February 21, 2007

Six weeks gone in a Snap

Posted in Conceptual, Marketing & Promotion at 1:29 pm by newsovercoffee

It seems that time has gotten away from me at the start of the New Year as so much time has passed, so little has been written, and a lot has happened.

I ended up attending the last two school board meetings in addition to Council because the school was looking at eminent domain proceedings against a family owned business, a budget they couldn’t make work, a pair of potential referendums for the ballot, and new building that would cost $58 million.

I also hosted a community event for individuals whowere interested in learning how to run for office.  This turned out much better than I ever imagined.  The idea was simple.  It is a local election year, have an event to teach people how to run for office and what to expect.

I contacted a local business (coffee house type place) and they offered the space at no charge.  I contacted local officials not up for re-election this year to participate on a panel and two agreed (one Democrat, one Republican).  I also invited the chairpersons of each political party, and they too agreed.

Unfortunately the elections office couldn’t send anyone so I handled the opening walking through the paperwork, where to get it, what to do with it, etc.  The elected officials came up next and I had three questions to start then opened to the floor.  The  party officials were next and we did the same.  The program ended in one hour as I’d hoped and about 40 people attended, twice what I’d hoped to have.

The local weekly ran my announcement so did the daily newspapers and one reporter attended and wrote about the event after the fact.  Great publicity for the site and the owner of the coffee shop called me later to say people have been stopping in and asking about the event and when we’d have another one, so it was good for him to.

The site traffic is now up to about 300 unique visitors per weekday and over 5200 per month.  While I say this each month, I’d have to imagine I’m at about the most I’ll get given the size of the community (30,000 total residents with estimated 14,000 online).

One of the things I’m struggling with right now is content.  I don’t want the site only to be about the school or the concerns with it, but also about good things happening.

The growth has also resulted in many new readers and those making comment, and they aren’t always in tune with the site.  I’ve posted several reminders about personal attacks and then simply started trashing every comment I deemed to be a personal attack or inappropriate.  I had one person try to outlast me by reposting the same over and over, but its just to easy for me to monitor and trash posts – I think the person has finally quit after about a dozen attempts over four days.

January 7, 2007

Blog vs. Web site

Posted in General at 4:19 pm by newsovercoffee

One of my on-going pet peeves is the notion that a blog is not credible or less than a web site when in fact a blog is nothing more than a publishing system. In more words than this Wikipedia nearly says the same (see the definition here) stating in part that it is in journal style in reverse chronological order often providing commentary on a particular topic or interest.

Many individuals, however, have come to view and portray blogs to range from being less credible to worthless. Their reason – bloggers are not credible and often are self-indulgent.

Can a blog be a modern day vanity press? Absolutely. Does it make every blog one. Absolutely not. The blog is the tool that allows individuals to self-publish at little to no cost. It is a publishing system. Further, it is much easier than coding or creating traditional html pages. Yet, a traditional web site is given “legitimacy” to its content that a blog does not receive.

Why bring this up again? I received an email from a reader of my NewsOverCoffee site with a link to an article in one of our two regional newspapers, The Express-Times. The article (available here) was by Joseph P. Owens, Editor and was in regard to the launch of his own blog on the newspaper’s web site (visit his blog here).

The article opens essentially reinforcing the above mentioned slam on blogs, while also announcing that the site will be offering new blogs throughout this new year, including one by the editor.

In reading on he wrote:

A Web log, as I said, is nothing new, but it is in many ways a return to a time when people actually spoke to one another. Look back 250 years, and you’ll find that communities had “meeting houses” where issues of the day were discussed and people of the same community gathered to share their views. If some of the same is accomplished in a Web log, it’s worth the effort. In a region where the two-hour commute is normal and you’re fairly certain you know the first name of the guy who lives next door, it is a way for technology to help bring society full circle.

This reminded me very much of my NewsOverCoffee copy in the Welcome! section:

Go ahead and take a sip of NewsOverCoffee. Life keeps getting busier. This is a place where neighbors and friends can connect to share news and information about Nazareth, PA at their own convenience.

In short, it is where Colonial Hospitality meets information technology to ensure an even better community.

Maybe not verbatim, but I thought it sounded like someone had been sippin’ the coffee. If asked, most people would not refer to a blog as a community source in the sense that I’ve created NewsOverCoffee and earlier he spoke of the vanity styled blogs where individuals hope you’ll be interested in reading their thoughts. Placeblogs or hyper-local community sites are becoming much more common, but these are not yet in the mainstream consciousness. For this reason, I was led to believe that my blog had helped him create his impression of blogs in general.

