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December 08 2010


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


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.

September 17 2010


5 Mistakes That Make Local Blogs Fail

So you're thinking about starting a local blog. Maybe you're a reporter tired of office politics and lowest-common-denominator assignments. Maybe you're a neighborhood gadfly who wants to create a new place for locals to gather. Maybe you're a realtor who wants to generate new leads.

Either way, your local blog, like most new things, will probably fail.

It will fail to support you. 

It will fail to win an audience. 

It will fail to have real impact in your community.

I meet a lot of local bloggers and people thinking about starting local blogs who ask me for tips or for feedback.  After having several of these conversations, it seems useful to pull these conversations together in one place modeled after a great piece Paul Graham of YCombinator wrote back in 2006. He found 18 mistakes that kill startups. I think the mistakes that kill local blogs can be condensed down to five.

Let's break them down.

Five Mistakes

#1. You're doing it alone.

The first reason your local blog will fail is because you don't have the right people working on it. Notice I said "people." No, you will not succeed working on this alone.

As a solo local blog founder, you alone will be responsible for creating the content, editing it, distributing it, selling ads around it, promoting it, collecting payment, accounting for the money collected and spent, and then covering all your legal bases. That's an incredible amount of work. More importantly, any time spent on any one of these tasks is time NOT spent on the others. If you go it alone, your business will be single-threaded. Everything will have to run through you before it can happen and you can't always be available. In a single-threaded business, if the one agent needs to take a break, everything else grinds to a halt. 

As Graham puts it: "When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps binds them together in a way that seems to violate conservation laws. Each thinks "I can't let my friends down." This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it's missing when there's just one founder." If it's really just you, then your team is weak and your blog will fail.

#2. You don't know your market.

The next reason your blog will fail is because you didn't do your homework. In the case of the local reporter who's been covering her beat for a few years, yes, she knows her subject matter inside and out, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of necessary knowledge for building a business around it. For example, does she know:

a. How many people are actively looking for coverage of her beat?

b. The average incomes of those people?

c. How many of them have Internet access?

d. How much time they spend online?

e. What businesses or organizations would like to reach those people?

f. How much money they spend annually in doing so?

I could go on. My experience has been that very, very few local bloggers have answered any of these questions or have any intention of answering them in the course of working on their blog. And these are not tricky, obscure questions. These are questions that any business founder would need to answer in order to be taken seriously or stand a chance at success. If you don't know these things, then you didn't do your homework and your blog will fail.

#3. Your content is weak

The third reason your blog will fail is because your content stinks. It stinks because it lacks a point of view and it fails to address a real, general human problem.

Whether you're a trained journalist, a neighborhood gadfly, or a realtor, your content probably lacks a point of view. As a newspaper reporter, you were trained to be objective. As a gadfly, you have relationships around the community that you have to protect and worry about. As a realtor, you will never say anything bad about the community you cover and therefore will be a bore.

Your blog has to have a point of view and a voice because people only engage with things they can wrap their heads around and get familiar with. Your local blog will only succeed if it wins an audience. You win an audience by building relationships between your stories and readers. No one relates well to something they don't know and understand. Your blog has to have strong, easily remembered stances on local issues people actually care about or it will fail. Groupon is a company that sells deals, not local news per se, but they have a phenomenal grasp of the voice and point of view of their content. Read their style guide here.

Which brings us to the other reason your content is weak. It's weak because no one wants to read it. And no one wants to read it because it doesn't address any real, general human problem. For all the bluster about hyper-local coverage and blogging in the last five years, as someone who runs a city-specific social news site where people vote for the stories they actually are interested in, it seems pretty clear that most people don't give a fig about what's happening day in and day out in their local elected bodies. That stuff matters a great deal to other elected officials, people who do business with elected officials, and the political/news nerds in your community, but that's it. 

If your local blog is focused on covering local government, it should be a subscriber-only, paid newsletter that goes out to just those people. It should only be a public blog if there's mass interest in the subject matter, which there just isn't for a lot of the stories showing up on hyper-local blogs. If your content lacks a point of view and is centered around things that the general public isn't interested in, it will fail.

#4. You haven't thought through your business model

Let's assume you figured all this stuff out. Now how are you going to make money? Ads, you say? Okay, great. Have you answered these questions?

 -What kind of ads? Banners? Text links?  Sponsored posts? Real-time ads?  

 -Who's going to sell them?

 -How are they going to sell them?

 -What are you going to charge? 

 -Who are you going to sell them to? 

 -What's the value proposition of buying your ads over someone else's?

 -How many ads do you need to sell to cover your costs?

 -What the heck are your costs?

Until you answer these questions and more like them, your blog will make no money and it will fail.

#5. You have no distribution strategy

Finally, your local blog is going to fail because you can't distribute it to enough people. If your local blog is ad-supported, then your ads are your product and your content is a marketing tool created to bring people to look at your ads. In order for you to sell ads, you need to have people coming to look at them. You need eyeballs on your blog. How will you get them? 

Twitter and Facebook are good but not great answers here. Both can drive significant traffic but require a lot of work on your end. Also, their purposes are at odds with yours. Facebook and Twitter are your competitors. They sell ads to the same people you probably want to sell ads to. They would be perfectly happy if you didn't start a blog at all and just started a Twitter/Facebook account and posted your content there. If you are a local blogger, Facebook and Twitter, not your local paper, are your biggest threats. Why should someone visit your blog when they can read your headlines alongside other neighborhood headlines over there? They are useful but can't be your main tools.

Search could be a win for you, but have you devised a search engine optimization strategy?

Partnering with established sites could produce regular traffic and great visibility, but have you had formal conversations with other publishers about that? These things don't just happen.   Unless you have a formal, structured plan for how people are going to find you and see your ads on a regular basis, your local blog will fail.


In the end, the main mistake is looking at it wrong. You are not starting a blog, you are launching a small business. You are no different from the guy opening a bar up the road. You are both starting small, local businesses. You need to know something about blogging and social media, yes, but what you really need to bone up on is what it takes to run a small business. Instead of going to the local blogger meetups in your city, you should go to the local small business owner and entrepreneur meetups. Instead of following the latest social media news, you need to read up on the latest advertising, marketing, and search strategies showing results for actual media entrepreneurs in the field. This is the main mistake local bloggers make that dooms their efforts.

But if you can avoid this and the other five listed above, you'll have a chance to start something that will sustain you and have a real impact on your community. That's a special thing. 

There are opportunities out there for local blogs, they just need to be considered and approached with the right frame of mind. 

Thanks to @tracysamantha, @kiyoshimartinez, and @annatarkov for reading drafts of this.

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