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Who's Blogging

Michelle Ferrier

MICHELLE FERRIER Dr. Michelle Ferrier is an associate professor in the iMedia graduate program at Elon University in North Carolina. She is interested in the intersection of community advocacy, education and journalism.

Visit Locally Grown

Project Blog: Women’s Community News Franchise

This project sets out to create a complete infrastructure, to be franchised, for those who want to launch hyperlocal news sites. Services will include a Web platform, software development, market analysis, some content, and legal and marketing assistance. Such an infrastructure, says former editor Michelle Ferrier, will permit citizen journalists and community members to "focus on what they are most passionate about - building their community conversation through good local information and networking."

communityQ: A content management system with a social networking feel

Monday, November 09, 2009

Creative Circle Advertising Solutions has worked in the newspaper space for years, doing consulting work for mid- to large-circulation newspapers on content and design in both online and print products. The Chicago Tribune’s is built on their flagship citizen journalism platform CommunityQ.

And CommunityQ powered the now defunct hyperlocal site for Volusia and Flagler counties -—that I helped nurture to birth and beyond [].

So let’s just say that Creative Circle’s President Bill Ostendorf and I have a history.

Bill’s dedicated to saving newspapers. I’m dedicated to saving communities. I think that passion drives us to want more for both.

And admittedly, I’m a tough client. I put his software through its paces, relentlessly seeking a better user experience, a sticky environment and a technology to engage community dialogue. For me, the software wasn’t good enough if all it did was push out content. Like the watercooler, the site had to draw those thirsty for good news.

I’d like to say that my persistence - OK, nagging - helped to make for a better product for the communities in which the software is deployed. And Bill and I have developed a mutual respect for the ways in which we envision the online community news enterprise.

The content management system, CommunityQ, is a homegrown, proprietary platform built using php. In the basic configuration, staff and users can post:

  • Stories
  • Video
  • Blogs
  • Events and
  • Pictures

Several additional modules allow for increased functionality including:

  • Circulation payments
  • Press release development and dissemination
  • Pay wall options
  • Social networking and
  • Polls
  • Donation/Charity function

The system doesn’t come with its own ad server, but they do have a partner product that is an add-on with node functionality where advertising can be segregated by site. And the interface allows for an XML export from CommunityQ to InDesign or Quark.

And since I last left Bill and his team, they’ve added some additional functions that give you flexibility in developing your site’s taxonomy (trust me, you never get it right the first time…or even the second time). You can tweak your “theme” and site layout in the admin dashboard.

But CommunityQ isn’t free. So I asked Bill about his competitors in the open-source space.

“As soon as a hole is exposed and you don’t upgrade, it can affect customer security,” Bill cautioned. I had been so focused on cost and function that I hadn’t thought about security.

So it’s back to time, money, resources and compromises. What functions must I have to attract startups or existing placebloggers to a new platform? What functions could be left to version 2.0 or 3.0 and which were essential? Maybe I could set fire to this project and see which ideas make it out alive.

   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 11/09 at 11:57 AM

Village Soup: A robust, hybrid community news platform

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Founder/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.

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.


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, 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 and 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?

   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 11/05 at 10:29 AM

Neighborlogs: A Blog Platform with a Community Feel

Monday, November 02, 2009

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

Justin, who runs the 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’s inner workings.


   • Posted by Michelle Ferrier on 11/02 at 01:19 PM