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June 17 2011

09:37

ChicagoTribune's redesign now with real-time ad information from Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr

Niemanlab :: ChicagoTribune.com's redesign will feature real-time ads, through a partnership with Brad Flora of NowSpots, a winner of the Knight News Challenge last year. As Bill Adee, the vice president for digital operations for Tribune Media Group describes it, the ad information could come from Facebook, Tumblr, or Flickr.

Review of the redesign, and how real-time ads work - continue to read Justin Ellis, www.niemanlab.org

June 16 2011

13:00

ChicagoTribune.com redesign will feature real-time ads

In redesigning their website, the Chicago Tribune staff focused on what they could take out of the homepage, not what they could add in. So when you go to the new Chicagotribune.com today, it’s not hard to notice how simple the design appears: Plenty of white space, clear lines and boarders, clean fonts and a basic color scheme — dropping the familiar Trib blue in favor of black and white, not unlike its sister paper in Los Angeles.

I spoke to Bill Adee, the vice president for digital operations for Tribune Media Group, about the new look, an update from their last redesign two years ago. “It’s cleaner, more organized, there’s a sharper focus on breaking news. We tried to hint at that in the tag line, ‘Breaking News, Since 1847,’” Adee said. (They’ve got a nice breakdown of the new parts of the homepage)

In general, the new look is meant to serve breaking and personalized news, with more recent stories (ones that have been populated the Tribune’s breaking news blog) in the center and on the left rail and a widget for localized stories on the right. “We’re serving two kinds of local users,” Adee said. “Users who have read our newspaper in the morning and want the latest updates and the person who hasn’t read the newspaper and is coming to our site to see what the Chicago Tribune has to offer.” (Also worth noting: Adee made mention on Twitter that the Tribune would soon debut an iPad app.)

But one of the more interesting things Adee told me was that they’ll soon be launching real-time ads, through a partnership with Brad Flora of NowSpots, a winner of the Knight News Challenge last year. As Adee describes it, the ad — which can change on the fly by pulling in tweets or other content — will be featured high on the homepage. It’ll initially be used to market other Tribune content and eventually opened up to other businesses. Adee told me plans were already in the works to incorporate real-time ads into the site, and the redesign offered a good opportunity to launch.

What makes the ad (there will be one for the time being) unique, Adee said, is the flexibility it gives advertisers and the integration with social media. So along with pushing out tweets, ad information could come from Facebook, Tumblr, or Flickr. While the Tribune may be one of the biggest organizations to use a real-time ad, Flora’s Windy Citizen, MinnPost, and others have made use of the format.

What may also be significant for the Tribune is that aside from a prominent place on the page (before the first scroll on most screens), the real-time spot would be one of a small number of ad slots on the homepage. (Looking at the page now, there are currently only four ad positions.)

As part of his job Adee oversees much of the digital machinery for the Tribune Media Group, meaning not just the Tribune but the features- and culture-centered RedEye and ChicagoNow blog network. Like most news sites, all these publications rely on traffic that comes from multiple sources, including social media, search, newsletters, and RSS. I asked Adee how important a traffic driver the homepage remained.

“It’s one of the single most powerful pages in Chicago,” he said. “There aren’t many pages where you have that kind of (mass) audience. Everyone’s got their own Facebook, their own customized Twitter. This is still where people go.”

December 08 2010

16:48

3 Reasons Every Local Blogger on Drupal Should Get Drupad

Last June, my company, NowSpots, won Knight News Challenge funding to build better local online advertising products for newspapers, alt-weeklies, and community newspapers. We've been building our product and working in closed beta with pilot publishers these last months.   We're seeing great results and are about to open up to new publishers. If your publication is interested in getting in early on a new flavor of online ad, one that local businesses, colleges, and political campaigns actually want to buy, drop us a line. In the meantime, we want to use these pieces on Idea Lab to focus some attention on topics of interest and use to community news publishers. You can follow NowSpots on Twitter here or follow me here.

A new Drupal module and iPhone app makes it easier for community news publishers to juggle the demands of managing and building an audience online and getting outside to cover the community. 

1actions.pngDrupad (currenty $4.99 in the iPhone app store), is an iPhone app that lets anyone running a Drupal 6 site read and moderate the latest comments, content, and user sign-ups from their iPhone.  The app, from French developer breek.fr, requires that you install a companion Drupal module on your site. I found it while browsing new contributed modules on Drupal.org, installed it a few days before Thanksgiving, and now use it multiple times a day to check up on the latest happenings on WindyCitizen.com, a Chicago-centric social news site I publish.