His final points were in regard to accountability and credibility. When one allows comments, it becomes very easy to determine the credibility of posts because readers will call you on false information. Referencing information, including links, and keeping away from personal attacks will also increase both. Finally, disclosing relationships and experience with those involved in the topic as it relates to the issue is also important. If these things are done there should be no issue with credibility or accountability.

Having his take on blogs, I visited his own and was pleasantly surprised to find NewsOverCoffee listed as one of two “Favorite Weblogs” in his right side bar.

There were few posts to review as it was recently launched but the most recent one appears much like an editorial one would read in the print edition, but in a more conversational and less formal tone. There was one post for Thursday and one for Friday.

Will be interesting to see in which direction this blog goes as it appears to be a mandate (he noted he had been asked repeated at the office when he’d start and finally got around to it) rather than an active interest. Having a “raison d’etre” (hopefully my years of french haven’t failed me here) will go a long way to making this blog authentic and not forced.

Best wishes to Joe on his new endeavor and thanks for including NewsOverCoffee!

January 6, 2007

Print Media Recognition

Posted in Conceptual, General, Marketing & Promotion at 2:01 pm by newsovercoffee

As part of year end wrap-ups I was surprised and flattered to have my community site recognized by a columnist in our regional newspaper The Morning Call. Columnist Bill White (view his columns here or his blog here) had called me about the site, so I wasn’t surprised when it appeared (you can read the article here), only that he was recognizing it in the first place.

In closing he wrote:

“I’ve praised other local bloggers for bringing important issues to light in an entertaining way. But I can’t think of anyone who has done a better job of putting the Internet to work in the service of his or her community.

We need more NewsOverCoffees. And we need more residents who are willing to speak up and force positive change when their leaders are out of line. ”

This was probably more praise than I deserved, but it was very much appreciated.

The site has flourished for a few reasons, the biggest of which, I think, is demographics. The community I serve is only a small part of either regional newspaper’s coverage area, and therefore, we are not in competition with one another. Instead, I’d hope that my readers (who typically subscribe to one or the other regional daily newspaper) will use the links I reference to visit the other regional’s articles and in theory at least create potential new subscribers.

So that is one part, on the other end are our weekly publications, of which we have two. Each would be more closely defined as a shopper with want ads, classifieds, advertising, but little news. Mostly it is contributed information (engagements, weddings, thank yous, anniversaries, and some groups and organizations announcements). Ironically, this is the very same information I can’t seem to get anyone to contribute to my site, but I digress.

The fast rise of the site (fast at least in my eyes) can be attributed to the controversial issues our community faced in the Borough and School District. Word of mouth or the rumour mill in a small town can spread news fast, and the site made its way around with very little promotion on my part.

As I noted in the previous post, it was a great first nine months. Bill’s column today validated the site. It also demonstrated, to me at least, that there is a place for both the traditional media and community web site.

In closing, thanks again to Bill for his support and kind words. They are very much appreciated.

January 4, 2007

2006 Year End

Posted in General at 5:33 pm by newsovercoffee

Not quite a year online for NewsOverCoffee, but a lot of success and a lot to look forward to in 2007.

December was a banner month as a result of the final conclusion to the nearly 12 month contract negotiation to the NASD teachers’ contract and an appearance by Clay Aiken at a local school, on which I reported, and was linked to “Clay Nation” causing a pretty big spike for a few days.

Despite the vacation from about 12/23 through 1/2, December netted an audience of 37.1% of my estimated maximum audience of 14,860 individuals. This was up from 25%, 24%, 14%, and 8% in the preceding months (the first month, May, yielded a 1.6%).

I stopped counting comments as they’ve gone over the 100 per month mark.

What has surprised me most is the fact that people are not interested in the Activities page (local youth/HS sports and activities). Not so much a surprise is the book club (which I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I enjoy writing about what I read so its worth it) which has had few readers/visitors as well.

The primary focus of the site – sharing information to keep one another informed for a better community – I think has held true.

The people on the site have self-policed and the conversation has been good. The Borough Council has adopted more open meeting practices (which I’d hope was influenced by the conversation on the site) and the school district has made more information available online than ever before (also encouraged by comments on the site).

April will mark one year for NewsOverCoffee and hopefully the audience will continue to broaden to the townships of the school district area and more contributors will come forward to share information from events and meetings they attend.

