Category Archives: Social Networking

Software Eats The News: Will Nextdoor Eat Local Media?

In 2005 I tried raising money to develop a platform for connecting people with their neighbors, public services, politicians and deliver personalized news, real-estate and other high-value content and services. At the time I was the sole breadwinner with 3 small children rapidly going broke after working at a struggling startup so I shelved the concept and found a job.

And then just the other day I discovered that my city is now using Nextdoor as a news, communication and civic engagement platform. After reviewing their vision, funding and penetration I believe Nextdoor is now positioned to execute on what I envisioned 12-years ago and revolutionize local news & civic engagement.

So instead of worrying just about Facebook, journalists need to be thinking about their Nextdoor strategy.

So what makes Nextdoor special?

  1. Their use of mapping-technologies to mirror and connect physical communities.

2. Building civic engagement tools to enhance communication between public agencies and the public they serve.

How is that different from Facebook and local media?

  • Traditional News approach: Journalists curate everything and publish to non/low-interactivity platforms so impossible to connect and hear directly from neighbors, politicians and public entities. Journalists and sections may be focused on specific communities but since space and journalists are limited, features very little actual local news/information.
  • Email, Facebook & Twitter: You can connect and engage directly with other community members, government and politicians but connecting is extremely inefficient as you need to find and connect one-at-a-time with each person or organization. Also since birds of a feather flock together it leads to people primarily connecting and engaging with friends and folks who look and sound like you. And neither provides sophisticated civic-engagement tools.
  • Next door provides a much more efficient GIS/ address-based platform that automatically connects you with your neighbors and public agencies. Enter your address, and then through the magic of geocoding and mapping software, Nextdoor finds the city and neighborhood you reside in, applying physical geography to the virtual world. Next they provide tools specifically designed to connect public agencies they serve.

So what’s that enable?

Delivering truly-localized/personalized news and engagement based on the many different political and civic spaces/boundaries you live in.

You belong to not just a specific neighborhood and city but to many geographically-defined government and civic areas, e.g. City council districts, county council districts, public-school attendance zones, state and federal representative districts, public-utility, non-profit and business-service areas, etc.

Nextdoor by using mapping technologies, can now connect you with not just your local police but all of your geographically-specific political, educational, business and non-governmental organizations.

Instead of landing on either a generic screen or an information bubble of an algorithm-chosen feed, you can view both news stories and updates from your elected officials, public servants, favorite non-profits and local businesses.

And news orgs could either integrate or build their own geo-enabled platform and deliver personalized news to you. So instead of just getting a story about the city council, you could see exactly how your representative voted.

What does this mean for journalism and news orgs?

The opportunity: A new platform for delivering local news to a built in and engaged audience.

One of the reasons Patch failed and why local news sites struggle is that the World Wide Web is organized around interests, size and discrete facts, not geography.

Entering your address in Google displays info about your specific house but little about your neighborhood.

Enter your city and it tells you only information at the city level.

Go to your local news site and you may get the option for info about your local neighborhood but almost nothing about regional, state and national decisions with local implications and participation.

A geo-enabled information architecture using real-world boundaries provides an entirely new method of discovery and organizing information.

And this represents a huge opportunity for journalists to deliver localized content on the Web to a built in audience via Nextdoor.

The threat: It also represents another threat to local publishers that don’t adopt a geo-enabled platform and approach to news as they lack the personalization and integration capabilities of Nextdoor.

After all, much of what passes as local news involves public affairs announcements, and now that residents can easily get that info direct from the source, it’s one less reason to subscribe or visit a local news site.

Nextdoor also represents a new competitor for advertising dollars, further eroding the economic model for local news, especially since advertisers will be able to target down to the specific address level. Having worked for a real-estate information service provider, knowing a users’ address enables you to target them for all sorts of mortgage, insurance and home-service products specific to the house, e.g. you can see when their house was refinanced and target them with refinancing offers with fairly solid info about the interest they paid vs. now.

