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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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Huffington Post UK launches tool for greater debate around news stories

Huffington Post UK has launched The Gauge, a new platform which invites debate around the biggest news story of the day on the Post’s new UK website while harnessing the power of social networks.

The tool also works to produce a visualisation of the results, giving a quick snapshot of the overall standpoint of the online community on any given topic.

Users are invited to “agree” or “disagree” with a daily proposition, and thereafter they’re invited to elaborate. It only takes a second or two to weigh in, and users can post more detailed responses on Twitter and Facebook.

The tool will also help to connect users to the site’s bloggers, through the ability to agree or disagree with their views and click through to see all the posts written by the individual. Users can also submit ideas for their own blog through The Gauge.

Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, Carla Buzasi, will be speaking at news:rewired – connected journalism on 6 October as part of the “bringing the outside in” panel. On the day Carla will be discussing the site’s strategy for drawing in content from outside its own four walls and how this is then integrated into its own output.

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Google’s +1 button now acts like Facebook share

August 25th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Social media and blogging, Traffic

Google+ users can now use the +1 button to share content with their circles of contacts within the new social network.

Following the development this week the button will act like Facebook’s share button in that anyone with a Google+ profile can directly share a link to their wall (or stream in Google+ terminology).

Google made the announcement on its blog yesterday and said it would be rolled out over the next few days.

The +1 button was launched at the beginning of June, allowing anyone logged in to a Gmail account to recommend web content to their contacts, who would then see a personally ranked suggestion when using Google Search. At the end of June Google+ was launched by the search engine giant which appeared to be taking on Facebook by creating its own social network.

The fact the button now acts like a Facebook share widget may persuade a few more news sites to adopt it. Take up early on appeared to have been slow based on often lower traffic referrals when compared to other share buttons.

In yesterday’s blog post, Google also announced another development of interest to publishers: the creation of “snippets”.

When you share content from the +1 button, you’ll notice that we automatically include a link, an image and a description in the sharebox. We call these snippets, and they’re a great way to jumpstart conversations with the people you care about.

Of course: publishers can benefit from snippets as well. With just a few changes to their webpages, publishers can actually customise their snippets and encourage more sharing of their content on Google+. More details are available on the Google Webmaster blog.

The video below takes you directly to an explanation of snippits.

 

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Project Cascade: The New York Times’ new visualisation tool for Twitter tracking

In case you missed this over the weekend, the New York Times has been quietly working away for a while on a nifty visualisation tool that will allow it to track the way links to its content move through Twitter.

A product of the Times’ Research and Development lab, which is housed somewhere up near the clouds in the NYT’s 33-floor building, Project Cascade promises to take social analytics on in leaps and bounds and tell the NYT a great deal about how, where and when its content is being shared.

The NYT – no stranger to the art of graphics and visualisation – writes on the project’s website that it “allows for precise analysis of the structures which underly sharing activity on the web”.

This first-of-its-kind tool links browsing behavior on a site to sharing activity to construct a detailed picture of how information propagates through the social media space.

While initially applied to New York Times stories and information, the tool and its underlying logic may be applied to any publisher or brand interested in understanding how its messages are shared.

Nieman Journalism Lab has a detailed write up on the tool at this link which is well worth a look.

You can learn more about data visualisation, social media analytics for publishers and more at Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired conference. See the full agenda for the day on our dedicated event site.

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Twingly: Testing social media’s love of traditional news

Using its channels feature, blog search engine Twingly has done a rough analysis of which traditional news organisations in 10 European countries are “best loved” by social media.

The site looked at the “top stories” of the day for each of the news sites and calculated the references and links shared to them on social sites, including blogs and Twitter.

Comparing all these, there are quite some striking scenarios to look at. The strongest Channels in terms of linking blogs and tweets are without a doubt UK and Sweden. Taking a closer look at both, one notices that all top stories on the Swedish Channel usually have far more blog posts referring to them than tweets! In Norway it looks largely the same – almost all top stories get discussed more on blogs than on Twitter.

Full post on Twingly at this link…

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Is Facebook falling out of favour?

July 21st, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Data, Social media and blogging

Newspaper sites are more popular with internet users than social networks such as Facebook and Myspace, according to the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The statistics, which were also quoted in a Washington Times post, show online news outlets topped the tables with satisfaction scores of 82 per cent (FoxNews.com), 77 per cent (USAToday.com) and 76 per cent (NYTimes.com).

