Pro/con short list of hyperlocal-focused content management systems

Even before the check hit my mailbox, I’ve been busy on making the Women’s Online News Franchise a reality. Explore content management systems. Consult legal on franchise structure. Confirm site locale. Get/sign nondisclosures. Draft teaming agreements (co-development agreements). Find some partners on this venture. Sigh. The work of an entrepreneur is never done. But first and foremost, finding a CMS that would allow me to grow.

September and early October have been spent evaluating content management systems. Earlier, I’d laid out a whole list of wanna-haves. They included:

  • Simple, back-end interface that makes posting and administration easy.
  • A CMS that allows for multi-site functionality, meaning content and ads and other “content” can be pushed across sites that are geographically dispersed.
  • A CMS with a social networking feel, that *gets* that community is more than information and news…it’s about the people.
  • That allows for multiple templates at the town and story content level.
  • A partner that understands the value of moving from a computer based platform to a mobile strategy;

And a partner that understands that we’re flying while building the plane.

What I found is a bunch of open-source and proprietary solutions along the way.

I should state up front that I’m biased against the blog-type format for content. I’m looking for something that’s NOT a blog and NOT a newspaper regurgitated online. I want to operate against all the paradigms that currently operate about the binaries of blogs and newspapers. I want to avoid all the biases against “hobbyists” and “nonprofessionals” and “legacy” and “established”. I want something new and different that doesn’t feel like any of these environments.

There’s Moveable Type. And Drupal. And WordPress. And Soapblox.net, which I wish I’d had more time to explore.

But on the way to Oz to find those CMS wizards, I had to make a few compromises.

I looked at the following platforms:
1.    WordPress: The behemoth in the space and the choice of many placebloggers.
2.    Neighborlogs Beta: A platform I found specifically for those hyperlocal startups.
3.    Village Soup Open-Source and Enterprise Versions: With funds from the Knight News Challenge, these folks built the open source code, then rebuilt the platform with even more bells and whistles in the enterprise version.
4.    Creative Circle CommunityQ: This is the platform that I used for MyTopiaCafe.com in Florida (now defunct).
Here are the pros and cons of the different systems:

In addition to the above criteria, I also looked at:

  • Flexible home and secondary page templates.
  • News and information site feel, no linear blog post structure.
  • Rich user profiles with pictures and bios so community members could see each other.
  • Content flexibility: text, video, audio, blogs, forums.
  • Flexible opportunities for revenue: classifieds, display ads, marketplace structures in place.
  • Option for print export

I’m close to making a decision on a platform and I’m negotiating pricing with tech partners. But it’s really not just about functionality, it’s also about relationships and willingness to grow and vision and pricing and commitment to community and responsiveness…so many things that are difficult to put in a pro/con table.

This conversation about a technology partner has generated a great deal of offline comments about other platforms and software that I’m going to try and capture these BEFORE I choose a platform for the franchise. Just one more week for you all to convince me there’s something better out there.

NEXT MONDAY: The big decision…I think.

POLL: What content management system do you use for your hyperlocal site?(surveys)

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Pro/con short list of hyperlocal-focused content management systems

Village Soup: A robust, hybrid community news platform

villagesoup_logoFounder/President Richard Anderson has a vision with Village Soup. I heard him a while back at a Journalism That Matters conference where he described his Knight News Challenge grant project [audio file of Richard’s chat from JTM]. It seems he too is a philosophy in search of a platform.

According to Richard, the Village Soup concept is similar to the VISA chaordic organization, where member banks collaborate with development of a “shared” product, while being co-branded with a common identity. Under the “commons” – Richard’s idea for a similar Village Soup structure — members suggest future developments to the software and may develop other cooperative relationships.

Richard built Village Soup to support hybrid online and print operations. He rolled out the open-source version this past spring and his team has spent the summer building out the enterprise version. The enterprise version expands on the capabilities of the open-source version and it is built on a different software structure to allow for greater scalability and integration.

villagesoup_screengrab
On the Knox County site, the site sports a feature story rotator, placement for small button and banner advertising and the business membership "offers" in a right-hand rail.

I’ve met with Richard and his team around the franchise concept. I explained that my goal was to reach the hyperlocal operator, some of whom would happily function without a print component. Village Soup’s sweet spot is in the community newspaper niche and I think the online only operation took them a bit by surprise.

Of course, the software is flexible enough to accommodate an online only operation. Just turn off that module. But was I buying more software than I needed?

Being on a tight budget, I wanted to know whether the open-source platform could be deployed for my project.

No.

While the software is open-source, that doesn’t necessarily make it accessible to any old tinkerer. I would need a software developer to help modify the software. Plus, it’s not scalable to the franchise concept. Translation: No multi-site function to deploy content and advertising across the franchise network…a key to the larger franchise model.

