Archives for category: rockville central

As many of my friends and colleagues know, in June 2007 I founded a local blog called Rockville Central. Within a week or two [correction: the first day] my friend and colleague, Cindy Cotte Griffiths, joined me and we co-managed the blog from that point forward.

Over time, it grew to be the second most-read local blog in Maryland and was on the forefront of a number of innovations. In March we made national news by moving entirely to a Facebook publishing platform.

Even with all the success, keeping Rockville Central going was a non-trivial undertaking and after more than four years today Cindy and I announced our decision to cease publishing. Rather than let the community whither, we diecided to make a clean break. So, today is the last day of publication for Rockville Central.

Here is the note we released this morning, in full:

It is with mixed feelings that we are announcing that, after more than four years and four months of continuous existence, as of today Rockville Central will cease publishing.

Cindy Cotte Griffiths and Brad Rourke of Rockville Central

We began Rockville Central in June 2007 and are proud that we have continually been on the forefront of local online community-building. We look around at the new online spaces devoted to aspects of Rockville and we are proud of the role we have played. Whether it is the coverage of Rockville’s elections that began with the 2007 election and continued through a groundbreaking candidate forum we produced, the many, many contributor opinions and notices of special events, or our recent shift to all-Facebook publishing — we look back on our work with pride.

We view our move to Facebook as having been successful. We have appreciated the members of our community posting photos, questions and links on Rockville Central and seeing other people respond. We’ve also been pleased to have first-hand news accounts from the people with their cell phones. Our active users have increased by over 500%. We’ve gone from about 24,000 hits a month on the website to 100,000 post views a month on Facebook. A single post on Facebook typically gets over 2,000 views.

Even with all this interaction, comments have remained civil. People have participated with thoughtful and full opinions about the issues. We’ve been able to provide a place for public discussions about Rockville based on the many news sources in our region. All these outcomes are gratifying.

However, the simple fact is that it takes a great deal of energy and time to support the online community in the way we feel it deserves. We do not make money off of Rockville Central, and never intended to. It is a labor of love and devotion to Our Fair City. We don’t feel we can devote the kind of energy it deserves and so, rather than let it whither, we decided to make a clean end.

Thank you so very much to all of our readers — both early adopters and new friends. If you are interested in following Cindy and Brad to see what else they are up to, please do so. You will see us all around Rockville and we will continue to be involved in the civic life of our City.

Farewell, friends. We’ll see you around.

~Brad Rourke and Cindy Cotte Griffiths

I definitely plan on continuing to be active in local civic affairs, and some new ideas are percolating in my head, so no condolences are necessary. This is a good move and it frees up energy and time for the next chapter.

Thank you to all who have supported Rockville Central over the years.

I was away on vacation and so was not there to bask in the glory, but I was given a heads-up by the reporter and knew it was coming: On Sunday, June 26, me and my colleague Cindy Cotte Griffiths were featured on the front page of the Washington Post’s business section. The story, by Ian Shapira, was about our decision to move our successful local blog, Rockville Central, to a Facebook-only platform.

As of March 1, we have been publishing entirely on our Facebook page (which is open and so viewable by anyone, even those without a Facebook account). No new content is published to our web site. The results have been largely successful and our traffic and levels of interaction have both gone up.

The lede:

When the Rockville Central blog wanted to increase its readership, the owners looked to Facebook — now topping 750 million members — and thought: Let’s move everything there.

In March, Brad Rourke and Cindy Cotte Griffiths stopped publishing new content on their Web site and began posting to Facebook. Just like that, rockvillecentral.com was cast aside. The blog’s new site is theirs and Facebook’s: www.facebook.com/RockvilleCentral. Even in this era of Internet experimentation, the move was unusual.

With news organizations nationwide slashing staffs, this all-volunteer blog covering a city of 61,000 poses an intriguing possibility for the future of journalism: Is using social networking media such as Facebook a better way to reach a wide audience and still make money?

Go here to read the whole thing.

I just sent out my periodic email to folks (you can sign up at the right) and in it I gave a quick recap of the reaction to our decision this week to move Rockville Central to Facebook.

