Twestival Local 2009 in Edmonton

Back in February, the Edmonton Twitter community participated in the first ever Twestival – a tweetup for charity. We raised over $1000 for charity:water, and we had a great time doing so! As a great a cause as that was, I would have preferred to support something local. That’s why I am excited about Twestival Local:

Twestival was born out of the idea that if cities are able to collaborate on an international scale, but work from a local level, it would result in a spectacular impact. While Twestival Global put the spotlight around one cause, Twestival Local is encouraging cities around the world to host events in support of a local cause.

The goal is to give people a chance to feel they are contributing to a larger social initiative, but bring the cause a little closer to home.

So basically Twestival is back, and we’re supporting a local cause this time! Which one? We don’t know – we need your help to decide! You can vote online here.

We’re going to hold our Twestival on September 10, 2009. We haven’t yet decided on a venue, so please add your suggestions for that and anything else to the wiki. Watch @edmontontweetup and the Twestival Edmonton blog for updates.

Friday musings on hyperlocal news

A couple weeks ago, Matthew Hurst created the Hyperlocal page on Wikipedia. Previously, the Hyperlocal redirect went to Local News. Here is Matthew’s rationale for the change:

One of the reasons behind separating these two is that hyperlocal content, and especially blogging, is not simply content about a location and of a particular geographic granularity. It is intended for people resident in that location and, importantly, it is written by residents of the location. Local news does not require the later.

According to the article, hyperlocal content is characterized by three major elements:

  1. It refers to entities and events that are located within a well-defined, community-scale area.
  2. It is intended primarily for consumption by residents of that area.
  3. It is written by an individual resident in that area.

I think this definition is missing a few things.

Much of what I write on this blog could be considered hyperlocal under the above definition (assuming Edmonton falls under the well-defined, community-scale part). The same could be said of The Edmonton Journal, however, which is why I think the current definition on Wikipedia is missing something. The most obvious addition would be a fourth point about being locally owned/operated.

I like that the definition does not mention any particular medium, such as blogging, but rather leaves it open. However, I’m not sure the third point is general enough. The phrase “written by” suggests that we’re talking about the traditional article format, with sentences and paragraphs. I think hyperlocal is much more than that. Consider sites like EveryBlock, which contain hyperlocal news created by software (though I suppose EveryBlock conflicts with the locally owned/operated concept, but you get the idea). Sure humans wrote the software, but the content produced for consumption comes from an algorithm. Shouldn’t that count?

Another thought – what about the people who create hyperlocal content, whether writers or programmers or other creatives? Should we call them Hyperlocal Journalists? Before you journalist types get all defensive, consider that there are twenty types of journalism listed on Wikipedia. What’s the harm in adding one more? 🙂

Finally, I think there’s a place for aggregators and curators in the hyperlocal ecosystem. Perhaps another defining characteristic of hyperlocal content is that it is spread all over the place. Aggregators and curators can sift through all of that content to help make it more discoverable.

No more bailouts please

As you’re probably aware, CTV has been running an aggressive “Save Local TV” campaign over the last couple weeks. Along with occasional ally Canwest, the two broadcasters are petitioning the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage on cable and satellite companies. In a recent guest post on Connect2Edmonton, CTV’s Lloyd Lewis wrote:

Local stations like CTV Edmonton do not receive any compensation from cable and satellite companies.  We believe the time has come that local television must share in this pool, just as all other channels on your cable and satellite systems do.

Shaw has been the most aggressive company on the opposite side of the issue. Here’s what Jim Shaw wrote in his message to Canadians:

Canadians should not have to pay to fix broadcasters’ problems. They’ve spent billions of dollars acquiring foreign programs, TV stations and newspapers and now they say they’re broke?

Essentially, I think the situation can be described as follows:

  • CTV and Canwest are losing money. This is partly because of a decline in advertising revenue, exacerbated by the economic downturn.
  • They have twice before asked the CRTC to impose a fee-for-carriage, and were denied both times. A fee-for-carriage would force cable and satellite companies to pay for the signals they rebroadcast.
  • If such a fee were imposed, Shaw and other cable/sat companies would likely pass the cost on to consumers.
  • Fee-for-carriage exists in other countries, but has never existed in Canada.

