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Q&A with hyperlocal site boasting 15,000 newsletter subscribers

ChiswickW4.com, which claimed 50,000 unique visitors during January, has just gained it’s 15,000th email newsletter signup.

Launched by the Neighbour Net group in 2000 to cover the W4 postcode area of London, Neighbour Net now boasts a portfolio of nine other hyperlocal sites in London, including EalingToday.co.uk and PutneySW15.com.

One of Neighbour Net’s directors, Sean Kelly, spoke to Journalism.co.uk about the site’s model.

Who’s behind the operation of the website? What inspired you to set up a hyperlocal site?

The site was set up by Tony Steele and Sean Kelly who both live in the Chiswick area. The aim was to fill the gap in local news provision initially in Chiswick and then extend the concept out to other areas.

Are your articles written by local contributors or do you have a dedicated team?

We have a dedicated editor for each site and a significant number of other local contributors in each area. The contributions tend to be reviews – restaurants, concerts, theatre. There is also a central office resource for content production which can write stories when the editor is away.

Is anyone employed to work full-time on the site?

Yes, we have four full-time staff but that includes sales and back office. The aim on ChiswickW4.com is to be able to respond 24/7 to breaking news.

Your site has a number of subtle advertisements – could you tell us a little about your business model?

Nearly all our customers are small local businesses and they either have advertising packages which include banner display and newsletter inclusion or listings in our directories.

We also like to be supportive of local independent businesses and like to write positive stories about them. Obviously we are more inclined to cover items about our clients but often feature non-clients as well.

Do you have a social media strategy? If so, what social networks do you use and how do you use them?

We put all our news content out on Twitter and Facebook as well as some aggregated feeds with local offers, events, jobs and traffic reports. The main use for us of social media is sourcing stories rather than broadcasting. It is particularly powerful for breaking news.

We try and follow as many people as possible who live in the area to ensure that if something is kicking off locally we hear about it quickly.

Why did you go down the newsletter route, rather than taking a different approach?

Probably because in 2000 there weren’t really many alternatives but e-mail newsletters have proven to be the most effective broadcast method ever since.

On a proportional basis they still deliver the highest level of response both for advertisers and in terms of click through to news items.

How does your traffic for the Chiswick site compare with the rest of Neighbour Net’s sites?

It makes up around 50 per cent of group total over the course of a typical month. On exceptional days sites like PutneySW15.com and EalingToday.co.uk can exceed Chiswick’s traffic.

Do you have any plans to roll out new features on the sites?

The plan is to increase the amount of user contributed content further although the editor will remain central to the story production process.

Are you planning to expand? If so, where to?

We normally expand contiguously so that people in the area may be familiar with the site and we can cross-sell to existing clients as well as provide editorial support from neighbouring sites.

The most important determinant of where we launch is finding a suitably high quality editor. The plan is to recruit more actively once the content management system is up and running.

ChiswickW4.com can be found on Twitter as @ChiswickW4.

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Hyperlocals can now create noticeboards using the Guardian’s n0tice

Online noticeboard n0tice has today opened to all community groups and hyperlocal sites after testing the technology with a limited number of users.

Groups can now create their own customised page, choosing a domain and can start to moderate activity. The platform is still being developed but there are plans to later introduce revenue-sharing between n0tice, owned by the Guardian Media Group, and page owners, such as hyperlocal news sites and bloggers.

notice is like a cross between a village noticeboard, Gumtree and Foursquare in that it is a space for users to post small ads, local news and announcements and that information can be pushed to location-enabled mobile phones and devices. There is more on how and why n0tice was created at this link and how it will make money by charging users for promoted, location-based small ads.

Following a recent invitation roll-out, hyperlocals, bloggers and community groups can now create their n0tice page, measure performance and activity with social analytics tools, and “moderate community activity in order to encourage the kind of behaviour they want to see on their noticeboard”, Sarah Hartley, one of the team behind n0tice told Journalism.co.uk.

She added:

This service is designed to serve community groups of all shapes and sizes, active local champions and community leaders, local publishers and bloggers, interest groups and hobbyists, and anyone who wants to manage a community noticeboard. We are focused on serving UK-based community groups, but it works anywhere in the world.

The service is still in development, and we have a lot we plan to add in the near future.

For example, we will develop revenue sharing opportunities via the classified advertising platform so that noticeboard owners can earn money. We will also develop a private, restricted access community noticeboard service which will be offered for a fee.