While Drupad is in not aimed specifically at community news publishers, I believe any publisher running a Drupal 6 site who installs it will immediately find it indispensable. If you're using Drupal and own an iPhone, get Drupad. It does three things incredibly well for community news publishers.

Two Places At Once

  1. Drupad solves the "two places at once" problem

As a community news publisher or local blogger, one of your biggest problems is what I call the "two places at once" problem. Someone needs to be "out there" attending events, snapping photos, interviewing people, and generally reporting on stuff. Meanwhile, someone needs to moderate comments on your site, post stuff on Twitter and Facebook, block spammers, and update stories on the front page. If you've read any of the interviews with AOL's Patch editors where they talk about their daily job, you get the picture. You've got be outside and inside at once.  It's tricky. The first iteration of Windy Citizen was a more traditional news magazine site that required me to be out reporting and inside running the site. It was a nightmare.

With Drupad, local bloggers running Drupal sites can check up on how things are going while on the bus, waiting at a meeting, or in between interviews from their phone. It puts a simple administration interface in your hand so you can stay on top of what's new on your site and moderate comments on the fly. Since I set up Drupad last week, I no longer need to worry about staying near a computer at all times to check up on Windy Citizen. With Drupad, local bloggers will be able to spend more time out in the field and less time strapped to their desk keeping watch over their sites. This is a big win.

Block Spammers

3user.png

2. Drupad makes it easier to block spammers

If your community news site or local blog has decent traffic or any semblance of a commenting community, you probably have issues with spammers posting nasty comments and content on your site. With Drupal's default admin UI, you usually wind up:

  1. Spotting the comment
  2. Clicking the "delete" link on the comment.
  3. Clicking "yes" on the next page to confirm you want to delete it.
  4. Going to your user list page in the admin interface.
  5. Clicking the checkbox next to the user who posted the offensive comment.
  6. Indicating that you want to block that user.
  7. Clicking the button to put the change in motion.

That's seven clicks to delete a spam comment and block a user. That sucks. If the user has posted comments all over your site or you have multiple spammers to deal with, it can be a real pain in the butt.

One of the things I've come to enjoy about having Drupad on my iPhone is that the iOS-ified UI it uses makes blocking users a much smoother experience. With Drupad, I can go to my user list, click on their profile, and just click a button. There's no waiting around for pages to load. It's a more pleasant experience all around. Anything that makes it easier or even more fun to fight spammers on your site is a win in my book.

It Works!

3. Drupad won't crash your site and actually works

The final reason every local blogger and community news publisher should install Drupad is because the thing actually works. Those of you who run Drupal sites are nodding your head at this point. Those of you who never have are scratching yours. Those of you who develop and release Drupal modules (thank you!) are clenching your fists and gritting your teeth. The truth about Drupal is that it's an incredibly powerful CMS that can be modified through community-created modules (similar to WordPress' plug-ins) to function as a PHP framework. So you can do a lot of things with a Drupal site. That's one of Drupal's biggest strengths.  

On the other hand, the community modules themselves can be a real grab bag. Some are great and mainstays that every Drupal site needs to survive (see Steve Yelvington's recent piece to read about some of them); but many of them are very much works in progress that promise a lot but will break your site and cost you a great deal of time unless you're a trained developer or have one on your team to supervise. Drupal's great, but it's for developers, not lay people.

I'm happy to say that Drupad is not one of these modules. I downloaded it and installed it on Windy Citizen. It did not crash our site or give us Drupal's dreaded "white screen of death." Then I bought the iPhone app and filled in the admin credentials for Windy Citizen. The app was able to connect immediately to our site and start showing me comments, content, and the latest users.  Drupad just works, and that's a huge selling point for any Drupal module.

You can download the Drupad module for Drupal 6 here and buy it from the iTunes app store here.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. I'd love to hear what other people make of it. It's clear from the roadmap posted on the developer's site that he wants to roll out more features. Even in its current simple state, I think it's worth the $5 for any and every local blogger who's ventured out into Drupal land.