My gut reaction when I first started reading about all of this was that CTV and Canwest wanted a bailout, just like the auto manufacturers. Their business model is broken, and they’re looking for the quick fix. I firmly believe that we need to allow sick businesses to die, so that more efficient ones can take their place. I feel that way about all industries.

I decided to do some reading. Here’s what I have learned:

CTV argues that their local news programs are suffering because I can get CTV Toronto and CTV Edmonton on my cable/satellite package. That means I can watch a popular primetime show on the Toronto feed instead of my local one. Some questions on that:

  • Isn’t CTV receiving the same revenue either way?
  • Isn’t most advertising sold nationally anyway? Isn’t that the argument for a large conglomerate?
  • Why does the ad revenue for a primetime show affect my local news program as much as CTV seems to suggest it does?

The financials only tell one side of the story. It’s the other side of the story that really makes me frustrated. CTV has taken a page out of the newspaper playbook, and is claiming that they are vital to the local community.

Cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, nor do they need local TV stations.

In the article posted at C2E, CTV argues that local TV is important for the following reasons:

  1. Local content is more relevant than ever, despite more the web making global sources and more choice available.
  2. The accurate reporting of news is critical.
  3. Local stations provide a high level of community service.

None of those things require a TV station.

You might wonder where all the local content is on CTV or Global. Aside from the news programs (which themselves are not even close to 100% local content), what is there? Lots of American shows, that’s what (this post is a long but good read on the topic of local vs. foreign content on the networks). The six o’clock news is too late for most breaking news, but too soon for context and analysis, which is what the 384 years of experience CTV Edmonton is touting would be good for.

TV stations are not perfect, they make mistakes from time to time. The problem is that they can’t correct those mistakes until the late news or else the next day. How accurate is that? More importantly, TV is not required for the dissemination of accurate news. It just happens to be one of the vehicles for it today.

It’s true that local TV stations do a lot for the community. So do other organizations. I’m sure charity events could find other individuals to MC. Aside from donating free advertising, I’m not sure what specifically CTV brings to the table with regard to community service that other organizations do not.

Comments via Twitter

I decided to ask Twitter for some comments on this last night. There was an almost even split among the replies I received, with roughly half supporting CTV and half supporting Shaw. Here are some of the tweets:

  • wikkiwild1: I have to go with Cable, if CTV charges carriage fees they will be passed onto the cable subscribers. Why pay for local TV.
  • andrewmcintyre: CTV and Canwest are clearly not in the right. The CRTC’s role in this debate is very interesting.
  • chrislabossiere: if I had to pick one of two sides, I would say status quo and Shaw. They are at least fighting for a new way.
  • ZoomJer: I’m for fairness. If you buy a DVD you can’t show it and charge admission. Shaw is in the wrong. I want to see @ctvedmonton stay.
  • paulstrandlund: Shaw. CTV only has 1 local program – the news.
  • tachyondecay: Neither. They’re both in it for money. My local TV (which has nothing to do with CTV) offers little interesting except news.
  • thzatheist: Shaw. How has CTV fared so well this long? Advertising – let’s see them continue. (I only support media bailout if CBC is saved)

Final Thoughts

There’s really nothing “local” about CTV’s campaign. It’s disappointing propaganda, replicated across the network of CTV stations. It might have more of an impact if it actually came from a local perspective.

I don’t think Shaw and the other cable and satellite companies are completely in the clear here either. They are rebroadcasting CTV and Canwest signals without paying for them, and they seem awfully quick to suggest fees would be passed on directly to consumers.

Just because Canada hasn’t had a fee-for-carriage in the past doesn’t mean it shouldn’t in the future. I’m not completely opposed to a fee-for-carriage, but I am opposed to a mandatory fee-for-carriage. An optional one, on the other hand, could be good. I should be able to tell Shaw that I don’t want CTV Edmonton, saving us both the expense.

