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« One More Time on Iraq War: The Fix Was In | Main | Hyperlocal and Google »

May 12, 2005


Craig Newmark

Hey, this is really good, and maybe a really good community journalism site... I've passed to the right guy at City Hall SF.


G. Patton Hughes

The is an interesting site in that it aggregates apparently hundreds of individual blogs into a central, edited point.

This approach does appear to address one concern about 'blogging' as the way interactive communities should grow. That concern is that when one selects (as in a news reader) specific topics/individuals, there is a tendency to miss the serendipity one gets when reading a newspaper -- the story of great importance that you didn't know you needed to read.

Still, the comparison of it with the site shows some interesting aspects in regard to what I believe the long-term financial viability of these two forms of participatory or citizen journalism.

The pure blog format, even when aggregated with a tool like, has the net effect of balkanizing the audience. One reader goes to this site; another to another blog site, etc. The aggregating site may gain enough traffic because of the breadth of content to have salable reach, but as individuals adopt RSS newsreaders they configure for their personal taste; even the potential for reach is diminished. The fragmentation of the audience continues.

In contrast,, which uses a message board as its backbone, invites folks into a conversation between and among those in the community.

The value added by in this context is that it aggregates an audience and, as they read, react and post, they create the type of interactive conversation that felt was predicted in the Cluetrain Manifesto.

More than that, on active community sites, these poster-readers stick around for a reply, often browsing the thoughts and comments of others.

This is observable from the Alexa page-views of the two sites. (the message board based site) records 10.7 page views per day on average for the past three months while's average page views is 2.0. For another comparison, Craigslist, another 'BBS' type of community, records an average 19 page-views per visit compared to the Craig Newmark's personal blog page views of 1.2 pages per visit. Even the NYTimes, with 3.7 pages on average, is just not as 'sticky' as well-done community BBS's.

My point in bringing this out is that the roles of journalist and publisher, particularly in the area of hyper local media, are combined in interactive participatory journalism. That marriage of roles is not, nor has it ever been a comfortable or consistent one.

For the journalist, it is all about the story. Tell the truth, tell it with passion and tell it 'cause you must. The faith is if you tell the story, it will be heard.

The publisher's role in hyper local media is to aggregate the largest practical audience because audience is the key to success. With a localized audience engaged in an active conversation, all sorts of revenue opportunities present themselves.

Of course you, Craig, are not unaware of the benefit of revenue from these types of aggregations of readers. While you've been less than direct, it is obvious that your efforts may ultimately include expanding your communities into the realm of news.

Still, this would be a totally academic discussion if the newspaper circulation were growing and the costs of producing and delivering news in print was not likely to increase exponentially as the world's limited supplies of energy face increased demand.

That trend alone will accelerate the move of news and information from paper to digital formats in the next two decades.

The question, in my mind, is whether 'communities' like Craigslist and even, which are aggregating audiences and holding 'conversations', will be able to morph into more legitimate (and properly funded) journalistic enterprises or whether traditional media will be able to reconnect and establish conversations within, not one metropolitan community, but literally dozens to hundreds of hyper local communities that make up a metro area.

Regardless of that outcome, the ability to get, aggregate and engage an audience is one of the key differences that separate blogs and even blog aggregators ( from 'hyperlocal' communities such as BBS-driven


Hi folks,
Thanks Dan for posting this and thanks Craig and G. Patton for your comments!

G. Patton, I'd like to reply to some of your thoughts and questions about blog aggregators vs message forums in the context of Philly Future - which is neither actually - it's a hybrid.

We do feature aggregation - in various locations on the site and on the wire page ( ), but we *also* encourage original writing to be posted direct to the site. The hope is to open conversations that can build bridges. Bridges that work against the balkanization you are so right to speak of. It's observable from any blog's blogroll and hopefully by focusing on a region we can bring people together across religions, across political parties, across musical tastes, and yes across streets.

Over time I expect more original efforts, like the Dianah Neff community interview, to spring from this.

I truly feel and Philly Future are not in any way competitive with each other. They are complimentary. Where encourages conversations by encouraging folks to post in their terrific message forum - we promote it across independent blogs and encourage conversations across them that might not normally occur.

The folks at and I have spoken of ways we can help one another. I refrained from launching a forum and event listing at Philly Future so as not to detract from theirs. And we may do more in terms of cross linking down the line.

Will we get the page views of a pure message board? Not without more original works contributed to the site - no. Hopefully original works will be shared by the community. But "stickyness" alone is not the aim of Philly Future. Its aim is to grow our web. Not capture it. I have always felt that if you come to Philly Future, see something of interest - and clicked away - it has served a need. Hopefully you will post and share that find with the rest of the community. Help editorialize our regional web - help editorialize our region.

