Jarah Euston – Fresno Famous

Posted on 18. Sep, 2007 by in Citizen Network, Hyperlocal

Introduction and Narrative: Fresno Famous launched April 1st, 2004 when Jarah Euston moved back to Fresno from New York. In her early 20’s and feeling alienated from her home town Euston had no idea what Fresno had to offer in terms of night life or a music scene. That was the imputes of Fresno Famous, a user-generated catalog of entertainment listings including music, film, shows, art galleries, etc. Fresno Famous eventually became a centralized location for anyone in the Fresno community looking for something to do.

The original site, a labor of love, was updated by hand every week in static HTML. Eventually, Fresno Famous switched over to Drupal which allowed everyone to post directly to the site and enabled forums, comments and blog posts. It has also become a hub for people to get informed about city council meetings, school board decisions and local politics in general. Today the site is totally user-driven.

Main Goal of Fresno Famous: To make Fresno a better place to live. As small farming communities, Fresno and Modesto have reputations of being “the armpit of California and that’s not really true. There is a lot of great talent there — but the community is very fragmented they might not know about local politics, music or events,” says Euston. “Fresno Famous provides one place for everyone to feed on everything that we thought was good about the town.”

Notable Achievements: As a community center Fresno Famous has played an active role in the discussion of downtown Fresno’s redevelopment. In one particular instance, plans for a project on Broadway Row were released on Fresno Famous to a hailstorm of complaints that eventually convinced the city government to cancel the plan.

“Fresno Famous has influenced how the city thinks about the issue…which is a perennial topic of conversation if you live in Fresno,” said Euston.

A Surprising Realization: The first surprise with Fresno Famous was the general timidity of users in the beginning. Euston found that it’s not easy to get people to promote themselves or friends. “We thought once we had Drupal going people would be positing all the time about how great some event was,” says Euston. She found that as community manager she also had to play the role of cheerleader, encouraging and supporting people who were too nervous to post to the site. “Being a blogger, I don’t have a problem with that [postings thoughts online], but a lot of people weren’t sure what to do.”

Biggest Practical Lesson/Mistake: Being too cautious in the beginning. Fresno Famous didn’t allow people to embed any code other than HTML into their blog posts, which meant no Youtube videos, flash graphics, etc. There was a general fear of negative participation. “We thought people would take advantage of that and screw with the site,” said Euston. As such, Fresno Famous didn’t allow anonymous comments.

There was a process of learning to trust the community to do whatever it wanted. But since allowing the community more freedom the site has had almost no issues. “Fresno Famous is a real community with a geographic counterpart. Because people see each other in coffee shops around town, they behave online,” says Euston.

Money: Fresno Famous was based completely on advertising revenue and made enough to hire two full time employees and a few part-timers. In December of 2006 Fresno Famous, which had over 2,000 users, was sold to McClatchy which owned the Fresno Bee.

Future Goals: Almost one year since the sale not much about the site has changed, according to Euston. Today Euston is working towards her MBA at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. She intends to stay in the online media space on the business development side.

What do you hope to get from people attending this conference?

“I want to hear from some of the success stories, why they think they’ve been successful and able to harness communities and motivate them to participate in a site.

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