After years of running her own Weblog focused on her home town of Watertown, Mass., Lisa Williams realized she was not alone in her efforts to chronicle local events and provide a so-called citizen journalist's take on local news; similar blogs had cropped up around the country. But there was no way to see them all in one place, so she decided to make one.
Launched on New Years Day, Placeblogger is a directory of over 700 local blogs with more being added, according to Williams, the founder of Placeblogger as well as operator of the Watertown site, H2Otown.info. Placeblogger aggregates headlines and 200 character briefs from other "hyper localized" blogs around the country, which is intended to send people to the right local blog without keeping them on the Placeblogger site, said Williams.
"It's just enough to get people the sense of whether they want to go there or not," she said. "The purpose is not to bring people to Placeblogger and keep them there. It's to bring them to a local site and let them get out there."
Williams hopes the site will provide new opportunities for citizen journalists as well as for marketers looking to reach their target audiences. For the latter, Placeblogger could turn out to be a valuable research tool for planning campaigns with a geographical focus, and for finding homegrown media brands to strike unique sponsorships with.
"It's not clear exactly who is going to be capitalizing on this local audience that has turned away from newspapers. The question is who is going to capture their attention," Williams said. "[For advertisers], what's around the corner for you and your clients who put together online ad campaigns and buys, is that sooner rather than later you will be able to do much better with buying by geography, and that you'll be buying them on a new class of sites. You'll be essentially getting acquainted with local sites in a new way. Right now it's still labor intensive, but for some advertisers it worth searching out Placeblogs."
As Williams ran H20town.com, she noticed that most local blogs covered areas directly adjacent to major metropolitan areas that were likely not covered closely by major media outlets, and that getting search results for those blogs was difficult.
"Today if you go to search engines, you can't really form a query about 'Show me what happened on blogs 20 miles around Atlanta today.' A lot of local sites don't appear very high in search engine rankings," she said. "And because local sites don't do very well on search engines..., they don't get very many Google ads."
Placeblogger has signed on several high profile thinkers and writers to advise it. These include Susan Mernit, a blogger and product lead at Yahoo; Dan Gillmor, executive director of the Center for Citizen Media and author of "We The Media: Grassroots Journalism for the People, by the People"; and Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University and the author of the weblog PressThink .
In addition to aggregating blogs, Placeblogger also applies a layer of "geo-tagging" using open source coding techniques. This approach has Susan Mernit, a blogger and product lead at Yahoo, as well as one of the advisors to Placeblogger, likening the system to the early days of Google and Yahoo and their use of the DMOZ Open Directory Project.
"I would like to see Placeblogger become the geographical equivalent of something that was powerful early on; the open directory. The first user generated directory for search," said Mernit. "DMOZ became the semantic structure for all the search structures that Yahoo and Google used, and it was open source. Placeblogger has an opportunity to become an open source user generated directory of local sites and services."
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