December 14, 2006

Recognition and Attribution with Anonymous Posts

Posted in Conceptual, General at 1:41 pm by newsovercoffee

I had an incident recently where I credited a reader with providing information and it turned out the credit was given to the journalist the reader was quoting, not the individual who did the posting.

The problem of course is that the journalist can’t be making news posts to other sources.

Here is what happened:

I had a post announcing a choral concert.  In the post an individual made an anonymous comment regarding a surprise appearance by Clay Aiken at a local elementary school.  The comment was rather detailed and ended with “–JD Malone”.

On occassion, anonymous posts will include a name at the bottom. I assume people don’t want to take the time to log-in or sign-up, but still don’t mind having their name attached so they add it.

Since the comment was not related to the post and since it was worth a post of its own I added a new post and thanked the reader who made the post “JD Malone”.  This was during the day.

At night while checking my alerts I found articles on the appearance, one was from the Express-Times written by JD Malone.  That was when I realized that the reader had been quoting an online article.  I sent JD a note explaining what happened and offered to post a correction, which he appreciated.  In the correction I again thanked the reader who made the post and asked readers in general to indicate the source if they couldn’t code the link along with the writer so they’d receive their due credit.

Through my attendance at area events I’ve come to know the primary reporters from the two local dailies, and in this case it wasn’t the “regular” Nazareth reporter so the name didn’t immediately click, until of course I saw the article.

In the future I’ll be more aware of a detailed post, in truth, I thought it was either a parent who was in attendance or a teacher.

None-the-less, it is something to keep in mind if you have a site that allows anonymous posts and you try to recognize contributions to the the site.

December 12, 2006

When a Local Event Has National Appeal

Posted in General, Marketing & Promotion at 11:13 pm by newsovercoffee

Porn and pop-culture (with gambling not too far behind) seem to rule the internet.  Given that it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to me that I’d have record traffic following a local appearance by Clay Aiken of American Idol fame.

Yet it did.  Tonight I checked my Google Analytics and traffic shot up doubling my previous daily hits high, which doubled the average.  Ironically, last week I had an all time high in traffic as a result of the teachers voting down a contract offer (they’ve been without a new contract since September and negotiations began January 06). I wasn’t expecting another spike, but instead a drop.

Then it occurred to me, the number of returning visitors plummeted and yesterday I ran a story on Clay Aiken appearing at one of our elementary schools.

I can only imagine that fans of his as well as reporters found the story through alerts or search.

An unexpected boost and not something I ever considered when I posted it.

December 7, 2006

November Numbers In – Growth Slows

Posted in General, Marketing & Promotion at 1:40 pm by newsovercoffee

It was apparent to me that doubling the visitation would not go on for long, particularly once I reached about 20% of what I anticipated to be the maximum audience for this site.

In November the growth finally slowed for the primary blog page – News.

News achieved 25.2 audience share up from 24 in october.  A full two-thirds of the audience visited the site seven or more times during the month.

In November the home page crept up to 12% audience share, I corrected a coding error in Activities so I lost 11 days of tracking until I figured it out (result of my design change), and I also launched a new space for a “Book Club”.

The Book Club didn’t get much visitation, but I do love to read and the first person who responded (on the day of launch) was author Matthew Pearl whose two books I loved, so that was worth it in and of itself.

I do need to give more consideration to this section to make it more usable for readers.

I’d be happy at this point if I can reach about 30% with News and better develop activities and books.

If the amount of content on News gets to be too much (too many posts per day) I’ll consider breaking it up into News vs. Information or School District vs. Municipalities not sure as I haven’t thought too much about this yet.

All in all a good month with continued growth.  Expect December will be down with the Holidays, except that it appears a teachers’ strike is inevitable so that may keep the numbers higher than normal this month.

November 21, 2006

Anonymity vs. Registration

Posted in Conceptual, Marketing & Promotion at 1:46 am by newsovercoffee

In planning this site, I knew I wanted it to be a positive forum for discussion of topics that were very local. I also knew that I couldn’t allow individuals to flame one another and put down people, because if it happened I’d lose the audience. Most sites with forums seemed to go this route.

The dilemma then became should people be able to comment anonymously or must they register?

