Curley, Loudon Extra, and HuffPo comments

Welcome to Rob Curley’s latest project: Loudon Extra, a hyper-local feature of the Washington Post. It’s hyper local only in contrast to the huge reach of the mother paper. Loudon County is not one small community with one stop light and one high school. It’s diverse and spread across a vast area. But the Extra project is meant to bring local search and local information to users and to involve users in keeping the site current. The ratio of pro content to am content is expected to start at about 99:1, but that could change. Right now data is at the core. From the welcome page:

We are currently building searchable databases of building permits, homes sales, and many other publicly available records. We also will be covering high school sports like this area has never seen.

I like the house of worship lookup and the web cams. The section’s story about the launch reviews Curley’s history increasing page views at other publication and asks a core question about the Post effort:

Curley’s revamping of the Lawrence site gained national attention because of the audience it attracted. In 2000 — before remaking its site — the Lawrence paper got 14 million page views, said Ralph Gage, chief operating officer of the World Co., which owns the paper. In 2006, that number had grown to 247 million, and the site booked about $2 million in revenue. The population of Lawrence is about 80,000, and the Journal’s circulation is 20,000.

Page views at the Naples Web site are up 17 percent in the first six months of this year compared with 2006, when the site was revamped, said editor Phil Lewis, with unique monthly users up 26 percent. The Web site is responsible for more than 10 percent revenue, Lewis said, which is above the industry average.

The question has always been whether a major metropolitan newspaper can successfully run a hyperlocal site like this, and how both local and national advertisers will react.

Those examples of page view increases can be enticing. More from the business story (on the data example 07newsroom discussed in this February post):

In December, Gannett Co.’s Asbury Park (N.J.) Press dumped three huge public-record databases onto its Web site: local property sales and ownership, and state employees’ salaries. By May, the paper had added searchable databases for local crime, school test scores, state deaths and public school employees.

In December, the paper’s Web site recorded 1.5 million page views. By May, the site was averaging more than 5 million page views per month, according to data from a Newspaper Association of America study, with a high of more than 9 million page views in April.

Curley is also known for welcoming user-generated content. More from the Loudon Extra welcome page:

We also will be adding a powerful community-publishing section to the site, allowing readers to share their stories, photos and videos.

No sign yet that the material shared — or posted — by readers will be filtered, tagged or rated by readers, too. Various models exist for this, including the Digg model (users can add one positive — or negative vote), the Plime model (users can increase their own rating, and thus their own voting power), and — starting today — the HuffingtonPost model. [update Freedom Interactive will go live next month with their own version, with SiteLife software from Pluck.] Paul Berry, the chief tech officer of HuffPo, explains all:

We’ve added a commenter profile page which includes your bio and lists all comments you’ve posted. To add a bio, simply click on the Your Account link on the upper right hand corner of every page.

We also have a new I’m A Fan Of feature which lets you vote for your favorite commenters. They can also vote for you. Your fans will be listed on your profile page. We’ll soon be able to alert you when your fans comment on stories and when your favorite bloggers post on the site.

But we’re most excited to announce a new initiative where we will choose one commenter a month to become a featured blogger at HuffPost. Yes, a blogger! Reading through the comments on our site, we realized that our readers are an underutilized resource – smart and opinionated. Our decisions will be based on how many fans a commenter has, how often their comment is selected as a favorite and our moderators’ favorites.

Even Paul’s dad is "a blogger!" Now Paul is making it possible for others to try their hand. Who wouldn’t be excited? The wisdom of the crowds, unleashed. And for the crowds in Loudon County, the power of local journalism has also been given free rein. May success blossom in many gardens.

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Filed under Business models, DataBank, Hyper-local, User-generated content

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