August 26 2010

18:05

10 Must-Read Sites for Hyper-Local Publishers

Here at NowSpots we're developing a new advertising platform that will let local publishers sell and publish real-time ads on their sites. In my last post here on MediaShift Idea Lab, I explained why real-time ads are a better business model for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers than AdSense or existing display ad solutions.

Since winning a 2010 Knight News Challenge award to kickstart development of our new platform, we've been busy meeting with publishers to learn more about their needs and problems. We've also been busy reading up on what's happening in the hyper-local publishing space. This week I'm going to share with you 10 sites I read on a regular basis for news, commentary, and context about business models for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers. At the end of the post are links to subscribe to them through RSS or to follow them on Twitter.

Top Ten

1. MediaGazer

MediaGazer is a semi-automated aggregator for media news. It's a dead-simple, one-page site that lists the day's top media headlines from around the web alongside links to related coverage. What's great about MediaGazer is that their algorithm makes sure they get just about everything interesting each day, while their editorial touch makes sure the front page is always interesting. Not every story on MediaGazer pertains to the local news game, but anything good that does will be there.

2. Nieman Journalism Lab

The Nieman Journalism Lab is a blog covering journalism's efforts to figure out its future. Moreso than any other blog on the web, they are squarely focused on introducing new examples of "the new news" and figuring out what they might lead to. My only complaint is that I wish they'd post more. Just about everything they run is in my wheelhouse as a news startup guy.

3. Lost Remote

Lost Remote is focused on "hyper-local news, neighborhood blogs, and local journalism startups." Originally started by MSNBC.com's Cory Bergman, it is now edited by Steve Safran. Anything interesting that happens in the local news space that could impact hyper-local bloggers shows up here. Lost Remote is the TechCrunch of hyper-local bloggers. A must read.

4. Local Onliner

Peter Krasilovsky's Local Onliner blog is a repository of analysis pieces on the future of local online publishing that he writes for the Kelsey Group blog. As a vice president at BIA/Kelsey, where he works on local online commerce, Krasilovsky's perspective on hyper-local news, geo-targeted advertising and the like is worth a look for anyone who wants to understand the business behind local publishing.

5. Mashable's local section

Uber-blog Mashable devotes a post or two each month to the local space, and its coverage is picking up with the rise of group-buying sites such as Groupon and location-based social networks such as Foursquare and GoWalla. I filter down to just posts tagged "local" to sidestep the never-ending onslaught of headlines about Twitter.

6. Local SEO Guide

Local SEO is a sharp blog from Andrew Shotland, an SEO consultant who specializes in local. Every hyper-local blogger needs to be aware of how findable their content is through search. Shotland's blog offers detailed rundowns of topics such as why sites like Yelp do so well in search that can help you better connect with readers through local search.

7. Hyperlocal Blogger

Matt McGee's Hyperlocal Blogger pulls together the latest news coverage of the hyper-local blogging space and publishes regular commentary on issues affecting neighborhood bloggers. For instance, McGee recently responded to the news that the city of Philadelphia is requiring city bloggers to buy a Business Privilege License for $300.

8. Chicago Art Magazine Transparency Pages

A bit of a hidden gem, this series of blog posts by Chicago Art Magazine's Kathryn Born covers a seven month period in late 2009 during which she launched a collection of websites focused on the Chicago art scene. In these posts, which carry a bit of a confessional tone, she discusses how hard it is to sell ads to local galleries, and her philosophy on creating quick content for the web. They're a great recounting of the trials and tribulations of starting a hyper-local web publication, and every hyper-local blogger should read them.

9. MediaShift Idea Lab

The blog you're reading right now has been a favorite of mine ever since I started Windy Citizen in 2008. I love the site for its great think-pieces about the future of news and updates from Knight News Challenge winners. We're excited to have a spot of our own now, and we still drop by regularly to see what's new. For hyper-local bloggers interested in new ideas about the space, this should be a regular stop.

10. eMedia Vitals

eMedia Vitals has an old-school name and takes an old-school approach to covering tactics and strategies for growing your digital business. Editor (and co-founder of TechicallyPhilly.com) Sean Blanda turned me onto the site at SXSW last year and I've since found their analysis to be relevant to people working in the local news space.

OPML File and Twitter List

These are the sites I'm reading on a regular basis to keep up with what's happening in the hyper-local space. I'm sure you may have a few favorites of your own that I omitted. If so, feel free to share them with me in the comments below or via Twitter (I'm @bradflora).