Of the conversations I’ve seen on citizen-journalism, hyper-local, and place blogs, is the concern allowing anonymous comments. The concern seems to be heightened almost to the point of fear by organizations. Organizations typically have lawyers, who presumably warn them about the dangers of allowing anonymous comments. And organizations often have an established practice of accepting comments in the form of the Letter to the Editor. These are often, if not always, confirmed by the staff prior to publication.

These two factors seem to make it almost impossible to imagine an open policy that allows anonymous comments.

As my site grew in audience, I feared the work I’d done in building a positive environment could be wiped out by individuals not “acclimated” to the site’s ideals. I made one big mistake in this regard. An anonymous post that began with a bit of a rant went over the line in my book by calling the community a “nazi” state. I posted the entire comment on a new post, gave my personal reasons why I took such offense to the remarks, and stated that as a result of this individual’s comments I was going to moderate the site comments. In actuality I dropped the moderation after about six hours, but didn’t tell anyone for three days. Comments stopped and readership dipped.

Since the site launched there was a very contentious building proposal, a threatened teachers’ strike (the threat of which still exists), and very recently an incident at an elementary school that resulted in teachers being reassigned in the middle of a marking period. I’m not going to discuss the specifics, but it was a personnel matter, the details of which spread faster by word of mouth than any post I could have made on the site.

My point is that despite these instances the site has remained positive with anonymous posts and good, challenging conversation. In fact, I’ve had readers support these ideals with myself not having to say anything. This is the best evidence I’ve found that there are more good people than bad ones and that the concept can work when it is encouraged along.

If you are stuggling with whether or not to allow anonymous comments, I’d recommend you allow them. I’d also encourage you to constantly reinforce your goals and watch and react to comments as they come. Stay on top of them and you won’t get caught with material that drives away your silent majority of readers.

November 18, 2006

October Site Visits

Posted in General, Marketing & Promotion at 1:00 pm by newsovercoffee

The October numbers again increased and are now showing that the home page is a gateway but being by-passed by those who bookmark the News page. It is good from the standpoint of attracting new people as the % new is lower than the News site.

I’m very pleased with the progress as it has already exceeded my expectation for the News, now I need to build up activities. Hopefully youth and school wrestling, basketball, and swimming will take advantage of the site to announce information about their programs and events.

Here are the results for October:

NOC_ NewsBlog            
14,860 max audience Audience %=1 visit % >7 visits +10 seconds Comment Contributors
April            
May 1.602 52.9% 21.4% 28.2% 13-2-3 1
June 2.49 51.9% 19.5% 34.3% 13-5-6 1
July 5.195 45.9% 35.1% 43% 31-5-8 1
August 8.136 30.8% 47.4% 40% 77-13-35 1
September 14.145 20.7% 61.9% 38.5% 94-7-71 1
October 24.06 16.76 67.33 41.99   2
             
NOC Activities Blog            
14,860 max audience Audience %=1 visit % >7 visits +10 seconds Comment Contributors
August 1.353 72.6% 4% 27.4%   1
September 2.645 49.4% 28.% 28.8%   1
October 2.11 37.26 41.08      
             
NewsOverCoffee.com            
14,860 max audience Audience % =1 visit % >7 Visits      
April 0.269 32.5% 52.5%      
May 0.525 37.2% 34.6%      
June 1.319 40.3% 31.6%      
July 2.631 33.3% 46%      
August 3.957 24% 48.6%      
September 7.18 14.1% 70.1%      
October 11.06 16.76 67.33      

As you can see, some of the categories I have not been tracking.  Comments were way over a 100 and I need to manually count them, so I stopped.

All in all, very good and beyond my expectations.  To me this speaks to the need and desire of people to have local information, the challenge is finding the best means of aggregaing and delivering it.

Design Follow-Up

Posted in Conceptual, General, Marketing & Promotion at 12:39 pm by newsovercoffee

The new design was met with less enthusiasm than I’d hoped.  As maybe should have been expected, readers were split nearly 50-50 between like it and bring old one back.

The old one was a very basic blogger template.  The new one a three column format more often identified with “news”.

The font style (which I already changed to Arial from the original) and size which I haven’t changed but will need to (too small) were the biggest issues I saw.

The biggest complaint was that the new style was too busy.  I tried to work in everything from the home page so that section could eventually be removed as it is in essence a pass-through page.  I like having everything in one place, but obviously not everyone used the site in the same was as I do (using links to community sites, etc.).

For the time being I’m going to let it ride and see how it goes.  I think once people adjust to it they will like it more.  At least no one told me they’d stop visiting as a result!

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