We found that in most places in this country, we are the only high-end news site. What happens is this odd pattern where a news event happens, and they find our site online and they like it and stick. One of the more dramatic cases was when two tornadoes struck Caruthersville, Mo. Up to that point, we had a little activity there but it was pretty low. That day we had 600 posts about the tornadoes , and it was astonishing, there were first-hand accounts and people were asking if so-and-so was OK. People in the town were responding and saying, ‘yes, they’re OK.’ A few months later, a lot of the people had stayed in the forums.
There’s a lot of local gossip and chit-chat. Will it pass a test for being journalism or not? Well, a lot of important issues would pop up, like about the police chief or a sex scandal at the high school. The traffic is sustained by the gossip and chat, but from time to time, they want to talk about important civic issues, and because we’re the only site that offers that, this is where they do it.
Tolles: If you look at the curve of posts [click graphic on left], you had this initial burst of posts with the tornadoes, and then the daily chatter in the forums. But somewhere along the line, there was this unpopular police chief and government, and now the post volume is higher than it was during the spike around the tornadoes. It’s got to the point where I sent a person from my staff out there and he’s videotaping the town, making a mini-documentary, and everyone there knows Topix. People in this little town know us.
This posting pattern is similar to what we’re seeing in Front Porch Forum‘s various neighborhood forums. Low level chatter as people join and it slowly builds. However, in a neighborhood with a galvanizing event (unwanted big box store, crime wave, etc.), we seek a spike. Post spike, however, the plateau is raised. Then, the second big issue (that is, in the neighborhoods that have had two big issues so far), message traffic gets big and stays there.