Of course, CTV and Canwest don’t want that, because then they’d see just how vital Canadians think they are. I think it’s unfortunate that CTV and Canwest are threatening more job cuts and station closures if they don’t get the fee-for-carriage revenue. What they should be doing is innovating, to reduce costs and to ensure they have multiple, steady revenue streams.

If they can’t do that, we should allow them to die. Healthy, innovative businesses will take their place.

Sadly, this whole argument may become irrelevant (or at least delayed) if the rumored $150 million bailout package for the broadcasters turns out to be real.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this issue. What do you think?

UPDATE: It’s worth pointing out that the CBC doesn’t seem particularly interested in joining CTV and Canwest on this issue, despite the fact that they may benefit.

Newspapers, cities, and the local web

Edmonton SkylineThe concept of “local” has never been more important – that’s something I firmly believe. Though I found the book somewhat wordy, Who’s Your City by Richard Florida presents this idea very effectively:

Globalization is not flattening the world; on the contrary, the world is spiky. Place is becoming more relevant to the global economy and our individual lives.

It’s definitely worth a read. So much of our lives is defined by place – by the people and things around us. I think this is especially true when you live in a city.

Cities are interesting because they encompass a range of place sizes. A specific block, neighborhood, area, quadrant, etc. right up to the entire city and greater metropolitan area. Some people identify most with a neighborhood or area, others with the entire city. Often their affiliation depends on the current situation (perhaps a neighborhood when it comes to family issues and the city when it comes to business). Consequently, the information individuals are interested in varies.

Newspapers try to cater to this range of interest. Here in Edmonton, the Examiner publishes stories for different regions of the city. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Edmonton Journal attempts to cover the entire city. Then there are all of the other publications in between. And some news simply isn’t covered by any publication.

There are many problems with this. A newspaper can’t get too specific, because advertisers won’t want to buy ad space if only a few dozen people are going to see their ad. As newspapers move toward a larger audience to attract better ad revenue, they inevitably end up with more general content. And of course, newspapers are not real-time.

Put simply, newspapers are not very good at representing places. For this reason, I find it incredibly bizarre that a number of recent articles focus on place as the reason why newspapers will not go away. For example, here’s an excerpt from a National Post story on Monday:

Newspapers retain their market relevance partly because flipping through a newspaper is one of the quickest and easiest ways to answer the question, "What’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?"

The printed version of the newspaper is connected with a physical geography at a specific point in time that few, if any, online resources can be.

How can any of that be true? We know that to truly find out “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live”, we’d have to flip through a number of newspapers. And even then we’d be missing stuff. The second point is absolutely wrong also – there are many online resources that are intimately connected with a place and time. For instance, EveryBlock. Such online services are probably more connected with a specific place and time because they go down to the street level and often deal with real-time information.

Here’s another excerpt, from a Todd Babiak column in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal:

For its residents, a city must be more than a house, a car and a job. It’s a narrative, a living history, myths and conflicts, and for as long as Canada has been a country the newspaper is where the city has been inscribed.

If it is true that the city newspaper is dying, the city is dying with it.

Just because something has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it’ll remain that way forever. Innovation is largely about challenging the status quo. Thus, the fact that newspapers are failing to innovate shouldn’t be a surprise. To suggest that cities are dying as a result is simply ridiculous, however.

I’m not falling for the myth that cities depend on newspapers. It’s true that a newspaper plays an important role in documenting the evolution of a city, but it’s not the only institution that does so. A newspaper is also not the only way to get information to citizens. Increasingly, citizens can get information directly.

I think we’re at the beginning of the “local” era on the web. As more and more people carry mobile devices that are location-aware, this trend will accelerate. Increasingly, online services will help answer the question, “what’s new and might be of interest to people who live where I live?” Eventually they’ll also provide context and background in a way that simply isn’t possible in the offline world.

Newspapers can play an important role in this local era. However, just as cities do not need newspapers to survive and flourish, neither will the local web.

Social Media in Action: Belua Designs

This post is the first in a new, semi-regular series of entries called Social Media in Action. My goal with the series is to share my favorite examples of organizations using social media effectively. To start, I wanted to highlight local monster creators Belua Designs.

