During 2009 I have been building what I think is now the largest collaborative blogging project in Australia. I’m really excited to have published a series of 10 local news sites for inner city Melbourne. The final two, for the inner west (Flemington, Footscray, Kensington, Seddon and Yarraville) and the inner south east (South Yarra, Prahran, Windsor, Toorak, Armadale and Malvern), are now live.
I have some minor improvements to make, and a few extra suburbs to add to the sites, but they are now all running the current version of WordPress and all have the latest version of the FeedWordpress aggregation plugin, which now handles feeds from different platforms much better than it did before.
I have a spreadsheet containing the details of about 400 Melbourne sites and blogs that publish local news and information. Over 160 of these use location based metadata, publish posts featuring suburb categories or tags (WordPress) or labels (Blogger) and are contributing to the project.
By building the platform of each local news site separately on a self hosted installation of the free open source content management system WordPress, the sites can be easily moved and hosted elsewhere. Over time I hope to find volunteer editors for sites.
The newest site, for South Yarra, Prahran, Windsor, Toorak, Armadale and Malvern, has nearly 100 posts from over 15 contributors.
The other new site, for Flemington, Footscray, Kensington, Seddon and Yarraville (the inner west), also has nearly 100 posts from over 20 contributors.
Since building it about a month ago, the site for St Kilda, East St Kilda, Balaclava and Elwood has already aggregated about 350 posts from over 40 contributors. I’m surprised at how much content there is for this area. I’m thinking of adding Port Melbourne, Albert Park and Middle Park to this site to make it cover the entire inner bayside area, which means it will become even bigger.
Built at the same time, the site for Richmond, Kew, Hawthorn and Camberwell (the inner east) has about 170 posts by over 30 contributors.
The site for Clifton Hill, Northcote, Thornbury, Fairfield and Alphington (the inner north) has over 300 posts from over 25 contributors. I know there’s lots more content available about this area, but it’s not tagged by suburb so it cannot be aggregated into the site.
The Collingwood and Abbotsford site is looking great with more than 400 posts from over 50 contributors.
The Brunswick and East Brunswick site has almost 300 posts from over 45 contributors.
The Carlton and North Carlton site has over 300 posts by more than 45 contributors.
The biggest site by far is Central Melbourne (CBD, Docklands, Southbank, North, East, South and West Melbourne), has over 1300 posts from over 90 contributors.
The Fitzroy and North Fitzroy site has almost 1000 posts from over 100 contributors. This is most impressive. It suggests that Fitzroy could be the most blogged about place in Australia. Fitzroy is digerati central.
The business model (not)
Hyperlocal online news is a new concept with lots of participants. Some people are building review sites featuring the contributions of many writers, and some of these include (or plan to include) advertising.
They face a difficult challenge with many components. Build and maintain a user friendly platform. Recruit content creators. Sell advertising. Market the site. Create a competitive advantage supposedly by offering better content than other sites.
In contrast, I thought it simpler, more efficient and far more elegant to simply organise the enormous amount of fabulous content that already exists. Melbourne is full of prolific and insightful bloggers who are experts about local areas.
The best content creators in Melbourne are the early adopters who publish their own sites and blogs. These people are unlikely to see value in contributing to sites owned by others that are designed to earn income that the bloggers will never see.
The 10 inner city Melbourne local news sites feature no advertising or other form of exploitation of the content or the work of local content creators. The local news sites are all about local news for local people and they respect the copyrights and intellectual property rights of the contributors. That’s why the contributors are happy to participate.
I built the platforms and identified the content to syndicate. I don’t need to do any recruitment as such. Participants are realising the social and technical benefits of having their content aggregated and are willing to participate.
I don’t have to develop a business model, sell my soul selling advertising or fight with competitors. By using good metadata and comprehensive taxonomies, Google markets the sites for me for the benefit of all the contributors and for you, the reader.
Ideally, local governments should be creating platforms and sites like these to build community engagement and interaction, but they’re all useless, antiquated bureaucratic organisations with no clue about social media.
How aggregation and syndication will increase to your site
If you want to increase traffic to and comments on your site or blog, consider the power of syndication. By having an excerpt of your post appear on a local news site, this creates a link to the original full post on your site.
The traffic you will receive through referrals or click throughs from the local news sites will be small to begin with. The sites will take time to build audiences.
The Google effect should be noticeable much sooner. Google measures the value and relevance of sites by how many links point to them. The more links to your site, the higher it ranks in searches for relevant keywords.
Each of the local news sites ranks highly in Google searches for the individual suburbs. The local news sites improve the search rank of all the participating sites they aggregate.
This increase in search rank will allow more people to find your site and your content from their regular searches. So while you won’t see much traffic coming from the local news sites, the fact that your content is aggregated should increase the traffic you receive from Google directly.
By having your content syndicated elsewhere, you are using your own content to build links to your own site, which is a powerful search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.
The techniques you can use internally within your site can have a significant effect on your ranking in Google searches, but nothing beats external links pointing to your site.
It’s a good idea to monitor your traffic and its sources using Google Analytics. It’s free and quite easy to set up. I’m keen to hear stories of traffic increases from participants.