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

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