By comparison, social networking site Facebook achieved just 64 per cent, while Myspace was even lower at 63 per cent.

According to the report, this puts Facebook in the bottom 5 per cent of all measured private sector companies.

Wikipedia claimed the highest social media rating with 77 per cent, while YouTube achieved 73 per cent. Search engines also outperformed social media, with Google receiving 80 per cent, closely followed by Bing at 77 per cent.

This was the first time social media websites have been measured by ACSI, which pulls data from interviews with around 70,000 customers.

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World’s first social magazine launches on iPad

Flipboard, the world’s first personalised social magazine, has been launched on the iPad, offering its users a magazine packaged collection of the news, features, videos and images circulating within their social networks.

The app was masterminded by Mike McCue, former CEO of Tellme and Evan Doll, former senior iPhone engineer at Apple and is getting its first public demonstration later today.

Because Flipboard renders links and images right in the magazine, readers no longer have to scan long lists of posts and click on link after link – instead they instantly see all the stories, comments and images, making it faster and more entertaining to discover, view and share social content.

Flipboard also lets readers easily create sections around topics or people they care about. Choose from Flipboardʼs suggested sections on topics such as sports, news, tech and style, with content hand-curated from popular and interesting Twitter feeds. Or, create an entirely new section by searching by topic, person or Twitter list to make Flipboard even more personal.

See a demonstration video below, courtesy of Inside Flipboard:

See the site at this link…

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Advertising Age: Calls for Facebook privacy regulation could hit publishers

A US senator has written to the country’s Federal Trade Commission asking for the development of guidelines for how individual’s information on Facebook can be used.

The letter from Senator Charles Schumer follows Facebook’s launch of its Open Social Graph Platform – a series of new tools and functionality for the social network, including deeper links with third-party sites. The network’s new “like” feature, for example, has already been put into use by numerous news sites, including the Washington Post.

The flap couldn’t come at a worse time for online advertising, facing the very real prospect that it will be regulated in the form of privacy legislation that would require publishers, networks or marketers to receive specific consent to use consumer data for a variety of purposes on the web.

(…) Of course, Facebook needs to default to openness because that’s where the service derives its viral nature. The more that is shared, the faster the Facebook web grows.

Full story at this link…

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Comment: It’s time for social networks to tell us how our data is used

We explain why we consider Address Book Importing (ABI) and friend connection tools dangerous  for journalists; and why we believe it’s time for social networks to be more upfront about how they use our data.

Our research on social networks and Address Book Importing (ABI) published today shows that Facebook has a big problem, which will only get bigger, as it develops its connection-making features.

[See full report: How social networks are using your email address book data - and what it means for journalists]

If you are a member, like 400 million other people worldwide, then that problem could become your problem through no fault of your own. Journalists, in particular, are more vulnerable than most.

Why they do it

Like all social networks, Facebook strives to be seen as indispensable. Facebook wants you to tell it who you are connected to and it has a vested interest in making those connections public.

For Facebook, the more connections it can make between people the better. That’s what drives membership and visits and profits. Many claim that user privacy is the main casualty of a business model that depends on users revealing personal information online.

It is an issue that has come to involve stalking, grooming and identity theft. Facebook argues that instead of imposing regulation on social networks, governments should leave the control of personal information in the hands of the users.

That argument would carry weight if the company’s privacy controls were transparent and easy to use, and its members were given the information they need to make informed decisions.

Threat to journalists

But here’s the crux. Our in-depth look at the practice of ABI reveals that Facebook is failing to provide users with the information they need to properly protect their privacy. From the perspective of a journalist, this means ABI can threaten the privacy of your sources and even your career.

Facebook presents its ‘Find People you Email’ tool as a way for you to check if people you know are also Facebook members. You do this by giving Facebook access to your online contacts file on Gmail or Yahoo for example, or by giving it access to your desktop contacts file.

Facebook says: ‘Upload a contact file and we will tell you which of your contacts are on Facebook.’ Sounds harmless enough and sounds like it will do what you expect. Use the ‘learn more’ option here and Facebook tells you that they may use the imported information to generate ‘suggestions’ for you and your contacts on Facebook (see statement below).

