How we migrated the Taproot Publishing blog

Last week, we setup a new blog for Taproot Publishing. It’s one of many things we’re doing to better reflect what we envision for Taproot Publishing, the umbrella organization that publishes Taproot Edmonton, our B2B information products, and more projects in the future.

We already had a blog at the Taproot Edmonton site, and we didn’t want to lose what was there. It was important to us to have our existing posts migrated across to the new blog. We also wanted to make sure any existing links would continue to work correctly.

I’m going to share some of the details on how we did that. We’ve often benefited from the lessons and experiences shared by other media startups, so hopefully someone else will find this helpful.

Initial setup

The site currently runs on WordPress, self-hosted in Azure. We decided that we didn’t want to self-host the new blog, so we created a new site at and configured to point to it. We went with WordPress Premium to start.

Thankfully we had picked a theme that is available to sites (Independent Publisher 2) so we configured that and copied over all the styles so it would look pretty similar to what we had before.

The other thing we did was add myself and Karen as users. You’ll want to add any users from the existing site into the new one before you do the post migration, so that you can keep the correct bylines (unless you’re fine with changing those).

Post migration

The next task was to export the posts from our existing site and import them into the new site. While WordPress has built-in functionality for import/export, we discovered it has some limitations. In particular, unless you choose to export "all content", you’re not going to get the featured images that go along with each post.

To solve that, we installed the Export media with selected content plugin to our existing site, so that the featured images could be referenced in the export file.

The export file is just XML though, it doesn’t contain the images themselves. We thought about simply copying the existing uploads folder over to the uploads folder of the new site, but alas, you need to be on the WordPress Business plan or higher for that to work. So we decided to copy them instead to a container in Azure blob storage.

Next, we did a find and replace on the "wp-content/uploads" URLs referenced inside the export file, to instead point them to the new location in Azure blob storage.

Finally, we used the WordPress importer to bring our posts into the new site.

Redirecting old URLs

At this point, our new site was up and running with our previous theme and all of our existing blog posts loading correctly. The next step was to make sure that if someone visited the old URL, at, that they’d be redirected to the new URL, at

To do that, we installed the Redirection plugin to our existing site.

The plugin is both easy-to-use and powerful. You can specific the exact URLs you want to redirect, or you can use regex to match a number of URLs at once. The plugin also lets you choose what to do with any query parameters (such as utm tags that might be appended to your URL). Of course, you can also specify whether the redirects are temporary (302) or permanent (301).

With the redirects all in place, testing was all that was left to do. I realized during my testing that there are other URLs besides the posts to redirect, such as the root /blog and tag or category pages, so don’t forget about those!

Final thoughts

The last step was to update the site menu to point to the new URL. With that, our new blog is setup and ready to help us tell the story of Taproot Publishing!

I’ve moved my personal blog around a number of times over the years, so maybe that’s why this project felt a little like going back in time! This move was all about the future though, and I am excited to get on with the next task.

Feel free to reach out should you have any questions about how we completed the blog migration!

What’s happening in the Edmonton blogosphere?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop-shop for Edmonton blogs? Where you could see a list of all the blogs and maybe even see all of the latest posts too?

It was a little over five years ago that I posted about this notion of a directory of Edmonton blogs. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“I have started tagging blogs at with the tag edmontonblogs. This is really more of an “in the meantime” kind of activity, because as Pete points out, an actual directory website would be much more useful. Maybe I’ll build it one of these days.”

I finally built it.

A couple weeks ago I launched the latest release of ShareEdmonton. With the new version you can browse local blogs, see an always-updated collection of new blog posts, and you can search more than 10,000 posts written by local bloggers.

While my tagging of local blogs at delicious didn’t last long, my desire for a directory of Edmonton blogs never diminished. Over the years I collected local blogs and subscribed to them in Google Reader. That worked fairly well for me, but it didn’t help anyone else. A couple of years ago the idea of a directory came up again, and Reg, myself, and few others started looking at the problem. That project eventually fizzled, but I think it helped the Edmonton Journal launch its community blogs page, an idea championed by Karen Unland. While that page was a step in the right direction, it included a very limited number of blogs and was often broken (the latest update seems to have fixed the issues with broken or incorrect links).

There was a lot of false starts along the way, and far more challenges to overcome than I would have anticipated, but I’m very happy with the new release of ShareEdmonton. Is it a perfect, 100% complete, one-stop-shop for Edmonton blogs? Of course not. But it will help you keep up-to-date with a large number of Edmonton bloggers, and with your help it’ll get even better over time.

