Lessions From My Online News Association Panel on Citizen Media: Urban Vancouver
This is part 1 of the wrap-up for the Online News Association workshop on Citizen Media I spoke at last week in Toronto. See the introductory post for more information and links.
This will necessarily be a combination of what I said at the workshop and what I wanted to say. The principle lesson learned over the three years plus at Urban Vancouver is that we found it hard to convince people to post to Urban Vancouver if they already have their own blog. Some do it, like Dave Olson, Stewart Marshall, Roland, myself, and others (yes, I'm aware of the poetry and real estate posts), but for the most part, people figure if they already have a blog, then there's no point in publishing it elsewhere. We syndicate most Vancouver-based blogs anyway using their RSS feeds, so it doesn't matter too much. The other lesson from Urban Vancouver is that editing is a full-time job for at least one person done currently by 4 people who already have full-time jobs. The duties of Urban Vancouver include moderating comments and posts according to the terms of service; gardening the aggregator (adding, removing, updating feeds), responding to the emails we get, mostly mistakenly; and encouraging people to participate on the site. We've been happy with the high search engine ranking Urban Vancouver enjoys, and discussed SEO briefly during my session at the workshop. I suggested that writing for people, enabling comments, and having an RSS feed will get people to link to you (or even syndicate you) and therefore drive up your ranking.
An audience member suggested headlines as a determining factor: it's one thing to have a savvy and witty headline, but being briefly descriptive instead helps people get an immediate sense for the individual story's topic and helps people who are looking for such a thing in Google. I could have, but didn't, mention tags. At my session and as a follow-up to a comment in someone else's session, I tried to work in Urban Vancouver's aggregtor effectively being a new type of newswire (at least one blogger uses Urban Vancouver's RSS feed to end all RSS feeds as fodder for a regular column), but couldn't fit it in. I mentioned that it was okay to promote your wares (or others') on Urban Vancouver as long as it wasn't press release style, i.e. more conversational and less like a pitch. Also, copyright owned by the original author both encourages people to post their stuff and limits the work we have to do: since we can't sublicense any of the works, we don't.
Along with Lisa, I don't think Urban Vancouver competes with sites like Metroblogging Vancouver, Beyond Robson, and neighbourhood-specific blogs like Kitsilano and Carrall Street, since we syndicate and directly link to their sites often. An audience member suggested that we don't "compete" because Urban Vancouver doesn't sell advertising—at least not yet—and therefore doesn't compete for the pool of ad dollars.
See also: "What If You Created A Community Site and Nobody Came?", my November 2006 article in which I talk about Urban Vancouver and community sites in general.