Sarah Bourque makes handmade monsters from new socks and recycled wool sweaters, scrap buttons and felt. Each monster is unique, and sells for between $20 and $50. Sarah makes up to about 50 monsters per week and in addition to selling via Etsy, usually has a table at the many local Farmers’ Markets and craft fairs.

For the last few months, she’s also been writing a blog. Writing about sewing probably isn’t the most fascinating topic in the world, and Sarah seems to understand that. Instead, she tells a story with almost every post, and generally keeps the blog focused on the monsters. It’s engaging, and it keeps me subscribed. Many readers look forward to Fremly’s Friday Favorites – a weekly series of posts highlighting Sarah’s mascot monster and other local designers (here’s my favorite entry).

Sharon and I are both big fans of the blog (she gets so excited to find out what Fremly is up to – she loves her own monster too), so I asked Sarah a few questions about it.

How long have you been blogging, and why did you decide to start a blog?

I started my blog just after Christmas last year. I always wanted a website but kept putting it off because I felt it would be expensive and time consuming. After doing a bit of research into the blog world I realized it was the perfect way for me to go. It was very easy to set-up, it had all the elements I was looking for and it was free (which is always a bonus!).

How do you decide when and what to post?

I try to post 3 times a week. I’ve been pretty good about it although I must admit when things get really busy I don’t post as often. I keep my blog monster related so I usually feature a monster a week and talk about upcoming shows.

What kind of feedback have you received? Do you think the blog is effective?

I think the blog is very effective and the feedback has been great. I really noticed it after I injured my finger after a sewing accident (yes, that can happen!). I was at a craft show and a few different people came up and asked me how my finger was doing. It caught me off guard until I realized that my blog was actually being read. It’s always nice when people can feel a more personable connection with the creator of something they just purchased.

Do you use Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media services to promote your business – why or why not?

I take advantage of as many social media services as possible. My blog has a link to my Twitter, business Facebook fan page, Fremly’s personal Facebook page, Flickr and my shop on Etsy. I think it’s really important to have everything connected from one main source otherwise it could get a bit confusing. I have found them all to be really effective and a great way to stay in touch with customers.

I think Sarah has done a number of things really well with the blog. She posts regularly, and consistently. She has a good mix of updates on the business and stories about the monsters. Most importantly, she’s gotten creative with the personalities of the monsters. You can tell when you read the blog that she’s having fun!

Check out Belua Designs if you haven’t already – it’ll put a smile on your face!

Northern Voice 2009: Passionately Local

Of all the sessions at Northern Voice 2009, I was perhaps most looking forward to the one presented by Briana Tomkinson of Tenth to the Fraser titled Passionately local: blogging about your own backyard. As someone who is definitely passionate about my hometown, I was really curious to learn about the experiences of others.

Tenth to the Fraser is a hyperlocal blog focused on New Westminster, a city in the Vancouver area. Briana talked about some of the motivations behind the site, some of the challenges, and some of the rewards.

Here are some notes I took from Briana’s slides:

  • The Greek Chorus of New West
    • Help the ‘audience’ follow the performance
    • Comment on themes
    • React to the drama
    • Provide insight
  • Passion for community
    • A desire to dig in to a place
    • An itch to uncover more
    • A calling to share the results
  • Everyone blogs from a place. The placeblogger blogs about a place.
  • Hyperlocal made interesting
    • Reveal the character of a place
    • Represent diverse perspectives
    • Keep focus narrow
    • Balanced mix of: aggregating local information, publishing original content, relationship-building
  • Finding your nice within the media ecosystem
    • Befriend the local media
    • Extend traditional news coverage
    • Reveal opinions and perspectives that are missed in mainstream coverage
    • Geek out: food, schools, politics, shopping
  • The Rewards
    • Pride of place
    • Local fame
    • Community
    • Knowledge
    • Giving back
  • Be the change you seek in your community

I really liked Briana’s talk, even though the end was a bit rushed as everyone started asking questions and she ran out of time! There were definitely moments when I thought “I know exactly what she means” and others when I thought “that wouldn’t work in Edmonton”.