User Stories

For the initial release I wanted to make it easy to see the latest blog posts, and to browse recently updated blogs. Most blogs are updated relatively infrequently, and I didn’t want you to have to sift through those just to see what’s new. That’s a big part of the reason why there’s an emphasis placed on how recent something is in the UI.

Here are some of the scenarios this release addresses, expressed in the form of user stories:

  • As a user, I want a “home page” for all the blog-related functionality, so that I can remember a single URL (
  • As a user, I want to see the most recently updated blogs, with a title and photo (if one exists) for each blog.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recently updated blogs by tag or category (such as food).
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts, with a title, description, and photo (if one exists) for each post.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific blog (such as mine).
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific blog tag or category (such as food). This is any post from a blog that has been categorized as a “food” blog. So if Sharon wrote a post about politics, it would show up here.
  • As a user, I want to see the most recent blog posts for a specific tag or category (such as food). This is any post tagged by the blogger as a “food” post. So if I wrote a post about food and tagged it appropriately, it would show up here.
  • As a user, I want to search all blog posts (for a query such as food).
  • As a user, I want to see all blog posts by day for the last week, with a headline and source for each.
  • As a user, I want to add a new blog to ShareEdmonton.

I come up with new user stories all the time, and I welcome any feedback and/or suggestions that you might have!

Aggregation & Curation

I followed that post back in 2007 with a list of blog posts talking about Edmonton. My aggregation & curation was fairly ad hoc back then, but now I write my Edmonton Notes every Sunday and Media Monday Edmonton every Monday. I try to include blog posts in those, but it definitely takes effort to keep on top of what everyone has written. I keep track of things I find during the week, and I do a quick scan at the end of week to find what I missed. Others post similar entries: Sharon does Food Notes, Karen does her Edmonton New Media Roundup, The Unknown Studio does the Edmonton Blog Watch, etc. These are all really useful and people love them, but they do take work.

There’s a big difference between aggregation (gathering and perhaps indexing) and curation (sorting, categorizing, analyzing, presenting). When the bloggers I mentioned above write their list posts, they’re doing both activities. My hope is that with ShareEdmonton’s new blog functionality they can focus more on the curation part, which is where they really add value. I think “show me all the latest posts from Edmonton bloggers” is a task for software, and “tell me which are important and why” is primarily a task for people. But you need the former before you can do the latter.

(I said “primarily a task for people” above because increasingly we’ll see software doing curation too! I plan to add different ways to browse blog posts to ShareEdmonton, and one example might be a list of the most commented on posts of the week. That’s an algorithmic way of sorting and presenting, which is curation.)


You know me, I love statistics. I couldn’t do this post without at least one graph! So here you go, blogs by platform currently indexed at ShareEdmonton:

Blogs by Platform

As expected, most blogs are based on WordPress. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes over time!

Add Your Blog!

There are nearly 150 blogs currently being aggregated and indexed at ShareEdmonton, but I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll continue adding blogs myself, but you can help by submitting your own blog or someone else’s here.

ShareEdmonton updated with support for blogs & news releases

shareedmontonToday I am very excited to share with you the latest release of ShareEdmonton, my ongoing effort to build a platform for finding, filtering, and sharing Edmonton-related content and information. When I launched the site back in 2009, I said: “I want to redefine local media and improve Edmonton by embracing the fact that communication is increasingly taking place online.” While I still haven’t achieved my complete vision for ShareEdmonton, today’s release is another big step in the right direction.

The first thing you’ll notice if you have been using ShareEdmonton for any length of time is the new design. I decided to embrace Twitter Bootstrap as the foundation for the website’s layout and styling, a decision I am extremely happy about. With Bootstrap, the site is responsive and mobile-friendly, lightweight, and standards-compliant. It should look great on an HD screen, a mobile phone, and everything in-between. Another UI-related change is that Google Maps has been replaced with Leaflet and Open Street Maps.

The majority of the work in this release was done behind-the-scenes. For instance, I completely revamped the the way ShareEdmonton imports data so that it is more automatic and much more reliable. Another big change is the underlying infrastructure – ShareEdmonton now runs completely on Windows Azure. This is the kind of thing that is transparent to the end user but means that I can spend far less time worrying about servers and much more time adding new features!