I've created an OPML file that you can import to add the feeds for all these sites to Google Reader. You can find it here.

And if you prefer reading your news through Twitter, I've created a list over on the NowSpots Twitter account that you can follow to add these folks to your Twitter feed. You can find it here.

Happy reading!

18:05

10 Must-Read Sites for Hyper-Local Publishers

Here at NowSpots we're developing a new advertising platform that will let local publishers sell and publish real-time ads on their sites. In my last post here on MediaShift Idea Lab, I explained why real-time ads are a better business model for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers than AdSense or existing display ad solutions.

Since winning a 2010 Knight News Challenge award to kickstart development of our new platform, we've been busy meeting with publishers to learn more about their needs and problems. We've also been busy reading up on what's happening in the hyper-local publishing space. This week I'm going to share with you 10 sites I read on a regular basis for news, commentary, and context about business models for hyper-local bloggers and local publishers. At the end of the post are links to subscribe to them through RSS or to follow them on Twitter.

Top Ten

1. MediaGazer

MediaGazer is a semi-automated aggregator for media news. It's a dead-simple, one-page site that lists the day's top media headlines from around the web alongside links to related coverage. What's great about MediaGazer is that their algorithm makes sure they get just about everything interesting each day, while their editorial touch makes sure the front page is always interesting. Not every story on MediaGazer pertains to the local news game, but anything good that does will be there.

2. Nieman Journalism Lab

The Nieman Journalism Lab is a blog covering journalism's efforts to figure out its future. Moreso than any other blog on the web, they are squarely focused on introducing new examples of "the new news" and figuring out what they might lead to. My only complaint is that I wish they'd post more. Just about everything they run is in my wheelhouse as a news startup guy.

3. Lost Remote

Lost Remote is focused on "hyper-local news, neighborhood blogs, and local journalism startups." Originally started by MSNBC.com's Cory Bergman, it is now edited by Steve Safran. Anything interesting that happens in the local news space that could impact hyper-local bloggers shows up here. Lost Remote is the TechCrunch of hyper-local bloggers. A must read.

4. Local Onliner

Peter Krasilovsky's Local Onliner blog is a repository of analysis pieces on the future of local online publishing that he writes for the Kelsey Group blog. As a vice president at BIA/Kelsey, where he works on local online commerce, Krasilovsky's perspective on hyper-local news, geo-targeted advertising and the like is worth a look for anyone who wants to understand the business behind local publishing.

5. Mashable's local section

Uber-blog Mashable devotes a post or two each month to the local space, and its coverage is picking up with the rise of group-buying sites such as Groupon and location-based social networks such as Foursquare and GoWalla. I filter down to just posts tagged "local" to sidestep the never-ending onslaught of headlines about Twitter.

6. Local SEO Guide

Local SEO is a sharp blog from Andrew Shotland, an SEO consultant who specializes in local. Every hyper-local blogger needs to be aware of how findable their content is through search. Shotland's blog offers detailed rundowns of topics such as why sites like Yelp do so well in search that can help you better connect with readers through local search.

7. Hyperlocal Blogger

Matt McGee's Hyperlocal Blogger pulls together the latest news coverage of the hyper-local blogging space and publishes regular commentary on issues affecting neighborhood bloggers. For instance, McGee recently responded to the news that the city of Philadelphia is requiring city bloggers to buy a Business Privilege License for $300.

8. Chicago Art Magazine Transparency Pages

A bit of a hidden gem, this series of blog posts by Chicago Art Magazine's Kathryn Born covers a seven month period in late 2009 during which she launched a collection of websites focused on the Chicago art scene. In these posts, which carry a bit of a confessional tone, she discusses how hard it is to sell ads to local galleries, and her philosophy on creating quick content for the web. They're a great recounting of the trials and tribulations of starting a hyper-local web publication, and every hyper-local blogger should read them.

9. MediaShift Idea Lab

The blog you're reading right now has been a favorite of mine ever since I started Windy Citizen in 2008. I love the site for its great think-pieces about the future of news and updates from Knight News Challenge winners. We're excited to have a spot of our own now, and we still drop by regularly to see what's new. For hyper-local bloggers interested in new ideas about the space, this should be a regular stop.