With a population of nearly 60,000, New Westminster is about 13 times smaller than the City of Edmonton, and almost 20 times smaller than the Edmonton metro area. So while a single, focused blog in New Westminster probably would work very well, I don’t think it would fly in Edmonton. There’s just too much to write about for a single blog. I think, more than ever, that aggregation is the way to go for a city of Edmonton’s size.

There are some similarities, however. Tenth to the Fraser has started the #NewWest hashtag on Twitter, similar to our beloved #yeg. They seem to write a lot about politics, which is perhaps the most popular topic here too. And they have a relatively small, but rapidly growing online community.

I think there are lots of things that hyperlocal bloggers can learn from Tenth to the Fraser. Check it out, and let me know what you think. The first thing you’ll notice is that the site is free of any advertising. Briana and her team do it because they love their city, not because they’re in it for the money. We could use more blogs like Tenth to the Fraser!

Social Media and Local News in Edmonton

My favorite media/journalism/news blogger is Jeff Jarvis. His blog, BuzzMachine, is a treasure trove of information and insight on how the web is transforming the world of news media. Jeff has spent a lot of time thinking about local news specifically, a topic I am very interested in. Yesterday he wrote a post summarizing his thoughts on where local news might go. These are the highlights for me:

“The next generation of local (news) won’t be about news organizations but about their communities.”

“News will emerge from networks.”

“Do what you do best and link to the rest will be a foundation of the future architecture of news.”

“News will find new forms past the article, which will include any media, wiki snapshots of knowledge, live reports, crowd reports, aggregation, curation, data bases, and other forms not yet created.”

I encourage you to read the entire post, it’s definitely worth it.

Thinking about Jeff’s post made me wonder what local news organizations here in Edmonton are doing to prepare for the future. Are they focused on communities? Are they creating networks? Are they specializing and linking elsewhere? Are they supporting news beyond the article?

In general, I think the answer to those questions is no. An examination of how local news organizations are using social media is somewhat encouraging, however. Why look at social media? Generally speaking, I think blogs, social networks, etc., address all four areas – communities, networks, linking & sharing, and life beyond the article.

These are some of the traditional sources for local news here in Edmonton, with links to their social media activities:

As you can see, there are quite a few organizations that still haven’t gotten their feet wet with social media (unless I missed some links – one thing all these sites have in common is that they are terribly messy and hard to navigate). The Journal appears to be the most active, with a Facebook application, Twitter account, and blogs and podcasts on its site. The relatively new iNews880 is similarly active. All the organizations offer RSS feeds except for Global Edmonton, Citytv Edmonton, and SEE Magazine (the Edmonton Sun recently added feeds).

These days, I get most of my local news from four main sources:

The trend I have noticed is that breaking news starts with the traditional organizations but is spread by individuals through services like Twitter, Connect2Edmonton, and Facebook (and good old-fashioned word of mouth too). Organizations like The Journal have people dedicated to gathering the news, so it makes sense that they’d be the ones to break the news (most of the time). They could definitely be doing a better job of interacting with the community and forming networks online to spread that news, however. And they pretty much do nothing beyond the article, at least at the moment (heck the Journal won’t even hyperlink URLs inside their articles).

Take yesterday’s story about the new arena concept, for instance. I first heard about the news on C2E. I understand that Citytv was the first traditional source to pick up on the story. I spread the news via Twitter and my blog, and others did the same. Today articles appeared in The Journal, on CBC Edmonton’s site, and elsewhere, but they didn’t really offer anything new, and they didn’t provide links to the images, video, maps, or other bits of information readers might be interested in.

I like the vision for local news that Jeff Jarvis has suggested, but it seems to me that the local organizations aren’t leading the way into that future. Instead, individuals are dragging them into it. I wonder if that will always be the case?

My love-hate relationship with Connect2Edmonton: Twitter & FriendFeed to the rescue?

connect2edmonton Connect2Edmonton (C2E for short) is a community website serving Edmontonians that launched on March 30th, 2006. On March 4th of this year it surpassed 3000 registrations, and announced that it receives 45,000 unique visitors per month. Those are pretty good numbers for a website all about Alberta’s capital city!