So what will Nextdoor do next?

I have no idea as I’ve never spoken to them, but as someone who envisioned similar concepts over a decade ago, I’d:

  1. Build more and more integration points into local public services and political establishments, so Nextdoor becomes your one-stop shop for civic engagement.
  2. Provide two-way communication and organizing tools to enable residents to give feedback and create conversations with both their neighbors, their elected officials and other public-service agencies.
  3. Allow media partners to post their content on the site and enable them to leverage the platform to deliver personalized news in exchange for a revenue share. And since Nextdoor controls the platform, they will determine the deal structure.

What should news organizations do?

Decide whether they want to be content organizations feeding other people’s platforms or whether they want to be information technology organizations that provide civic engagement and intelligence solutions.

  1. If you want to just provide content, then focus on trying to be the first on your block to negotiate a deal so you don’t get locked out. If I were Nextdoor, I’d be putting out RFPs and getting news orgs to compete for placement.
  2. If you want to control your own destiny and compete from strength, integrate geo-enablement capabilities into your content management systems, develop a geo-enabled information architecture and geographically-discrete content.

The challenge is that for 99.9% of the world, even for software developers, the previous paragraph is pure gobbledygook. The only reason I understand it is because I minored in geography, took several GIS courses 20-years ago, have 20-years of software experience and built MyRepresentatives.com as an after-hours public-service project that began providing address-level personalization for Memphians. (Unfortunately we had to shut it down due to work and family constraints. )

But don’t worry, over the next few weeks I’ll:

  1. Reach out to Nextdoor and see if they’re willing to divulge their plans, or even have any for media integration, and share their feedback with you.
  2. Provide more details and provide visual examples of how geo-personalization can work, and my vision for providing civic engagement tools to truly help make America great.
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Enable Your Audience to Give Feedback to their Elected Officials From Your Site

MyRepresentatives Feedback Before & After Slide v2Thanks to Joey Brown, Bryan Glazer & Sunlight Labs you’ll be able to soon:

  • Instantly find and give feedback to your state and federal elected officials all across the United States
  • Embed the MyRepresentatives feedback button in your site or blog, so whether you’re a news organization, non-profit or advocacy organization, you can make it easy for your audience to get engaged.

The goal is to transform journalism from just presenting information to providing civic engagement tools that make it easy for readers/viewers to take action. After all, isn’t the whole point of journalism to help drive change?

With MyRepresentatives you can embed the MyRepresentatives feedback button on your site, just like you do links to Twitter and Facebook, and you’re done!

Best of all it’s free! The entire site has been developed as an after-hours non-partisan public-service project, but that doesn’t mean we won’t accept donations.

So stay tuned! And feel free to contact us for more details about how you can integrate MyRepresentatives into your site.

Partnering with Community Organization for local Content

Hillquest.com receives about 27,000 unique visitors each month and as many as 250,000 page views a month.

Not enough to make anyone rich, but considering it’s a local site covering just one neighborhood in San Diego, it’s a pretty impressive stat.

Of course, not every local site is updated multiple times a day or has people as devoted and as able as Nancy Moors and Ann Garwood working on the site, but there are plenty of people and organizations that are already publishing community newsletters and Web sites.

Unfortunately, many of these organizations struggle because they lack the tools to create simple but quality Web sites and even more importantly, the channels to market them to readers.

Newspapers, which are always talking about the importance of local news, unfortunately have done little to actively help organizations easily and effectively connect with their communities. And this is a tragedy for both parties.

Newspapers miss out on an invaluable source of free local content, which is what readers desperately crave and don’t get from their large regional paper. In addition, by not providing the tools and bringing these publishers into the fold, they are creating competitors and losing audiences.

In fact, it feeds a common perception among many readers, that the local paper is arrogant and uncaring.

Or as Moors stated, “Newspapers have been arrogant, thinking that they are only choice for so long that they’ve blown off the community. That’s what’s given life to community newspapers.”