Speaking of new features, there are a bunch in the latest release:

  • Blogs! You can now use ShareEdmonton to keep up-to-date with local bloggers. More than 100 blogs and 10,000 posts have been indexed so far. I have focused on blogs that update fairly regularly, but I know there are many, many more that should be included. You can add blogs here. There are two primary views for blog posts: the visual view and the headline view (which shows posts from the last week).
  • News Releases! Similar to blogs, ShareEdmonton is now indexing news releases. There’s a lot of room to improve, but so far about 20 sources and a few thousand releases have been indexed, including every City of Edmonton news release since January 2009.
  • Event pages have been updated with the new visual view, similar to blogs and news releases. I think it’s a much more enjoyable way to browse what’s coming up. Also, you can now add your own calendars for ShareEdmonton to import automatically.
  • The weather page now supports watches and warnings. If Environment Canada has issued a watch or warning, you’ll see it across the top of the weather page, but you’ll also now see a notification icon on the toolbar across the top of the site, no matter what page you’re on.

There are also dozens and dozens of bug fixes, data updates, and other small improvements.

I’ll be writing more about some of these new features over the next week, but for now, take a look and let me know what you think!

the edmontonian: statistics

When I received the email from Jeff & Sally informing me that the edmontonian would soon be ending, I was shocked. I didn’t see it coming. Yesterday was the final day, and I’m still sad about it! I know they’ll be back at some point, but the edmontonian itself is no more. I’m glad I got to interview the duo about the decision, but I also wanted to do a tribute post of sorts. Fortunately, I knew right away what it should be – statistics!

The following statistics cover the edmontonian from the very first post on June 15, 2009 up to but not including the announcement on August 29, 2011.

  • Number of posts: 1572
  • Number of words written: 532,595
  • Number of comments: 3865

That works out to an average of 2.8 posts per day. Here’s what the breakdown looks like per month:

As you can see they posted slightly more at the beginning and then settled into a steady rhythm. The most posts came in July 2009 (perhaps due to the airport debate) while the fewest came in December 2009. The monthly average was 58.2 posts.

Here’s the breakdown by time of day:

Most entries were posted between 10am and 12pm, with another spike between 3pm and 4pm. A significant number of the edmontonian’s posts were headlines, which Jeff often posted mid-morning, so the graph doesn’t really surprise me. This word cloud shows you just how much of a fixture the headlines were at the edmontonian:

That was generated by including all 1572 post titles. If you remove those two words, you get this word cloud:

I didn’t realize how prominently the time of year was featured until I went through this exercise. It shows up in the tags as well. Very interesting! The average length of a post title was 29 characters or 5 words, with the longest being 30 words (fittingly that post was among the shortest for content, containing only images). This one was also quite long at 28 words.

One of my favorite things about the edmontonian was their willingness to link to other stuff. They linked a lot. In total, they posted 17,416 unique links! Of those, 2217 were links to their own stuff. A significant chunk of the rest went to local media. Here are the domains they linked to more than 100 times:

  • (3170)
  • (2217)
  • (1551)
  • (983)
  • (768)
  • (587)
  • (457)
  • (349)
  • (345)
  • (342)
  • (297)
  • (272)
  • (266)
  • (241)
  • (238)
  • (224)
  • (204)
  • (196)
  • (191)
  • (181)
  • (168)
  • (121)
  • (110)

The average length of a post at the edmontonian was 2109 characters or 399 words. The longest was 2135 words. Here’s what a word cloud of all the post content looks like:

All Edmonton, all the time.

Without a doubt, the edmontonian was good at generating a discussion about the things happening in our city. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of that discussion probably took place off the blog (they’ve posted more than 8500 tweets) but I’m still impressed by the number of comments they amassed (an average of 2.5 per post). I would have loved their numbers during my first three years of blogging! This post had the most comments at 96.

These statistics are interesting, but of course they don’t reflect all the passion and hard work that Jeff & Sally have put into the edmontonian over the past three years. They’ve set the bar high for local blogs!

Media Monday Edmonton: the edmontonian goes out on top

As I mentioned last week, this Friday will be the final day for popular local blog the edmontonian. Editors Jeff Samsonow and Sally Poulsen have decided to move on to new things, and they assure us that “this is not a sad decision” for them. I think it’s safe to say that it has been a sad decision for the rest of us though, as the recent outpouring of support for the duo has shown! I had lots of questions about the decision so I’m glad Jeff & Sally agreed to an interview, which we conducted via email.

In the inaugural post back on June 15, 2009, Sally wrote: “Jeff and I have some pretty grand ambitions for this bad boy, and we couldn’t be more excited to get the ball rolling.” Looking back now, Jeff thinks they met those ambitions. “I know we wanted to have a conversation with people about Edmonton, we wanted to highlight interesting and fun people, businesses, and stories, to raise the level of discourse in a "news" site’s comments section, and create our own content.” Sally agreed, and expanded on his thoughts. “I do think we were both surprised that it grew legs as quickly as it did, and that because we’d never really had any goals beyond "make ourselves laugh," "initiate a conversation," and "make news easier to understand," I think we may have lost sight of where we were going once or twice.” They feel that the edmontonian achieved its goals however, and that’s part of the reason it is shutting down.