I thought you might be interested to read the note, as it collects much of the response and provides a bit more rationale.

Dear Colleagues and Friends–

For my periodic email update I wanted to share some interesting news with you.

As many of you know, a few years ago I founded a “hyperlocal news site” called Rockville Central. Since its founding in June 2007, along with my colleague Cindy Cotte Griffiths, we have built it to be one of the top five local blogs in Maryland, and it is sometimes looked to as a model for such efforts.

The key thing to know about Rockville Central is that its chief objective is civic engagement, not journalism or page views. We established it in order to provide new pathways into public life for people and, even though it has succeeded in a conventional sense, it has succeeded even more in a civic sense. People see it as a “space” that is theirs to inhabit, and deliberate over important issues facing the community.

We recently decided to make a significant shift in how we approach Rockville Central, and this has (surprisingly to us) generated a fair amount of national news.

Put simply, we are shifting from a “blog” model to a Facebook model for Rockville Central. We will no longer be posting items on our standalone website, but instead will be posting them on our Facebook page. We made that announcement on Wednesday morning.

We decided to make this move due to a variety of factors, including the fact that we know that more than two thirds of our readership are Facebook users, a number of local news outlets have sprung up in town so there is no shortage of local journalism (in part driven by our example), and because Facebook is a better mechanism for social interactions than a blog-and-comment model is.

That last point is critical. Our goal with Rockville Central is to foster interaction, not to attract eyeballs — so felt it important to go where people are and engage with them on their terms, not try to drag them over to our website.

This move has stimulated surprising national news coverage, as we appear to be among the first significant local news sites to move to Facebook-only.

Harvard University’s Nieman Lab was the first to cover the move, which we announced Wednesday. Future           Journalism Project picked it up, too shortly afterwards. AOL’s Patch covered it a bit later (that one has a good interview with me). Mediabistro picked it up. The influential tech site The Next Web also mentioned the move in a piece this morning.

And, late last night, the Huffington Post ran an item.

Also, as I understand it, our move was debated on Wednesday night at an event focused on the future of online news held at the New York Times.

And, in the Twitter universe, there was response ranging from “Wow. News. Facebook-only. That’s a step.” to “Very interesting idea” to “I get it. But I don’t like it.

Among Rockville Central readers themselves, I would characterize response as trending positive. Many loyal readers are willing to see where this move leads (we hope it will lead to deeper connection and more interaction). Others simply hate Facebook and think this is the worst idea ever, and are telling us they won’t be reading anymore (a reaction we expected and were prepared for).

For people in the democratic participation space, as many of my friends and colleagues are, I think what is interesting to look at is how we are trying to decouple the idea of being an “institution” or “organization” from being a community hub. We are saying that you don’t need to build something standalone to fulfill the role of community hub, you just need to open up a space with certain sensibilities and norms.

This is not a move that many organizations can make. We have no profit motive, nor do we have an imperative to continue surviving in the way most organizations do. So we are free to make a move like this without worrying about whether we will attract enough readers to keep going. However, we hope others will watch and maybe pick up some of the excellent community tools that are embedded already in Facebook and used every day.

This morning we announced that our highly successful local news blog, Rockville Central, would be shifting focus. We will no longer be updating Rockville Central’s website, but instead will shift 100% to Facebook.

We think this is a pioneering — and gutsy — move. What allows us to make this move is that Rockville Central exists to engage people, not to make money or drive traffic. So, we are able to make decisions without having to worry about whether we will be able to find a revenue or traffic model.

This move is gaining some attention in the “hyperlocal journalism blogosphere.” That was not our intention, but it is sort of cool. Other hyperlocal experiments are watching to see what comes of this. To our knowledge, Rockville Central is the first local news hub to make such a move.

Here is the article as we ran it on Rockville Central this morning:

We are excited to let you know of a new development here at Rockville Central.

Since we began in June 2007 (here’s our first post), we have always stressed the community aspect. We aim to be an open, fair, and civil space in which to share views about what’s going on in Rockville. That means this site has always been about you, the participant. That focus has spurred very gratifying growth and we have remained in the top five local blogs in Maryland for a number of years.

