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Monthly Archives: December 2007

Paulding.com and local online journalism

G. Patton Hughes writes about his experience operating a hyperlocal news site called paulding.com… one focused on the network and the other on advertising.  Some excerpts (well… lots of excerpts)…

Key to this success in the hyperlocal environment is the audience… For myspace it is the peers of the tweens and teens; for facebook, college peers constitute the largest draw. Frankly, one of the main reasons both sites are a success is that most there are probably on the make.

While there is some of that on paulding.com, the draw is infinitely more community minded. Many come to this hyperlocal community because they need the knowledge of those who live and know the community.

The point is each kind of social network targets a different demographic group – and most are places where ‘people like me’ congregate. That the large national social networks seem to target the youth is unmistakable. What is equally obvious is that in the hyperlocal sphere, it is geography rather than the common angst of being pubescent that is at the core of the social mortar.

This meas the hyperlocal network naturally targets adults living in a community. The prom is decidedly less an issue than is deciding the communities future by passing a fire tax. The challenges they face are politics, dealing with government, dealing with the schools, dealing with fulfilling the needs of the family to shelter, feed, clothe, educate, entertain and keep its children safe. All of these processes are at the core of adult involvement in a community. It is their interests, presence and experience and their willingness to share that knowledge that are at the core of the value proposition of the hyperlocal social network.

And…

The power of this network is that as it forms and grows it begins to write the narrative of the life of the community. In doing so it naturally challenges the schools, the newspapers, the politicians and the business community – any and all who previously controlled the public debate. The authority of those who head local institutions will likely find themselves in the midst of unanticipated conflicts.

I just can’t see adults with family and community responsibilities spending all day “poking friends” on Facebook.  Seems I’m not alone…

Remember the Gail Sheehy’s book “Passages?” Consider that people in the Internet age are going through one of many stages in life. As they age they will not so much change their media habits as adapt them to the new demands they face. I’m pretty certain they will move on from these national peer group networks and with the nesting instinct, instead turn to tend their gardens in their own backyards. My gut is they will migrate to a hyperlocal social network if one exists in their community and that migration will be an element of their passage from being kids to adults…

I fully believe that hyperlocal networks will become integral to the communities. Part virtual tool, part social network and part news, their function is to aggregate the knowledge and understanding of the adults in a community. As in all networks, it is the people who are the most valuable resource. It is their local knowledge that adds value.

However I question the next point… I think the glue is connecting with those around you rather than local news.

Local news is the glue that brings these largely disparate elements of community life together and only a fool would expect the result to be quiet order. Strife and conflict are as natural an element of the network as are death and taxes. Those who create these hyperlocal social-networks will have to be adept at managing them.

Managing that and bringing together a new kind of community that has more cohesion than dissention is the challenge of the hyperlocal community network builder.

For those who might say, but it is the sales, stupid, I can’t over-emphasize that commerce is the life-blood of a community network and permeates all aspects of the community. The task of the 21st century hyperlocal publisher is to build a virtual social, economic, political and spiritual network that transcends the conflicts of individuals and ultimately unites all elements of the community by telling their individual stories.

The tool is radically different from a newspaper. There will be hundreds or thousands of individual writers conversing. Still, when it is all distilled, the product of the hyperlocal network is just a new kind of journalism.

I can see how this looks like a new kind of journalism to a journalist… but I see it more as a new kind of citizenship… one where lots of people are involved in a open conversation with those around them about issues large and small… a huge departure from the individualism and isolation so in vogue today.

And about ad sales…

The secret of good sales is a good salesperson… give a good salesperson a product like Paulding.com with our average 10,000 daily visits, average 15 pages per visit and 13 minute plus average visit and money will come.

Yes, I’m celebrating a bit because we’ve had our best month yet. Not great but we’re now at about 20 percent of target in revenues up from about 12 percent. Our target revenue is $25,000/mo.

[Also] for a hyperlocal site to get national advertising revenues they’re going to have to either go with Google adsense or find some other kind of national representation.

The first is http://www.thenewsroom.com. This is generating about $250-300/month with my traffic and has given me access to those local stories… The second national site is http://www.adsdaq.com which is serving the purpose of a national advertising representative… They are selling about 25 percent of that inventory and and I’m netting over $300/month from the arrangement.This helps me establish a value the value locally for these front page banners at about $1400/month which, while they don’t sell for that locally, makes for good conversation with locals over the value of advertising on Paulding.com.

And do know that establishing that value proposition is a critical task in local sales… but not nearly as important as a good salesperson.

Great stuff… congratulations and thanks to Paulding.com


Newspaper puts FPF to work

Many have asked how Front Porch Forum fits into the local news-scape.  Most of the local news outlets here have run pieces explaining how we operate… much appreciated.  But the one regional local daily newspaper has kept its distance so far.

Now today they’ve found a use for us… as a way to reach their dissatisfied customers.  An FPF neighborhood forum in Essex Junction has been aflame with complaints about fouled up newspaper delivery recently.  So a thoughtful resident offered the paper a chance to respond through his FPF account, which a responsible circulation manager took.  Now most of their customers in the neighborhood will know the reason for the poor newspaper delivery service… message delivered by Front Porch Forum.

Glad to help.


Local Development Controversy

Philip Baruth writes today about a controversy in Burlington’s New North End…

Fascinating little snafu in Burlington last week. A very hard-working local activist, Lea Terhune, called a meeting to organize against a new Senior Housing development slated for the Apple Tree Point section of Burlington’s New North End. Wet-land is at issue, and Terhune says that Infill Development Group’s project would “warehouse [seniors] in a swamp.”

