Rapporteur Wrap-up – Ben Wagner for Networking Group

Posted on 28. Oct, 2008 by in Business Summit, Citizen Network, Groups, Hyperlocal, Networks, What's Next?, Where Are They Now?

From Ben Wagner on behalf of the Networking Group.

If “the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of endpoints,” then one task as digital journalists is to scale our networks — be they organically-grown, hyperlocal blogs or corporate-driven, international communities — as quickly and effectively as possible.

In a broadly-ranging, nearly consensus-free conversation, the “Networks” break-our group explored one case study, factors necessary to support network growth, and inherent challenges.
Tom Evslin provided two key points for our discussion of Debby Galant’s Baristanet, a blog covering news specific to Montclaire, NJ.

  • The best Editorial networks grow organically from the bottom up.  Individual entities tend towards expertise and passion, but lack platform or ad sale expertise.
  • The best Tool networks tend to form top down with standardized platform tools and metrics, plus centralized ad ops.

It stands to reason, then, that a top down initiative like Microsoft’s Sidewalk — possessing platform, metrics, and ad ops standardization lacking editorial expertise, flexibility and voice (see “The Cracks In Microsoft’s Sidewalk“) – might fail.

Likewise, though Debby’s Baristanet is a local success, her network value is less than it could be.  Moreover, she is forced to spend resources on platform and ad ops, instead of pure content creation.
Baristanet, then, would benefit from a broader, hyper-local site-supporting platform.

Outside.in’s Mark Josephson and NowPublic’s Merrill Brown contributed valuable insight from a platform perspective on incentivizing network engagement:

  • Egos: We’ll make you a star!
  • Revenue: My ads on your page.
  • Reward/Reputation

In the waning minutes of our conversation, Harvard’s Thomas Eisenmann connected the conversation to a key question as news organizations continue to decline: If a city’s primary paper disappeared, would hyper-local coverage replace the centralized, enterprise-journalism oriented newsroom?
In the end, Thomas’s question lingered alongside a number of others:

  • What are the best examples of journalism networks?
  • Are journalism networks fundamentally niche?
  • Can niche networks serve investigative journalism?
  • How does a historically corporate, top-down infrastructure grow a network?

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4 Responses to “Rapporteur Wrap-up – Ben Wagner for Networking Group”

  1. Dave Chase

    28. Oct, 2008

    As one of the first dozen or so Sidewalk team members, I was interested to see the reference to “The Cracks In Microsoft’s Sidewalk“ above as I had never seen that article. That article barely scratches the surface of what really happened at Sidewalk. It’s considerably more complicated. About 8 years after Sidewalk was unloaded and Ballmer was quoted as saying his biggest regret as CEO was letting go of Sidewalk, I decided to blog the real story (at least my view of it). I wrote a rather long post at http://marketvelocity.blogspot.com/2007/02/sidewalk-insiders-view-of-why-how-it.html. Sidewalk was started at the zenith of Microsoft’s influence in the industry. It was roughly at the same stage of its corporate development as Google is now — much feared (probably beyond what is warranted).

  2. Benjamin

    29. Oct, 2008

    Thanks, David. Note my inclusion of the word, “might.” Looking forward to diving into you piece, and exploring further with you.

  3. Dave Chase

    02. Nov, 2008

    Ben – I would actually say that you could leave out “might”. I think the topdown efforts from Sidewalk to Backfence have largely failed or at least fell far short of expectations. The unfortunate thing, from my POV, was that Sidewalk was originally envisioned as much more bottoms-up with the cities having a lot of freedom. There were some extraordinary folks running some of the cities — e.g., Cella Irvine ran New York Sidewalk and is now About.com’s CEO. There were others of similar caliber who had their wings clipped. Sidewalk may have been too early but its fate was sealed IMHO once the innovation and freedom was taken away from the cities.

    It is a clear design point for the venture I’m working on now — NextNewsNet — to be bottoms-up at the core. We’ll see if it works out but one thing I know for sure…no one is funding something like Sidewalk. There’s been too much money lost. The model that ultimately succeeds will be much more bootstrap oriented. Once that’s proven, money will flow to expand on the success.


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