But the enterprise version is being redesigned to provide that flexibility…at a cost.

With the larger “franchise” project to consider, I not only had to think about the affordability to the single site operator, but whether I could create some economies of scale to make the costs actually lower than if someone were to do this on their own.

On the revenue side, the business membership model creates a unique revenue stream different than display advertising. Businesses pay a monthly fee to be able to post “marketing” content in the Biz Offers section of the site. I had tried a similar marketplace on the now defunct mytopiacafe.com, but our advertising department at my former legacy media organization felt that function would devalue the current print display ad buy. No such restraints are in place for the indy operator, so the business membership plan can be packaged as part of a cohesive media buy.

So there’s still a larger looming question as to whether there’s a viable business in the hyperlocal space. Some like baristanet.com and westseattleblog.com have proven the concept in the microscale. However, couple that with the idea of a cooperative/franchise-like relationship on the macro level and you’ve got to scale to make it work.

Monday: Neighborlogs: A blog platform with a community feel

Today: Village Soup: A robust, hybrid community news platform

Friday: CommunityQ: A content management system with a social feel

POLL: What content management system do you use for your hyperlocal site?(surveys)

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Village Soup: A robust, hybrid community news platform

Neighborlogs: A Blog Platform with a Community Feel

logo_neighborlogs

Neighborlogs.com, based in Seattle, offers a blog platform specifically for those doing hyperlocal community news or placeblogs. I spoke with Justin Carder one of the principals of Instivate, the company building the platform about what they’re growing.

The platform, now in private beta testing, has been running centraldistrictnews.com for about two years and capitolhillseattle.com for about 1 ½ years. Neighborlogs actively began soliciting beta testers in spring 2008 and is adding about two to three new sites each month.

neighborlogs_screengrab_capitolhillseattle

Justin, who runs the capitolhillseattle.com blog, lives the placeblogger life, building the platform along with Scott Durham, president of Instivate. “We’re out here doing the work,” he says — a key to understanding what it takes to be successful and to build good software that suits the hyperlocal niche. He believes that being successful as a placeblogger means finding a pace that you can sustain – and that means doing it every day. reJurno has done a review of capitalhillseattle.com’s inner workings.

“I think the biggest key is to really be part of the community so that your community is contributing to the site. So you’re acting as editor and bringing that stuff together,” Justin says. Justin also believes that the enterprise has to start out slowly. “I don’t see this being someone’s income right away,” Justin says. “You should be building this while you’ve got other income.”

Neighborlogs.com has plans for expansion by building a self-serve advertising module to put campaign management in the hands of the advertiser. After beta testing, they plan to offer the Neighborlogs/ad software using a revenue share model.

Justin and Scott built the Neighborlogs platform using Javascript with HTML templates. They expose the CSS so that you can give your site a different look and feel. Right now, the templates are a bit limited in what’s available.

The software does allow for multiple roles. Administrator roles give you the ability to add plug-ins on the site. Their Google beta group is very active in pointing out bugs and desires they’d like added to the system. And the Instivate team is very responsive to those concerns.

But right now they’re content to soak up the feedback.

“Feedback 
is very important,” Justin says. “And we want sites that use the tool well. Word of mouth is very important. We continue to see great growth off of that. And if people see a site and it’s doing well, they say they want one of those in their neighborhood too.“

COMING WEDNESDAY: The platform search continues with…Village Soup.

POLL: What content management system do you use for your hyperlocal site?(surveys)

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Neighborlogs: A Blog Platform with a Community Feel

The Wonderful CMS of Oz…Off to find some wizards

CharlotteAnne of NowCastSA of San Antonio posted a great piece on what she’s looking for in an online community content management system on “Choosing the digital printing press.” CharlotteAnne says:

So instead of starting by looking at the “stuff” that’s going into the box, we get to think first about people and community and function. We can choose a CMS by how well it can help users, consumers and content creators build our online community.”

Not that either of us has found one yet that suits our needs, but she dreams big about what she’s looking for in discreet, manageable chunks for those developer friends among us. Her list, bulleted (see her post for the details):

  • Flexibility
  • Friendly
  • Social
  • Comments=Co-Authors
  • Wikis
  • Email/RSS/SMS
  • Blogs
  • Widget Embeds
  • Taxonomy
  • Who/What/When Calendar
  • Touchy Feely
  • Bilingual

Do we still have any developer friends after this list? Then take a look at CharlotteAnne’s post cause we’re headed to Emerald City. And there are enough of us out here traveling this yellow brick road to make building such a robust CMS thing realistic…and yes, profitable. Any takers?

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The Wonderful CMS of Oz…Off to find some wizards