I wondered what surprised them most about the experience of creating and maintaining the edmontonian. “How seriously people took us as a news outlet was a bit of a shock,” Sally said, noting that people would call with stories and invite them to events. “That has always struck me as funny.” For Jeff, it was “the amount of stuff we’ve done.” With more than 1500 items posted to the site, they’ve certainly had a busy three years. “It reinforced for me that Edmonton is full of good stories,” Jeff said. “And it said that passion, from anyone, is what’s going to create content. A paycheck won’t crank out post after post about the city, it’s going to come from individuals who want to tell stories and explore their community.”

One of the things I have always loved about the edmontonian is the humorous side of the blog. Sure I love reading Jeff’s more serious commentaries, but the funny stuff really made it unique, in my opinion. I asked them if there was anything that they tried that bombed, and Sally wrote: “There was that time we tried to keep the municipal airport open. That didn’t really work out like we’d hoped.” Thinking about posts that made me laugh, I asked who will write about abandoned couches now? Jeff says to tweet him if you have couch photos to share! “Seriously, make sure you @ me on your couch photos.”

I asked Jeff & Sally to offer some advice to other Edmontonians who might want to start a blog. “Life is incredibly short,” Sally said. “Just go for it.” She also suggested that you “be for something instead of against.” Jeff noted that it’s really simple to get started. “The great thing about the Internet, and all of its many blogging, video, audio, and photo tools is that no story has to go untold.” He too says to just get started. “Buy your domain, install WordPress, and start documenting your version of Edmonton.” Jeff would welcome new voices to the local blogosphere and beyond. “There are so many great stories in a city Edmonton’s size, and so many different takes on everything, that there’s plenty of room for more media presence.”

Not that what Jeff & Sally have accomplished is easy. It takes a lot of time and effort. I wondered what the hardest part of creating and maintaining the site was. “I would say finding the time to get to events and talk to people for full stories, so it wasn’t always daily Headlines posts,” Jeff replied. With full-time jobs, doing interviews during the traditional 9-5 schedule wasn’t always possible. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated about the fact that we’d be writing this stuff on off hours, putting in all this time and energy, and then see people who made their living as reporters "borrow" our ideas,” Sally added.

Given my interest in digital archiving, I wanted to know if the site would just disappear on Friday or if it would remain online. “It will live where it is,” Sally assured me. “We can’t promise forever and ever, because it costs money to keep it there, but for the foreseeable future.” Jeff says they’ve just renewed the hosting for another year, so you’ve got time to take screenshots if you want!

There have been lots of sad tweets, comments, and messages about the decision to shut the site down, and I wondered what Jeff & Sally thought about that. “I had expected some reaction,” Jeff said, “but I wasn’t ready for the amount of conversation, the number of people that seemed to genuinely be sad to see us go. It was way more than I was ready for, and I choked up a couple of times.” Sally agreed. “I think we knew how passionate we were about the edmontonian, but it was the first time that I ever thought, wow, maybe people do know how much we care.”

Sally and Jeff - the edmontonian arrives!
Photo by Brittney Le Blanc

So what’s next for the duo? They’ve always struck me as the kind of people who are happiest when they are creating something. Like the TV show. “It was a stupid amount of work, and very much our love letter to the city,” Sally said. While confirming that they have “a couple of half-baked ideas” in the works, Sally wouldn’t share any clues. “I plan on taking many naps, and also we’re buying a couch. So that’s pretty exciting.” Perhaps thinking ahead, Jeff said that “choosing the next project out of our hat of ideas will actually be the next big step.” He was also careful to set the right expectations, however. “I’d hate to say "we’re building Edmonton’s largest pancake" and disappoint folks if that wasn’t the next project we actually undertook.” Sally chimed in with her trademark wit: “So, to review, we’re building Edmonton’s largest pancake. And buying a couch.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to take a bite while sitting on that couch. Best wishes to Jeff & Sally in whatever they decide to pursue, and thank you for three wonderful years of Edmonton stories!

Recap: Edmonton Journal Connect

Last night I attended an event called Edmonton Journal Connect, held at the Winspear Centre downtown. It was an opportunity to meet John Connolly and Lucinda Chodan, the Journal’s new publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively. It was also about the future of the newspaper:

Paula Simons was our host for the evening. She kept things rolling along and introduced John and Lucinda to the large crowd. She also used the opportunity to plug her Facebook page! It’s about the future, right? Actually she made a bet she could get to 500 likes by the end of the week. She’s close, at 446 right now.