You can find all sorts of great stuff on the forums at C2E. Users post about construction projects, sports, new restaurants, you name it. Sometimes they simply post links to articles from the Journal or the Sun, other times users are breaking news at C2E. The wealth of frequently updated information on Edmonton is the main reason I love C2E.

Here’s what I hate about it: C2E looks and feels and smells like it was built in 1996. There are quite a few “Web 1.0” aspects to the site, such as the old school message boards, the lack of permalinks, and the horribly ugly URLs for the pages that do have permalinks. Instead of blogs, they have “columns”. Thank goodness the site has RSS, or I’d probably never use it.

For the moment, C2E seems to have an edge in that it has the community. I wonder how long that will last though? There are so many other up-and-coming services that could easily make C2E nothing more than a fond memory. Here’s a couple of examples that I’m involved with:

Edmonton’s Twitter Community
I still think that Twitter is changing the world, one tweet at a time. It’s transforming the way news breaks, and is making real-time conversations extremely public. Here in Edmonton we have a really strong Twitter community. We’ve had a Tweetupfollow us here – and we’ve loosely organized ourselves with things like the #yeg hashtag. Imagine if C2E users posted to Twitter with the #yeg hashtag instead of to the C2E forums! Others could reply without needing an account, they could get notifications to their mobile devices, through the API to other applications, etc.

The Edmonton Room at FriendFeed
Another thing I’ve created recently is the Edmonton room at FriendFeed. Anyone can join and start sharing messages, links, and of course comments and likes. And thanks to a recently added feature, I can add RSS feeds to the room so that entries automatically appear. So far I’ve added the Edmonton Journal and a couple of filtered blog feeds (such as the Edmonton tag on my blog). Again, this goes beyond C2E – instead of finding the Journal article and posting it to the forums, they automatically appear in the Edmonton room, ready for commenting and sharing. (I suppose I could add the C2E feed, but that’s beside the point.)

What both of these examples highlight, more than the “Web 1.0” look of C2E, is that it’s still a relatively closed system. Twitter and even FriendFeed are both much more open systems. They encourage data to be shared freely, and as a result, they are the platforms on which the news engines of the future are being built. Want an example? Check out NewsJunk.

I’m not saying that we need to abandon Connect2Edmonton. Instead, C2E should embrace Twitter, FriendFeed, and other services to make itself more open. C2E is a great service for the Edmonton community, but I know it could be so much better.

UPDATE (6/27/2008): I just tried to add the C2E RSS feed for Columns to the Edmonton FriendFeed room, only to find that the feed lacks datestamps, lacks authors, includes entries in a random order, and is otherwise useless. EPIC FAIL.

Extremely Handy: Google SMS

google mobile I’m a little surprised that I’ve never blogged about Google SMS before, because it’s a wonderfully useful service that deserves more attention. It’s amazing how few people know about it! What is Google SMS? Basically, it’s Google via text messaging. The power of Google in your pocket!

Using Google SMS is really simple. All you have to do is send a text message to 466453 (GOOGLE). There are a bunch of built-in commands you can use, but the default is just a local search. For instance, when Sharon and I were in Calgary last weekend, we used Google SMS to give us the address of Tubby Dog. I sent the following message:

Tubby Dog, Calgary

And Google SMS replied immediately with:

Local Listings: Tubby Dog 1022 17 Avenue SW Calgary, T2T 0A5

I’m not exaggerating when I say immediately either – Google SMS is incredibly fast.

The built-in commands or “search features” include: weather, glossary, dictionary, stocks, directions, flights, translations, calculator, currency conversion, sports, and more. There’s a full list with examples and an interactive demo here. The ones I use most are local search (as above), movies (such as “get smart t6p”), and the calculator (such as “0.45 lb in kg”). The weather search (“weather edmonton”) is also handy.

I’m fairly dependent on Google for looking stuff up, so Google SMS is great because I don’t need to be at a computer. Do yourself a favor and program 466453 into your phone now!