However, traffic and readership has never been the most important measure of success for us. We are far, far more interested in knowing things like:

  • How many people entered public life who had not participated before?
  • How deep and robust were comment exchanges on key articles?
  • How many people were sending article contributions and adding their voices?
  • What other community web sites were getting started?

These measures, too, have been very gratifying as all of them have come true. Especially that last point. As new friends like Patch have gotten started and the Gazette and even the City of Rockville itself have implemented features we pioneered, and as current friends like Rockville Living have continued to grow, we are excited that the online community in and around Rockville is on its way to being vibrant and alive. The community is well served by this ecosystem of news, opinion and information.

Now, it is time for us to move to the next chapter in the life of Rockville Central.

Some time ago, we initiated Rockville Central’s Facebook page, and this has grown to become its own robust space for comments and participation. What’s more, in examining our traffic logs, it is the most important source (after Google) of traffic to the rockvillecentral.com site.

We believe that this suggests that Facebook is where people, by and large, have decided to go for their first-stop online community activities. Which begs the question: Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?

For entities and organizations that are trying to turn a profit, or have other institutional or organizational reasons to have a separate identity, it can make sense to have a separate web space. But Rockville Central is different and, as we thought hard about it, we realized we could find no compelling reason thatRockville Central needs to exist as a separate rockvillecentral.com site.

And so, as of March 1, all new Rockville Central content will be found solely on our Rockville CentralFacebook page. We hope you will join us there. Everything you have come to know and love about our articles will also exist in Facebook. You can comment, share, and interact — all with more ease and in one place. We’ll no longer have conversations in two different locations.

One thing that will change is that we will do less duplicative reporting. For a city its size, Rockville is well-covered, journalistically. We don’t need to duplicate the efforts of our friends. (How many recaps of the Mayor and Council meetings can you read, really?) We will focus instead on trying to build community and providing content and services that are different and not currently offered by others.

We don’t know necessarily what that will look like, but we are excited to see it emerge!

This is a bold step for us, and, to our knowledge, there are no other Facebook-only hyperlocal community hubs such as ours. It is our next step in trying to blaze a trail.

The existing rockvillecentral.com will continue to exist, and all current content will remain. Old links will still work. But, after February 28, there will be no new posts on that site, and all commenting will be closed. We invite you, instead, to post on our Facebook page.

Thank you for your loyal readership all these years, and we hope you will continue along with us as we embark on this next phase of our life.

We’ll see you over on Facebook.

Your friends,

Cindy Cotte Griffiths
Editor

Brad Rourke
Founder and Publisher

TBD.com

Here’s a question I get asked often by organization managers considering getting more active in social media — Facebook in particular.

One best practice when it comes to Facebook Pages is to set the default setting so that visitors are looking at posts not only by the page owner but also by fans.

But: “What do we do when people start posting a whole bunch of stuff to our Wall?” asks the boss.

Excellent question. By and large, most organizations will get innocuous notes from fans. But for organizations with a cause that some may find controversial, or that are for some other reason possible targets of attention, may attract less desirable kinds of posts. What do you do? Just delete them from the Page? Engage?

New DC-local journalism startup TBD.com (with which the local blog I co-lead, Rockville Central, is associated) is one such organization. It’s a news outlet. People are attracted to it, as a way of promoting their own causes or bringing up their own issues.

TBD.com is committed to engaging with audiences, though — and not hiding behind an organizational wall. How they are handling their Facebook Page is a good case example of a classy move.

Recently, someone who says they are a veteran (I believe it, but can’t verify) left numerous notes and posted document scans about spraying Agent Orange in Guam. It’s a serious issue, but the tone is also more intense than most organizations might want to get behind.

Rather than just delete the posts, TBD.com Page admins wrote this:

Thanks for sharing the docs. We generally only cover local DC/VA/MD area news, but I made sure to copy down all your info here. I’m removing the repeat posts from the page, but keeping record.

Not only is the poster now more likely to be a friend and see TBD.com as honest brokers — so are other people. Here’s a tangible demonstration of the commitment to two-way.

Here it is in situ:

Click for full size

Well done, guys.