John spoke first, and introduced the Edmonton Journal’s new executive team:

  • Joseph Wuest, VP Advertising and Marketing
  • Joseph Celino, VP Reader Sales and VP Production
  • Gail Matheson, VP Finance, Planning and Human Resources
  • Sandra Marocco, Director of Strategic Partnerships

He used the bulk of his speech to focus on the transformation that is being led by that team. Citing Taste Alberta, partnerships with the YMCA and the Edmonton Eskimos, John proclaimed that the Journal is “looking to partner and collaborate with you”.

Edmonton Journal Connect

He also touched on the success the Journal has enjoyed recently:

“There are pundits who predict the end of news media as we know it, but we at The Journal are excited as we embrace the possibilities that technology has opened to us. The fact is, we’ve never reached as many people as we do now every week. We’ve never been able to connect and engage and interact with our readers to anything close to what we do now. We have unprecedented opportunities to provide depth and breadth of coverage, expanded community news, community input, conversation and interaction and hugely improved relevance to many communities of interests.”

Every week more than 513,000 people read the Journal, whether it is online or in print. The website records more than 465,000 unique visitors each month. You can read more about the stats here.

Next up was Lucinda Chodan. She started off by talking about the shift in the way the Journal interacts with its readers. I love that Lucinda put it so bluntly:

“The old way of practising journalism was pretty ‘top down.’ We decided. You consumed. Now, readers influence much of what we do, from the stories we pursue to the prominence those stories receive in print and online.”

She cited the use of Chartbeat, a real-time web analytics tool, as one of the ways the Journal is able to monitor and react to reader interest. She also mentioned the goosecam, back by popular demand for the fourth year in a row. Last year there were 220,000 page views on the goosecam page. And of course she gave props to the live-blogging that has been done recently for the arena and Twitchell stories.

Edmonton Journal Connect

Lucinda also made a couple of exciting announcements. First, she said the Journal is introducing a “community newsroom”:

“In this community newsroom, we’ll be inviting local bloggers and interested readers to work with us to assign and cover the news – and to use the Journal online as a place to meet and interact with like-minded individuals.”

Details were sparse, but it sounds like there will be two key ways to get involved. One is the creation of a “community advisory committee”. Starting next week the call for volunteers for that initiative will go out. The second way to get involved was the other big announcement:

“I am happy to announce that we will be offering two community newsroom internships to students at local post-secondary institutions.”

That’s a great way to connect with future journalists and to “pass the journalistic torch” as Lucinda put it.

She closed very confidently:

“As John said, there are pundits out there predicting the death of newspapers. As the editor of a major daily newspaper, I can tell you that pundits are occasionally wrong. And I can assure you that in this case, they have completely missed the boat.”

Before Paula officially ended the program, she mentioned a couple of other exciting things they’re working on, including an improved platform for the Journal’s bloggers, and the aggregation of other bloggers in the community on the Journal’s website. Further details on that should be coming soon.

In addition to the speeches, the evening was a great opportunity to connect with the Journal’s journalists and columnists, as well as others in the larger community. There seemed to be a good range of representation, including local politicians, business leaders, and others. Throughout the evening there were screens up showing a live stream of the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #meetEJ. And two lucky winners walked away with brand new iPad 2s!

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

It was a good night of conversation. I’m excited to learn more about the community newsroom and the community advisory committee, and of course the blog aggregation. Stay tuned for details!

You can see more photos of the evening here.

An impressive collection of local stories: 30 Days of Edmonton

For the last month, I’ve been following along as Amanda Dunlop has profiled one local business each day on her blog. She called it 30 Days of Edmonton, and it is an impressive collection of local stories. Each entry contains a brief interview with the business owner and some wonderful photos, which is no surprise given that Amanda is the primary photographer behind Lightside Photography. I liked the series so much that I asked Amanda for an interview (over coffee at Credo, which she profiled on day 15).

Amanda Dunlop

Born and raised in Edmonton, Amanda’s story is similar to many others – it took leaving to see other parts of the world to truly appreciate what we have here in Edmonton. And as she learned more about the city, her appreciation grew. Amanda worked in the Edmonton Journal’s ad department for a time, but it wasn’t her passion. She has been a photographer for more than five years, and just last fall took the plunge and made it her full-time gig.

I asked Amanda where the idea for the blog series came from, and she said it all started with a conversation. Her friend and fellow photographer Matt Ramage was setting up his business in Saskatoon, and the two discussed ways for a new business to get noticed. The idea of photographing local businesses grew from there, and Amanda ran with it (Matt may do a Saskatoon version still). She realized that the series could be a “fun and casual” way to spread the word about local establishments, and to share why she chooses to shop local.

