…or “Sometimes hyperlocal just ain’t enough.”
Community site engine/citizen journalism startup Backfence (Here’s the Palo Alto version.) appears to be well on its way to falling apart.
Because people don’t want to participate in your brand, they want to participate in their community.
I don’t know if YourHub, a hyperlocal site framework developed by the Rocky Mountain News, is faring any better, but I think there’s a distinct difference between developing and selling to other newspapers a piece of software and developing and selling to other communities a brand.
This might have been part of my problem with Bayosphere, Dan Gillmor’s SF Bay Area community site that eventually became a part of Backfence. I stated a variety of cases here, and Dan engaged me in conversation in comment threads here and where I posted it on Bayosphere, and we’ve talked about other things since, but I think when it came down to it, I wanted a little space for my own neighborhood, where I could find out where to play pickup soccer on Sundays, how to sign up for the softball league in the spring, and where parents in my town sent their kids to preschool.
I’m still waiting for that.
Instead of giving us a site focused on OUR TOWN, YourHub and Backfence and now American Towns (Fremont edition here) give us a site focused on THEIR BRAND.
I can’t emphasize this enough. No one wants to connect with your brand, they want to connect with their town.
That’s why Baristanet kicks ass. It is so focused on a small chunk of New Jersey that the set of links for resources just outside the city limits of the three towns it primarily covers are called “Outer Baristaville,” because they’re just of tangential interest to folks living in Baristanet’s, um, circulation area, if you will.
So how can a newspaper provide this sort of tightly-focused hyperlocal community site?
First of all, if you’re going to use pre-fabbed syndicated software, re-brand the damn thing and localize it.
Second, if you’re going to roll your own, I want that thing braised in the juices of your town. Think about getting input from outside the newsroom. Go to community leaders and ask them what they want out of this sort of site. Ask them what they would post, and what they would want to read.
Then, brand the thing as if it were created from the bottom up by the locals in your community. Think about how both the least tech-savvy and least newspaper-friendly locals are likely to interact with the site. Serve the community, not your brand.
Danny Sanchez serves up the call to action:
“Make no mistake: If the local newspaper doesn’t get hip and develop an online community (and that doesn’t just mean snarky message board minions), they will eventually face someone who will. And it will then become a choice of bearing another spirited online competitor or spending the bucks to buy them out.”
He also points to Tish Grier, from whom I lifted the pleasant coinage in the title of this post.
To check out what the real hyperlocal animal looks like in the wild, visit a few of the Top Ten Placeblogs in America over at Placeblogger. I’m fond of #10, having lived in El Burque for a year. Duke City Fix covers Albuquerque like an online alt-weekly and then adds links to local bloggers and has its own Flickr pool.
Hint: If your hyperlocal site makes me think “Hmm, maybe we’ll move back there someday,” you’re probably doing something right.
So does Duke City Fix run on an expensive built-for-hyperlocal all-in-one solution?
It’s a free, open-source CMS called Nucleus.