answer? Or what Vivian Schiller said about it, “Competition is not evil.” Post in comments below…

Guest Post: Patch dispatch from ONA

Ted McEnroe

Ted McEnroe is the director of digital media at NECN in Boston and is a longtime colleague of mine. He blogs at Yankee 2.0. Ted is attending the Online News Association’s annual gathering in DC and is kind enough to file this report of his first impressions of the event. (If you’re at ONA and would like to do the same, we welcome your thoughts. Send me a tweet @lostremote and we’ll arrange it.)

Patchy clouds over ONA networked journalism panels

By Ted McEnroe

The Online News Association’s annual convention is underway in Washington, D.C. It officially starts today, but Thursday was chock full of pre-conference workshops, including a discussion on “networked journalism” and how news organizations can build and strengthen partnerships with hyperlocal sites – citizen journalists and bloggers who can get target individual communities.

While the panels that made up the session, from Tucson to Seattle to Miami to Charlotte to Asheville, N.C., had different approaches as they looked ahead, there was a cloud on the horizon – AOL’s Patch. None of the partnerships have much active Patch competition yet; Patch has rolled out a pair of Seattle neighborhood sites, and none in the other places represented. But across the board, there was a wary eye toward eventual Patch competition.

Bob Payne of the Seattle Times, whose network of 28 hyperlocal or subject-themed citizen blogs is under the most immediate challenge from Patch, called Patch an ‘interesting challenge’, but said content would eventually win out. He seemed confident that local bloggers who are already living and blogging in their communities, like Tracy Record and the West Seattle Blog, had a leg up.

Other papers with local blog partners agreed that Patch brought a welcome focus on hyperlocal, but that the network of large numbers of cookie cutter sites could be beaten by blogs/citizen journalists dedicated to one community. Rick Hirsch of the Miami Herald said Patch should inspire local blogs and papers to work harder – a welcome opportunity. But Steve Gunn of the Charlotte Observer said the best local blogs will win out over Patch. “I don’t know what the future is, Gunn said, “but I’d take (the local blog) davidsonnews.net over Patch any day.”

In the end, though, it will be the business model more than the content that determines whether Patch can succeed. AOL can build broad networks but it might not be able to match the local connections a resident-blogger can make, or the potential multi-platform sales potential of local papers creating web content.

Still, Patch has their attention even in places where it has yet to launch. So if nothing else, AOL can be assured already that it has had an impact on local online content.

Seattle ad network built for TV, newspaper, blogs

A new ad network is launching in Seattle, and it is reaching out across platforms. The Seattle Times and KING-TV are behind The BeLocal Ad Network. Among the 26 partners will be our pals at West Seattle Blog.

Writes Media Buyer Planner:

“The network, focused on local news, will be made up of news sites and blogs. Revenues from (the network) will be shared with the online publishers. The sales teams from both the newspaper and the TV station will work with the community publishers to sell ads.”

This is something we’ve preached forever and it’s great to see the group trying this. The Knight Foundation’s Networked Journalism Project helped fund the partnerships.

Starbucks network debuts with Patch, Foursquare

This week coffee drinkers who fire up free WiFi at Starbucks stores will be greeted with the Starbucks Digital Network, a multimedia service with a long list of previously-announced content partners. One of those partners is AOL’s Patch, which will feature hyperlocal content under the “neighborhood” tab.

Also on the social media front, you can check in on Foursquare on the main landing page — hey, it’s free promotion for Starbucks — as well as access all the social staples like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Starbuck’s core news partners are Yahoo News, New York Times and WSJ. For more on the launch and all the partners, here’s an extensive press release.

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