10. eMedia Vitals

eMedia Vitals has an old-school name and takes an old-school approach to covering tactics and strategies for growing your digital business. Editor (and co-founder of TechicallyPhilly.com) Sean Blanda turned me onto the site at SXSW last year and I've since found their analysis to be relevant to people working in the local news space.

OPML File and Twitter List

These are the sites I'm reading on a regular basis to keep up with what's happening in the hyper-local space. I'm sure you may have a few favorites of your own that I omitted. If so, feel free to share them with me in the comments below or via Twitter (I'm @bradflora).

I've created an OPML file that you can import to add the feeds for all these sites to Google Reader. You can find it here.

And if you prefer reading your news through Twitter, I've created a list over on the NowSpots Twitter account that you can follow to add these folks to your Twitter feed. You can find it here.

Happy reading!

August 12 2010

16:32

NowSpots: Working to Make Local Web Ads That Work

NowSpots are beautiful online ads that feature the latest social media updates from advertisers, and make it easy for a reader to follow and share their content across the web.

For the last year at WindyCitizen.com, a social network for Chicago news aficionados and urban explorers, we've been selling a simple version of NowSpots ads to small businesses and local colleges -- and we recently won a Knight News Challenge Award to spin the format off into its own company that provides these ads to other publishers.

In a world where thousands of small businesses are signing up for sites like Facebook and Twitter every day, these ads deliver a more personal, dynamic, relevant experience than the banner ads offered by most publishers. NowSpots.com will provide these "real-time ads" to local publishers large and small. Over the next year, our team will be blogging our progress here. You can also receive an e-mail alert when we officially launch this fall by signing up at http://nowspots.com.

Why Do We Need NowSpots?

Local publishers need better ads. This is true for both the little guys and the big guys. The last few years have seen hundreds of neighborhood and small town blogs spring up around the United States. Many of these sites, like Lake Effect News in Chicago and West Seattle Blog in Seattle, are edited and published by journalists who left mainstream media to try their hands at something more entrepreneurial. Some of them are finding audiences. Some of them aren't. But very, very few of them are making money.

A publisher reaching 1,000 people in their neighborhood each day on a local blog has only a few options for converting that audience into dollars: She could sell text link ads to local businesses looking to boost their SEO -- but Google frowns on that practice -- and unless her blog has a PageRank of five or higher, few businesses will be interested. She could place AdSense or some other cost-per-click ad offering on her site, but the payouts for readers clicking on those ads will amount to pennies and her audience will be subjected to bottom of the barrel ads that have nothing to do with the content they're reading, thereby degrading their experience.

The third option, and the one chosen by a growing number of small, local publishers, is direct sale display advertising. With display ads, which are sold directly, the publisher has to get out and sell, but she will have better targeted ads that pay out at predictable rates, depending on how they're priced.

The problem with this third option is that traditional banner ads -- static or animated images that display an advertiser's messaging each time the page is refreshed -- simply don't scratch much of an itch for small businesses. They convey brand awareness and help an advertiser get clicks. That's great for a large advertiser that can afford to develop a strong web presence with high-conversion landing pages, but for the average small business that still doesn't have much of a website even in 2010, clicks just aren't that valuable.

Local businesses are looking for customers, not clicks; increasingly, they're finding those connections on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where they can interact in real-time with customers and potential customers. Once someone likes your business on Facebook, they've entered into a relationship with your business that can lead to sales. A "like" is therefore much more valuable to a small business than a click.

Our Goal: Get Local Ads Past the Click Economy

That's where NowSpots come in. NowSpots are display ads on crack. They are inherently social ads that let advertisers step beyond the click economy and into what we call the introduction economy. When an advertiser buys a NowSpot on Windy Citizen, and soon, on other sites near you, they're not buying clicks -- they're buying an introduction into that site's audience and community. They're buying a very specific kind of relationship that actually converts into sales.

If local publishers are going to make money on the web, they need better ads. NowSpots is going to be there for them starting this fall.

How You Can Help Us Make Local Ads Better

We've spent this summer assembling a handful of Alpha Publishing Partners. These are local publishers who talk to us about their needs, pain points and goals for online advertising. These conversations are informing our decisions as we develop our product. If you run a local publication or work at one that would be interested in working with us to make your online ads more social, less annoying, and more effective for advertisers, drop us a line at info@nowspots.com and we'll get back to you soon.

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