Philly Future wasn't indexed by Google until just recently, and its audience has been almost exclusively other bloggers until now. We need to reach out to folks who don't know what a blog is, let alone have one :) has been around a long time and it has built a terrific message forum community. Hopefully we can do the same with independent writers across our region, while working to building something that may just be a spring board for distributed journalism.

I'd love to hear more feedback. The site is entirely driven by volunteers, with no funding - a pure labor of love. But it would be great for it to evolve into something more.

G. Patton Hughes


If it weren't for this blog linking to and linking to I wouldn't have known of either entities.

I'm quite impressed with the site. In terms of blogging, it defines, as best as I can see, not only the role, but the importance of the aggregator. Your clarification regarding being the source of original content also helps define a promising approach to the future.

That your site is a hybrid seeking to generate unique content ... as well as your positive contacts with ... is all good.

My interest in the Philadelphia scene centers on the dynamics of the local audience and what they're doing. Your sites just make good clear examples of what I see more generally.

And one of the obvious things they're doing everywhere are blogs.

I mean blogs have been on the front of Time. Citizen journalism projects based on 'blogs' are hot and get mentioned often while similar community journalism efforts based on BBS systems ... like ... are effectively ignored ... even though they have greater use, reach and presumably impact in the community.

What I personally see is a wide variety of approaches to the hyper-local interactive news conversation. I think it is too soon to call the game and declare a winner ... as no doubt the 'winner' has not been invented yet ... hence the importance of hybrid efforts such as yours.

I'm still a bit perplexed why the media likes blogs so much.

The only thing I can come up with is the balkanized blogosphere is strategically the most 'attractive' alternative to big media as it enters the game for eyes and hearts.

Why? If citizen media is a threat to established corporate cartels, they may see the balkanized blogosphere as preferable. That strategy fits the classic military strategy of 'divide and conquer.' Conversely, they may perceive the alternative as being five thousand individually owned hyperlocal city/county sites would be a threat.

As a supporter of communities, it is also obvious that we'd like the 9,990,000 bloggers whose sites will be rarely seen, to instead join an interactive news community and provide their content/news, etc. there. Their impact would be dramatic and their material would likely be seen and read my many, many more people in the process.


G. Patton, I'm interested in hearing more about the "balkanization" effect you mention a few times in your comments here. You describe it like this:

One reader goes to this site; another to another blog site, etc. The aggregating site may gain enough traffic because of the breadth of content to have salable reach, but as individuals adopt RSS newsreaders they configure for their personal taste; even the potential for reach is diminished. The fragmentation of the audience continues.

As a Philly Future reader who became a Philly Future editor, I haven't experienced this effect at all. In fact, the randomness of the aggregator produces exactly the opposite effect: because headlines from sites I haven't visited before (or have rarely visited since) scroll before my eyes, the reach of every site on the aggregator is increased. Rather than fragmenting audiences -- which, I would agree, individual feed aggregators such as Bloglines tend to do -- the community aggregator on Philly Future expands audiences by leveling feeds. I'm as likely to click on a headline from Eschaton as one from iflipflop.

Having said that, I'm mindful of an experience I had with Karl early on in my experience with Philly Future. At first, I was wowed by the aggregator, and I suggested that it be featured much more prominently on the home page. Karl responded that such feed aggregation was not, in the end, what would make Philly Future special; rather, it was the community that would result from Philly bloggers posting original contributions to the site. The wisdom of that approach is more visible every day, as the audience of the site grows.

Finally, a n.b. for readers of this post: we very much encourage anyone -- not just Philadelphia residents -- interested in the city's WiFi plans to ask questions of Dianah Neff. Please help us make this interview a provocative and successful one.

G. Patton Hughes


Thanks for your reply.

Like most others, I'm trying to figure this whole thing out and like most, I'm still figuring :)

Know also that I've spent the last several days pondering the dynamics of the blog vs. the community. I enter this discussion from the community side of the debate. My reaction is to notion that individual blogs are "the be all" -- and it is a discussion that I've not had until now.

The aspect that I was having difficulty grasping is how to make what on its face are millions of individual websites come together in such a way that it makes economic sense to more than the individual bloggers.

I do like the's approach and particularly the idea that the group behind it is creating original content. That aspect was not immediately apparent to me.

The innovation of the approach, as Karl said, is that it is a hybrid model. Without reservation I can say that it has opened my eyes to many new possibilities, most of which I like.

Good job and good luck to both of you and thanks for replying to my questions. I needed the challenge of the discussion to advance my own thinking.

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