I’m saddened to learn that Backfence, a community networking site, has shuttered their doors. Why do I care? Well, in addition to this blog I also run a local group blog about the town I live in (I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times).
I’ve been doing the local blogging thing for almost three years now and as a result I try and keep up on citizen journalism or community sites (e.g. Yelp and Village Soup). I love the idea of using the Internet as a means for citizens to communicate and capture their ideas for others to build off of.
The Poynter article I linked to above lists some of the major reasons Backfence shut down (e.g. money and scope). The big one that stands out to me was their problems on content creation:
People who aren’t accustomed to creating content about their communities need guidance. Merely providing a venue and saying “go to it” won’t be enough motivation for many folks to post, or to regularly read what’s posted. Backfence could have tried in some towns to “own” coverage and discussion of certain issues and thus attract more attention and loyalty.
To me, and I am no expert by far, it seems that the best way to tackle the content problem Backfence faced would be to enter communities that already have a vibrant social networking scene (local blogs, forums, etc.) and get the major stake holders in those scenes to use your product.
Maybe they tried that, I could imagine some push back from locals, but if your Web publishing tools are easy to use and provide the flexibility a local group needs then they it should be a no-brainer.
I think a total tool like Backfence (or Yelp, my favorite, but not quite total yet) that allows multiple people to create different types of content (articles, reviews, photos, etc.) is the future of citizen journalism (or whatever you want to call it). I think my local blog is great (imho) and it should chug along just fine for awhile to come, but if I want my local community to reach its full potential then I really need an all encompassing publishing tool (forums, blogs, maps, events, etc.). I don’t have time to set all that up, I just want to create my content and read my neighbors ideas.
Once someone creates that tool and gets buy in from all the little localities around the nation they should be on easy street.