And she spent her whole life working for newspapers! Imagine what other people think.

On the flip side, most community organizations struggle to get the word out because they lack the tools and the channel to communicate their message to their constituents. Even sophisticated operations, rarely have reach that local newspapers have.

Not surprisingly, Moors said they’ve gotten repeated requests from various neighborhood associations to help them with their sites.

“We’re passionate about our community and that’s why we do it.”

Isn’t that why we got into journalism in the first place? And wouldn’t it be great if newspapers did a better job of tapping into that passion.

Private Label Video Services: Picking an Online Video Partner

To quote Suzie Reider the SVP of CNET’s Gamespot, “You could hire five engineers and have a video upload service in a year,” or you could save yourself a year of work and just partner with one of the many video-sharing services that have popped up in the last 12 months.

The question is how do you decide whom to pick? Especially, when there are so many players in the space and they all more or less seem the same.

I won’t list specific companies as I’ve done work with video companies in the space and I don’t want my personal finances affecting my recommendations. However, here is what I would look for when choosing a partner.

  1. Product/Technology: Is it easy to use, implement and scalable?
  2. Services: What additional services do they offer, e.g screening of videos for objectionable content or even editing for quality?
  3. Content: What content do they offer, e.g. movie clips, sports highlights, etc.
  4. Business Model: Is it ad supported? Do they provide the advertising?

Given the wide variety of companies and different variations, no one company will be right for every publisher. In fact, I’d argue that you should expect to do deals with multiple vendors depending upon what content and functionality you want.

The goal of this article is to give you a high-level guide to help you think about how to proceed as you move forward. It is not designed to be the end-all, be-all guide to every little piece of the video puzzle.

The reality is every service has different areas where they excel and fail. And given the rapid rate of change, what’s fiction today may be fact tomorrow.

For more details and in-depth reviews on some of the players in the space, check out the following articles:

Product & Technology

While each service have fairly similar features, there are some key differences between the services. The following are just a few things to look for when reviewing the technical aspects the product.

Ease of implementation

If you can’t implement it, then nothing else matters. For larger papers that have significant IT and design resources, this shouldn’t be a big deal. For smaller organizations, it can make the difference between execution and just another good idea.

Seamless user experience

Users shouldn’t be able to tell that they’re interacting with another service. That means the service should offer single sign on capabilities and the ability to customize templates to match your own – or better yet even embed the video player directly into your pages.

Ease of use

Feature functionality doesn’t mean squat if it’s difficult to use. Ease of use for both the viewers and uploader is critical. It doesn’t matter if your developer thinks it cool, what matters is if his parents or grandparents can use it.

No Downloads

IT administrators in many companies prevent users from installing new applications – and the reality is most people don’t want to have to download and install an application just to watch a 30 second video. As a result, you shouldn’t require additional downloads to see your videos.

The exceptions to the rule are if you are using a service that provides:

  1. High definition capabilities for longer videos, what are now being referred to as “lean-back” content, as in relax and watch them like you would your TV.
  2. The ability to compress video locally on the “uploader’s” machine so that it reduces the upload time for users.

In either case people will be more likely to take the time – but always make sure to offer a download-free version.

While technically Flash requires a download, the reality is over 98% of users already have it on their systems, so it’s rare that anyone will require a download.

Cross platform

It used to be if it worked in Internet Explorer, that was good enough but with the advent of Firefox, the resurgence of Macs and the emergence of cell phones and other platforms, it’s critical to pick someone who already offers cross platform capability or will be offering it soon.

Video size

Some services offer over 100 megabytes of uploads and other less than 10. Given the decrease in both bandwidth and storage costs, expect to see the limits on upload size increase.

Tagging & Organizing Content

This is an area that is truly lacking in the vast majority of services I’ve seen so far and is a key to creating to creating easily accessible, organized community content.