Though she started with a “cheat sheet” of canned questions, Amanda told me they quickly evolved as she realized that some worked and some didn’t, depending on the business. She had been to most of the places she profiled at least once before, but there were some new ones, and she always made a point of asking the business owners she talked to for their favorite places. Good thing too – Amanda started with just three businesses lined up!

Amanda had three questions that I was always eager to see the responses to. Here are a few examples.

Did you grow up in Edmonton, or are you a transplant? If so, what brought you here? What keeps you here?

I never had any intentions of staying…I don’t think most people who grow up here do. I was thinking of moving to Toronto and then this opportunity came up where I was working here and was able to purchase the business from the current owner. So I went for it and I’ve really grown to appreciate Edmonton a lot more. Traveling to other cities has also made me appreciate what Edmonton has.
– Jessica, Nokomis Clothing, Day 2

I consider Edmonton my home and we just wanted to come home. It’s got some pros and cons. It’s quiet and less pretentious than a lot of cities, yet the people are good and they tend to be a little more adventuresome and quite trendy. On the other hand it’s a little hard to get some nicer things here like fresh seafood and fresh produce, etc.
– Dennis, Chocolate Exquisite, Day 11

This street is Edmonton’s idea of what downtown revitalization should look like. The people are just so supportive as well and when people start talking you really see it in the amount of business that comes in.

– Geoff, Credo Coffee, Day 15

Why is it that people are so hesitant about shopping local? Why do you think Edmonton is so “Big Box” in general?

I think Canadians are sometimes unsure of who they are and they’re not as proud of local product as much as say someone from Italy. A lot of people just don’t know what amazing quality we have right here.
– Karen, C’est Sera, Day 12

I think it’s harder and it’s an unknown. When you walk into a mall all of the stores look pretty much the same. When you walk into a local independent you never know what it’s going to be like. I think it can be a little scary. So that can be a negative thing if you want the same thing all the time, but if you want variety small independents are what you want.
– Jessie, The Blue Pear, Day 14

The city has become a mall and big box dependent culture, partly due to the near collapse of downtown. It seems that once you’ve lost your downtown, you may have lost your city. Edmonton is also a car oriented city. Because of this people tend to not shop in their local communities. Independent shops are often an overlooked part of what makes a unique community.
– James, Stylus, Day 24

If you could see one thing change here what would it be?

What my husband and I have been trying to do is to go to a butcher and get our meat, and then go to a baker and get our bread, and so on. I’d just like to see a section of the city created where you can do that with a little more ease. I guess I would like to see it become a little more European and walkable.
– Rychelle, Red Ribbon, Day 9

I guess I am seeing the change with what has been happening downtown. We’re becoming more community oriented and less big box and you don’t have to drive as much. I guess I’d just like to see us move a little further towards what we see in Europe. I think people want to feel involved in their community and that’s what we need.
– Chad, deVine Wine and Spirits, Day 13

I’d like to see people complain less…it’s one thing that drives me crazy here. I would consider Edmonton in general to have one of the best standards of living in the country. It’s just unfortunate that many of the people who live here seem to be so unhappy with it. There’s just a disproportionate amount of people that just seem to be looking for something to complain about even when this is a really great city.
– Jay, Happy Harbor Comics, Day 20

Not every business answered every question, but I still think it’s fascinating that so many different small business owners in Edmonton had such similar answers to those three important questions. Most felt that Edmonton doesn’t get the credit it deserves, that shopping local is often overlooked even though it really makes communities unique, and quite a few cited transportation and becoming “more European” as key things they’d like to see change. I also really loved Jake’s answer on Day 6 about what he’d like to see change:

The drab colours…imagine if no one here was allowed to paint their house white or brown. Things would be so much more colourful here in the winter.

That’s an idea I could get behind! The “smartie pack” houses (as we called them) in Inuvik were unique and anything but boring.

I asked Amanda if there were any businesses she would have liked to have profiled but didn’t, and she said “definitely”. She quickly realized there were far more businesses than one could cover in just 30 days! Amanda said she wished she had been able to do a few more “boy stores” like pubs or a maybe even a paintball place.

Amanda Dunlop

Amanda told me she has “a newfound respect for reporters and writers” – she discovered the series was much more time consuming to produce than she had originally anticipated! She estimates she spent two to three hours on every post, and that was on top of her regular obligations, of course. It was rewarding however, and she’d like to continue it – but less intensively, perhaps one or two profiles per month.