But we’ve pieced together what Facebook doesn’t tell you. Not only does Facebook ‘find people you email’ on Facebook, it downloads all the email addresses in your contacts file whether you want it to or not.

Users aren’t given clear information that this will happen. Then, without giving you any control over the process, it uses the email addresses to generate ‘friend recommendations’ for people you know – and those you don’t.

Then, without telling you and without your control, Facebook generates ‘recommendations’ linking you directly with others in your contact file on any email invites you choose to send. Facebook also holds on to your contacts file – linking you to your file on an on-going basis.

You may have countless reasons why you don’t want to be publicly connected with people in your contacts file. People in that file may be professional contacts, confidential sources, business associates or even the target of a long-running investigation; people from whom you may want to keep a discreet distance for any number of reasons.

If you are not completely aware what ABI means, the potential for disaster is endless. Imagine if you use Facebook’s ABI to check if your mates are on Facebook and you give it access to your desktop address book.

On there are your friends, your sources and your colleagues. Many may not be impressed if, out of the blue, they are ‘recommended’ your husband, your boss and your mate who has tagged you in a dozen Christmas party pictures.

What if the NHS manager you’ve lined up to interview is ‘recommended’ to the health service whistleblower you’ve cultivated? What if your source in an investment bank is ‘recommended’ to your source in the Financial Service Authority? Will any of them trust you again?

Strange recommendations

We grew suspicious about Facebook’s ABI tool precisely because two of us at Journalism.co.uk started to receive bizarre recommendations. Recommendations that could only mean one thing – Facebook had accessed the email addresses of our contacts.

We think the majority of Facebook users and, certainly, the vast majority of journalists, wouldn’t use ABI if they were given the full picture. Patti Laubaugh’s devastating experience with Facebook’s ABI reveals what can happen when you mistakenly mix your professional and private lives on social networks.

As we’ve reported, Reuters is so concerned about the potential for calamity that it is warning its journalists: “Be aware that you may reveal your sources to competitors by using ‘following’ or ‘friending’ functionality on social networks.” But this doesn’t mention the risk of ABI.

We had a useful dialogue with Facebook about our findings but nothing it told us made us any more relaxed with the practice of ABI.

The company defended its practice by stating that people can opt to ‘learn more’ about the Friend Finder tool by accessing this statement:

“We may use the email addresses you upload through this importer to help you connect with friends, including using this information to generate suggestions for you and your contacts on Facebook.”

Time to be more upfront

We think Facebook members are not adequately warned exactly how ABI is used and could be misled by the information provided.

Worse still, users have to click through to yet another window before they learn that they can delete an uploaded contacts file. Facebook knows better than anyone that the more clicks you ask a user to perform the less likely they are to get somewhere you don’t particularly want them to find.

It added:

“We believe that people come to Facebook to find their friends, and so we provide this as part of our efforts to help people find each other, and to share and stay in touch.  We use a variety of different factors to determine whether to suggest that people connect on Facebook and we respect privacy settings of the users when we do.”

But in order to use the privacy settings in an informed way users must be given the whole picture. Like Gus Hosein of Privacy International says in our main report, it’s time for social networks to stop pretending they’re cuddly start-ups and face up to their privacy control responsibilities as world communication systems.

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Reinventing the Newsroom: Social media and ‘refrigerator journalism’

“Refrigerator journalism” – those bits of a newspaper that you’d cut and stick to your fridge. Clippings that have a personal relevance and accumulate to do lists, photos and post-it notes around them.

But can social networks like Facebook replace this idea? Writes Jason Fry:

By taking the fuss and friction out of sharing and making it real-time, Facebook is in many ways a better refrigerator. As such, it’s enormously valuable in reinforcing real-world community, particularly now that it’s becoming fairly representative of more and more real-world communities. On Facebook, strong ties are naturally and easily reinforced, and weaker ties can be strengthened by posting photos and sharing articles and commenting and liking and just reading status updates.

News organisations can make use of Facebook by seeing it as complementary to what they do and a way for their content to be shared with a wider audience.

But will this sharing is valuable, it’s lacking something, says Fry (who goes on to offer his suggestions of a solution to this):

The things we share on Facebook are soon swept away by newer things and lost from view. They’re part of a rich stream of shared experience, but with the exception of photo albums, most of that shared experience is carried off into the realm of ‘older posts’ and effectively lost.

Full post at this link…

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