When Infill representatives arrived at the meeting, they were barred from attending. The meeting was declared a private gathering of concerned neighbors and not a public meeting. The announcement that was posted on Front Porch Forum was not clear on this point and should have been. I certainly regret any misunderstandings.

FPF is breaking new ground… nothing else like it out there. So we openly request constructive feedback on ways to improve our service. And, as always, we invite participation (join your neighborhood forum in Chittenden County, VT, here). As Philip says…

What we do know is that the Front Porch Forum has now been elevated beyond a mere local-networking tool: it has become required political reading for those on any side of any issue, any policy debate, any ongoing campaign.

 


Lost Kitty Found

What other web service finds lost kittens?  Especially with a foot and a half of snow on the ground?

We are missing a kitten that was visiting for the holidays. He is an orange tabby wearing a red collar with a bell. His name is Cringer. Please let us know if you have seen him. -Marianne, Centennial Neighborhood Forum

And a few hours later…

We found the kitty! Thank you Front Porch Forum.


FPF Killer Start Up?

Front Porch Forum was featured on KillerStartups.com today.


Gotta Stay on the Neighborhood Grapevine

Kate in Burlington’s Old North End wrote a lovely “call to shovels” today post-blizzards, encouraging neighbors to help clear troubled sidewalk spots as a show of community spirit (it’s the city’s responsibility here).  Great idea.

Her opening line caught my eye too…

I don’t usually post, but I read every single ONE Newsletter I get.

I surveyed one Front Porch Forum neighborhood last year and found that 98% of respondents claimed to read or skim every issue of their neighborhood forum.  And 50% had posted a message in the last six months.

This high degree of readership must contribute to the impressive results FPF’s initial advertisers are reporting.


FPF “makes a tremendous difference”

I’m not very good about sending out holiday greetings, but I just received this wonderful one posted to my own neighborhood’s FPF forum…

I just want to thank Michael Wood-Lewis and family for such a great job this year with the Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum and to thank everyone in this forum for all of their great letters. It really feels like a wonderful extended family and makes a tremendous difference to my life and living in this neighborhood.


Burlington’s Snow Removal on Target?

Burlington was hit with back-to-back snow storms this week, leaving about 15 inches of the white stuff, on top of a little left over from the previous dumping… and the first day of winter has yet to arrive!

On Front Porch Forum we’re seeing a growing number of city residents upset with the City’s snow removal effort, especially concerning sidewalks and curb cuts.  Several tax payers with limited mobility (e.g., wheelchair users and stroller pushers) have weighed in.

So far, no official response from the City.

As a past chairman of Burlington’s Public Works Commission, I’m aware of many of the challenges involved.  My own observation (and I tend to pay attention since our family has a wheelchair user)… it looked like a good first pass to remove the bulk of the snow, but there hasn’t been the follow-through to get down to pavement, push back the piles, open up the curb cuts at intersections, etc. that I’ve seen in past winters.  That’s just an impression… no thorough survey done on my part.  However, I’m not alone, as the postings to Front Porch Forum make clear.  Here’s one example…

I took a walk downtown yesterday with a double stroller-two kids.  It’s about the equivalent to a wheel chair in width and possibly ease of mobility.  My walk was quite exhausting and frustrating.  There were numerous places where I had to walk in the middle of the road, wasn’t able to cross the street and had to go two blocks out of my way to get to the place I wanted to be (Post Office).  The whole time I was thinking, what about people on wheelchairs, or mom’s who don’t have a car and need groceries (kinda like me).  What about people who have a hard time getting around all the time?  How are they getting around?   -Tiffany


Neighbors Rally to Help Student

I assured Glenn today that her message below was a wonderful use of her neighborhood’s Front Porch Forum

Hello Neighbors – I would not usually see this forum as a site for solicitation but given this situation (and the time of year), I am making an exception.

I work in a rural school system and I have a new student to my case load. This student just moved to the state a week ago. I noticed that this student (who walks to school every day) did not wear a coat. After further investigation, I learned that his family can not afford one. Typically I would find this student help through our amazing state agencies but I am running into many dead ends. Since he is new to the state he has not been hooked into the usual resources, and this time of year a lot of agencies are tapped out, I have had difficulty finding ways to meet his needs. I was able to place him on the waiting list for a Holiday food basket through the Salvation Army and I have obtained some money from the school to buy him a coat and hat and other essentials, but he still needs proper winter boots (size 11).

I also know that his family can not afford Christmas presents. One thing I know he would love is a disc man. I have also observed that he loves to sketch/draw and seems to have some talent with this form of art. If anyone in the neighborhood is interested in helping out, please let me know. Our last day of school before the winter break is Friday. I am sorry for the short notice, but I just found all this out today.

Again, please forgive this use of the neighborhood forum.

And now, less than 12 hours later, Glenn posts…

Thank you Five-Sisters Neighbors. I received fantastic response to my e-mail concerning my student. People were very generous and are donating wonderful things that will surly give this student a merry Christmas. This is a tremendous outpouring and a vivid reminder of just how wonderful this neighbor is and what this time of year is truly about.


City Councilor Gauges Public interest in Smoking Ban

From today’s Seven Days

If you thought the Church Street smoking ban debate was over, think again. One city councilor is floating the idea of putting the decision in voters’ hands.

Following a November 26 city council vote not to pursue a smoking ban on the Marketplace, Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) posted comments on her community Front Porch Forum — a neighborhood email listserv — asking her constituency if they would be interested in making the decision themselves. “If there was interest, I would also be supportive of placing the issue on the ballot and letting the voters decide what kind of environment they want on the Marketplace,” Shannon’s posting reads…