I had a great conversation with Amanda, and was happy that the passion for local she shared on the blog came through in person too. She was wearing a top designed by Edmonton’s own Fridget Apparel, and admitted she was “devastated” by the news that Nokomis was closing. “If I was having a bad week I’d go to Nokomis and buy a dress,” she told me. Amanda’s other local favorites include Blue Plate Diner (which she profiled on day 27), and Red Ribbon (which she profiled on day 9). “We need the dynamic that local business brings to the community.”

The final entry in the series will be posted tomorrow. I encourage you to read through all of the profiles.

Well done Amanda, and thanks for the chat!

Looking back at the Transforming Edmonton blog’s first year

A little over a year ago, the City of Edmonton launched its official blog, called Transforming Edmonton. Though it launched as a pilot project, the blog was meant to be another vehicle for the City to “share stories about how the City is working on transforming itself.” It remains focused on the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan, with sections on Economic Diversity, Environment, Financial Sustainability, Livability, Transportation, and Urban Form. How successful has the City of Edmonton’s foray into the world of blogging been? Let’s look back at the blog’s first year.

Let me start by saying that any blog that has made it past three months and is still updated somewhat regularly can probably be described as a success! Blogging takes commitment, so I applaud the City for sticking with it. Jas Darrah, Communications Business Partner at the City of Edmonton, was nice enough to answer my questions about the blog’s first year.

Over the last year, a total of 87 entries were posted to the blog. That’s not far off from the original goal of two new posts per category per month (which would have resulted in 144 posts). Though there are approximately 40 registered authors in the system, Jas clarified that in reality up to 100 people have collaborated on the resulting posts, as Public Information Officers and subject matter experts have worked together to craft the content. Initially, a lot of effort went into recruiting City employees to contribute to the blog, but that has become less necessary according to Jas. “The desire to participate from business units across the organization grows weekly, while in the first months we were beating the bushes to get participation.”

The blog has averaged 2400 page views per month over the year, which is respectable but quite a bit less than I expected. Of course, page views are just one piece of the puzzle. There’s also RSS feed readers (that’s how I read the blog), people who read the entries on Facebook, or who see the entries on YouTube, etc. And keeping in mind the City’s goals for the blog, engagement is a better metric than traffic statistics anyway. Slowly but surely, they’re having some success in that area. The blog has received 157 comments over the year, primarily on the two most successful posts: Bob Boutilier’s Q&A post on The Way We Move, and Phil Sande’s Q&A post on the City Centre Redevelopment Project. Jas says we’ll see more of those kinds of posts in the future.

Jas told me the blog is still being classified as a pilot, because the City is still gathering information to help evaluate it. I don’t think the public perceives it as a pilot however, and it sounds like City employees are happy for the blog to continue as well. Jas said the City’s “communications teams now see this as another vehicle to offer the City business units to reach out to the community, while offering ways to experiment with multimedia.” Many posts recently have included video and photos, such as the series on the Heads Up! campaign. While it may be just another tool in the communications arsenal, Jas confirmed the blog is “one of the most cost-effective tools in our toolkit.”

I’m a big fan of the Transforming Edmonton blog, and I’ve mentioned it numerous times in social media presentations over the last year. The design is clean, and I particularly like the simple Comment & Trackback Policy, accessible on every page. Jas said he’d regard the project as a success, even though there is still a lot of work to be done.

Raffaella Loro (the blog’s primary instigator) told me before the launch last November that she saw the blog as “encouraging a cultural shift” in the way the City operates. A year later, I think that is happening. Jas noted that “our City leadership saw that any negative comments that this project may facilitate would be outweighed by the positive reputation for facilitating those comments.” City employees like the blog as a way to share information, and according to Jas, many thought the blog was only internal when it launched! He told me the City will be launching its first internal blog in January.

I’d say the Transforming Edmonton blog has had a successful first year. There’s lots of room to grow and improve, but there’s now a strong foundation in place. I look forward to seeing it evolve.

A follow-up thought: I think the blog can become an important archive of the City’s perspectives over time. In the spirit of digital archiving, here’s what the blog looked like as of December 6.

CTV Edmonton launches Inner Tube blog

On Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, CTV Edmonton launched a new blog called Inner Tube. I’m not sure if the timing was just a coincidence or if CTV Edmonton purposefully wanted to “soft launch” the blog, but either way, this “online experiment of sorts” is something that’s worth paying attention to.

First, the key points:

  • Inner Tube is a group blog. Entries will be written by a variety of people at CTV Edmonton, including Carrie Doll and Josh Classen.
  • This is an Edmonton project, not something that came from Toronto.
  • Posts are edited for clarity, comments are moderated.
  • From the about blurb: “You’ll read stories about the inner workings of the news process, how we develop our stories, or just casual observations about what makes north central Alberta so special.”

