I’m not the only one with the crazy idea of making a hyper-local platform for news and social media. You might think that’s a bad thing, competition! But I see it more as a validation of the basic idea, and I don’t think anybody’s figured it all out quite yet. There’s a lot of space yet here for innovation.
In my research one of the first examples I encountered was Front Porch Forum. They have about 250k users, mostly in Vermont. Users are limited to their own local community instance, and via the web, app, or email, share posts within their community. All posts are human moderated, and published once per day.
You might think this ‘slow social’ approach would result in a lack of engagement, but people rarely quit the service, and in many communities in Vermont FPF very high usage rates – rates that would make Facebook jealous.
Yeah, about Facebook. FPF has been around for a long time, and it actually predates Facebook, expanding while Facebook was still young. It hasn’t grown much in more recent years and is serves mostly its original geographic areas in Vermont. It’s an open question whether or not something like FPF would succeed in today’s social media landscape.
On the more traditional side of things is the Newspack platform. Newspack is a licensable online platform for newspapers, funded in part by the Google News Initiative. Our local newspaper in Oak Park uses it to run its website. Based on WordPress, it has some social features, like comments, but they are relatively basic. Our local newspaper disables them, and directs people to social platforms for commentary. It’s a capable platform, and provides a CMS, subscription and advertising management.
Since its creation in 2019, Newspack has been adopted by over 200 newspapers. But the emphasis with Newspack is the newspaper’s content. On the spectrum from FPF at 100% user generated content, to 100% journalism, most Newspack instances fall towards the 100% journalism mark.
Nabur.org is an interesting project that sits in the middle of this spectrum. Their website claims “Our core product is an online conversations platform powered by local journalists. Members ask questions, participate in discussions and converse about local news using facts, not vitriol.“
Nabur has also received support from the Google News Initiative. It’s run by Wick Communications, a smaller media presence that owns 21 newspapers in the west. They’ve rolled out Nabur in 5 markets, and are actively developing the platform.
Patch.com is probably the closest to the vision I have for QuirkLocal. It was spun off from AOL in 2014, and provides a platform for local events, journalism, commentary, classifieds, and business. Users sign up for a given community and see a view limited in scope to just that community, with a mix of state level news as well. They list almost 1300 communities on their website, and run a centralized organization, that is, there’s one single company behind the content and curation for all those communities. As a result, many of the instances have shared content from other localities, and relatively sparse original journalistic content. Our local community has a place, and at least in our community, there’s not much social engagement or user generated content.
It’s clear that there is no one single dominant player in this space, and there are a variety of business models that are meeting with success. That’s a good thing, we don’t want to replicate the dominant national social media and news platforms.
QuirkLocal isn’t exactly like any of the services I’ve surveyed here. It wants to be more like a digital version of the newspaper than Front Page Forum, and I feel strongly that it needs to be a licenseable, independent platform, with local operators like Newspack. I think Nabur and Patch.com are correct to try to blend journalistic content with user generated content, as well as centering social features, but I worry that their more centralized nature will lack local focus.
In my conversations with folks from a more traditional news background, I feel they worry too much about journalistic credibility, or that people will confuse user generated content for journalistic content. Not that these aren’t valid concerns, but as a result I think that the platforms that come from the newspaper space will be too restrictive of user generated content, and end up just being digital versions of a print newspaper.
QuirkLocal is approaching this problem from a different tack. I want QuirkLocal to empower local discussions, local businesses and generate community engagement, and I am ok if that’s with mostly user generated content, FPF has shown this can work.
But there’s room for curation and content development to supercharge that model – to provide a scaffolding of original content for discussion and community engagement – to find the best citizen journalism and promote it to a wider audience. QuirkLocal will be a platform that supports citizen journalism, as well as local media organizations and content creators who don’t come from traditional news backgrounds.
Does that mean I don’t want a traditional newspaper to use QuirkLocal? Of course not, I’d love it, but they will need to be ok with user generated content, and trust the safety features we’ve built into the platform. They also need to see citizen journalists not as competitors, but as an additional source of rich content and discussion for the community.
I feel strongly that there needs to be local champions for local QuirkLocal instances, that’s why I am creating a licensable platform and not a single centralized instance that creates content for localities remotely, like Patch.com. The local operator I think is key, and it’s something we’ve lost from the original newspaper business model as consolidating has cut through the industry.
Have you found any more examples of hyper-local news/media platforms? Let me know at [email protected]. Interested in learning more about QuirkLocal? Read up on our features at https://quirklocal.com/features Want to join one of the existing communities, check out our communities page at https://quirklocal.com/communities