We don’t have a date when these services will be launched, but we release new capabilities on a regular basis.  You can follow @n0tice to stay in touch with the team.

Access to n0tice.com is open, but community participation is currently by invitation only. There are details on the technologies used to create n0tice here.

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TechCrunch: Fwix launches new location-based search portal

July 21st, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Hyperlocal

A new search portal has been launched by hyperlocal news site Fwix allowing users to access real time, map-based view of what’s going on in a specific location.

Fwix Local Trend Search provides news, events information, government data and business reviews, as well as Fourquare and Gowalla check-ins, on a map of a given area. Users can alter the sphere of their chosen location to access coverage from a large or more localised area.

Darian Shirazi, CEO and founder of Fwix, explained to TechCrunch how the site determines an article’s location:

Fwix’s proprietary technology analyzes and indexes nearly 40 million pieces of content to determine and scan for any reference to location within the text of a document.

See the full post at this link…

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Loudoun Independent: Washington Post pulling plug on hyperlocal site in Loudoun

August 18th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

The Washington Post is pulling the plug on its hyperlocal site, the Loudoun Extra, two years after launch, reports the Loudoun Independent.

“While the Washington Post remains dedicated to maintaining a high level of coverage of the counties surrounding Washington, D.C., we found that our experiment with LoudounExtra.com as a separate site was not a sustainable model,” said Kris Coratti, the Post’s director of communications.

Full post at this link…

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VentnorBlog shows us high-quality hyperlocal reporting with the Vestas story

Remembering a little comparative exercise that Tony Hirst undertook on the OUseful.info blog during the MPs’ expenses revelations, Journalism.co.uk thought it might be illuminating to re-visit Isle of Wight news production on the day of the Vestas case. How did hyperlocal site, the VentnorBlog – not just about the town of Ventnor – treat the Vestas story in comparison to the Isle of Wight County Press Online (in print, it’s weekly) and the national press?

Today’s court adjournment that saw the Danish owners of wind turbine company, Vestas, unable to force workers out of Isle of Wight factory. For the past nine days, about 20 workers have occupied the Vestas Wind Systems plant near Newport, which is due to close on Friday (around 625 workers are set to lose their jobs) but a possession order made at Newport county court today has been delayed until next week, as the company had not properly served papers on the individuals in the building, and the hearing took place prematurely [sources: the Guardian / VentnorBlog].

1. The Guardian

News report and video at this link. Blog post on ‘Vestival’. Other news content from earlier in the day and the week gathered at this link.

2. The Isle of Wight County Press.

A story reporting that ‘Judge denies Vestas eviction order’. The other news link takes us to other related stories, the last of which was printed Tuesday.

3. The VentnorBlog:

Rolling news, updated throughout the day. Eleven updates, lending themselves well to re-tweets (like Journalism.co.uk, the blog uses the TweetMeme button on its posts), posted since this morning including:

  • Video news content. Eg. this segment, with the announcement outside court:

Vestas sit-in: Case Postponement Announced To The Crowd from Ventnor Blog on Vimeo.

Previous coverage of the Vestas story on the VentnorBlog can be found at this link. NB: the VentnorBlog published its Vestival story yesterday lunchtime.

A comment left by ‘Eco T’ on the VentnorBlog is just one of the positive reactions to VB’s coverage:

“I would like to say that Ventnor Blogs coverage has been second to none. The most detailed and accurate report of any news service. I would like to thank ever one at Ventnor blog and hope you keep up the great work.”

The coverage is bitty (as you might expect as a story unfolds) and not necessarily completely balanced (most updates focus on the workers’ perspective), but the VentnorBlog has done an excellent job of providing the islanders (and outsiders) with raw and useful material, showing us how high-quality hyperlocal reporting is done.

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Rob Curley: reflections and lessons from WPNIs Loudoun hyperlocal project

The self-confessed internet nerd from Kansas reflects on the successes and failures of the hyperlocal project his team developed while he was head of online product development at Washington Post Newsweek International.

Curley and several of his team have now moved on to develop online sweetmeats for the Las Vagas Sun – but Curley responds to an WSJ article about his development of a hyperlocal site for an area of Virginia near Washington – LoudounExtra.com.

The article headline called the project a flop – something Curley rejects.

However, he’s in agreement with the general tone on the piece, saying that the problems with the site were ‘poor integration of the site with washingtonpost.com and not enough outreach into the community’ but stands by the general aims and achievements of the site to connect to people on a local level as still being the primary focuses of newspaper websites.

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