I called Stewart Shaw, web guru at CTV Edmonton, to learn more about the site that he has been working to launch for the last six months or so. My first question was why it took so long! Stewart very democratically explained that many people just aren’t as comfortable with technology as the rest of us, and that convincing all of the necessary people took time (as it would have in any typical corporate environment). He was pleased with how things progressed.

Stewart told me that CTV Edmonton sees this as an extension of what they’ve been doing for more than 50 years. The station has always felt that it was part of the community, and the blog is just a modern way of ensuring that remains true. And while the CTV Edmonton account on Twitter has been quite successful, and most stories on the news website offer the ability to leave comments, neither offers the same kind of connection that the blog can (though Carrie Doll, Josh Classen, and other personalities regularly interact with other Twitter users). Stewart said that the Save Local TV open house last year opened some eyes – it was the first time in a long time that CTV Edmonton had invited the public to the station, and they were overwhelmed by the response. The idea with Inner Tube is to open up a little, to provide a glimpse behind the curtain from the people that make CTV Edmonton tick.

Local media blogs are not new, of course. The Edmonton Journal, iNews880, and Edmonton Sun have had blogs on their websites for a long time, with varying levels of success. The difference is that CTV Edmonton has created a group blog that everyone will contribute to, rather than individual blogs for each employee or personality. The idea is that it’ll be a little easier to keep fresh, and also to build a following with. I think the jury’s still out on which approach is more successful, but I like that CTV Edmonton is experimenting with something different.

Inner Tube is off to a good start, with roughly half a dozen posts already up on the blog. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves – I hope it opens the door to even more online activity from the local media. Congrats to Stewart and everyone else at CTV Edmonton for launching Inner Tube, and good luck!

The Story Behind the Transforming Edmonton Blog

Today the City of Edmonton is launching its first official blog, called Transforming Edmonton. In some respects, it might be fair to say that a City of Edmonton blog was inevitable. After all, the City has a growing social media presence and is using its experience to experiment further. The reality is that the existence of the Transforming Edmonton blog was anything but a matter of time!

Though many City employees are involved, Raffaella Loro has been the driving force behind the new blog since March of this year. In fact, she has been working to get the City blogging since at least 2006. As an early NextGen volunteer, Raffaella suggested the group start a blog to engage with volunteers. The City seemed ready to support the project, but the idea just didn’t pan out at the time. While she was disappointed, Raffaella didn’t give up. When the opportunity arose early this year during her tenure in the environment department at the City, she pitched the idea of starting a blog again. This time, the idea was met with enthusiasm.

The original goal was to start the blog in time for the ICLEI Conference in June, but that was a busy time for everyone involved, followed by the summer, and it just didn’t materialize. Raffaella used the delay to refine the concept, and realized that an environmental focus was too limited. I like the way she described it to me:

Just as individuals have a perspective when writing their blogs, the City has a perspective too. The Vision and Strategic Plan represent the City’s perspective, and that will come through on the blog.

The Transforming Edmonton blog will consist of human interest stories and other content that illustrate the City’s progress on realizing the Vision and delivering on the Strategic Plan. Or put another way, the blog will “share stories about how the City is working on transforming itself.” This is reflected in the blog’s sections: Economic Diversity, Environment, Financial Sustainability, Livability, Transportation, and Urban Form.

It’s important to note that the blog is a pilot at this point. It’s an experiment. Raffaella won’t be the only author – she has been busy over the last month recruiting other City employees to contribute content. A large number are on board already, but that support will have to continue to grow for the blog to be successful. The initial goal is to have two new posts about each category per month. Comments are encouraged, though they will be moderated in accordance with the blog’s Comment & Trackback Policy. Where appropriate, posts will link to non-City of Edmonton websites.

In our conversation, Raffaella suggested that the blog is about encouraging a cultural shift in the way the City of Edmonton operates. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but so far I think the project is on track. It makes use of the City of Edmonton’s existing social media profiles, rather than creating new ones. Transparency is a key focus of the blog, demonstrated by the fact that it will serve both external and internal audiences (there is no separate internal-only blog). And though it is quite different from some of the City’s other online initiatives, the Transforming Edmonton blog was relatively inexpensive to create – essentially just staff time.

Raffaella had lots of praise for the many individuals at the City of Edmonton who have played a role in getting the Transforming Edmonton blog up and running, in particular Jason Darrah and the other members of the Social Media Advisory Committee. She said “it’s the right time for the City to be doing this” and I completely agree. Kudos to Raffaella for persevering and making the blog a reality. It might take a while, but I think the blog is going to have an incredibly positive impact on the City and its residents.

Check out the Hello World post and welcome Transforming Edmonton to the blogosphere!