However at least one company offers the ability to create customizable categories and subcategories, which is the key to organizing the content in logical easy-to-find groupings based on people’s local communities, e.g. families, neighborhoods, cities, churches, schools, type of event, and community organizations, etc.

For example, just think about a high school sporting event, what information do you need to collect in order to find that information five years from now? How would someone either browse to the video or search for it? By location of event, players’ names, date, high school, type of event, etc.?

If you have all the information, then it’s possible to either group the content together for easy browsing or by searching.

While creating the initial taxonomy will require hard work, inevitably be imperfect and require significant modifications, it’s critical to creating a usable architecture when you have thousands of videos.

If you’ve already tackled this subject, let me know what you’ve done and any lessons learned – as it will be the subject of a future article.

Review and Editing

Anyone can upload anything on YouTube, but quality is a key differentiator for “newspapers.” As a result, the system will need good editing tools that enable you to:

1. Rapidly screen the content for appropriateness. Is it porn or a Picasso? You don’t want to have to sit through the whole video to find out – and several vendors have built tools that enable you to quickly view snapshots of the video.

2. Find the good parts and eliminate the crud. As any editor knows (and most writers’ hate) the best way to improve content is to eliminate most of it. This is especially true of home videos that often consist of dead time before and after the actual event. Just think of baseball, 2 hours of boredom broken by seconds of action.

3. Merge or “mashup” multiple videos. Imagine you have two videos showing the winning catch from the Friday-night football game. It would nice to be able to stitch them together to create a highlight video.

Sharing/Social Networking

Enabling users to easily share videos with each other is a key to viral growth. It’s a basic function of almost every video sharing service.

Ranking

Making sure the best of the content bubbles to the top is the key to driving topline revenue growth. Most services offer the ability for readers to rate the videos and provide functionality to view the most popular, highest rated, etc.

Services

Getting additional headcount to do anything these days is a challenge for most newspapers, so finding a vendor that will offer services to assist you with both the initial implementation, e.g. what works best, and the ongoing maintenance may be critical for most papers success.

Currently, several vendors offer outsourced screening of content to catch copyright and objectionable content issues. However, many newspapers may ultimately want a service that will provide the editing and actual posting of the video as well.

Imagine, rather than having to add editing staff to review and edit videos from the Friday night football game, you just pay a little extra to your video service to do it for you.

If someone offered outsourced video editing services, would you use them? And would it increase your probability and/or speed of adoption? Email me and give me your feedback.

Content

While everyone is Gaga about user-generated content, many of the most popular videos on YouTube are professionally created. If you look at what the big boys, i.e. Washington Post and NewYork Times, have introduced first it’s professional content.

If you’re looking to get online video up-and-running quickly but aren’t quite ready to jump into the deep end with user-generated content or have your staff run around with video cameras, look for providers with plug and play content that doesn’t require any additional editorial resources or risk.

The first source is the AP video for a quick no-cost source of video. The second are movie trailers. They’re free and can be plunked into your movie review section.

I’m curious, if someone offered a video service with a selection of movie trailers that you could easily plug into your site, would you adopt?

If you think of the section of your site as being a series of channels, you can quickly imagine what other types of videos that would make sense, e.g. videos about cars for your automotive section, real estate videos in the homes section, sports highlights in sports, etc….

The New York Times has already done this http://video.on.nytimes.com/

Again, are you currently looking for syndicated content you can easily plug into your site? Do you know of companies offering these services? And what’s your experience been with them? Let me know.

Business Model

The majority of private-label services are offering revenue share with their partners – but with slightly different models.

The basic models are:

  1. The video company provides the advertising and gives you a share of the revenue.
  2. You provide the advertising and give a share of the revenue to the company.
  3. You pay a fixed CPM and then sell the advertising yourself.

I hope this helps. It was very tempting to write complete articles on each section – but let me know what you’d like me to go into greater depth – and I’ll try to cover it in my next piece.