Tag Archives: Reddit

Journalism Technologies: 19. The Power of the Crowd

We’ve moved onto the final part of the inaugural first year Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield. The opening term before Christmas was all about introducing the students to different platforms week by week in the lectures, then taking them through how to use them in the workshops, before they submitted a reflective learning log on their blogs. Next, we examined the ways in which changes in technology have impacted on media companies both old and new, and students produced content analyses comparing legacy journalism outlets with pure players.

Now, students will be required to do a third assessment by Easter, in which they complete a piece of journalism using at least two social tools to help tell the story. And the first lecture to support this part of the module came from my colleague Caroline Pringle last Monday, on how to make the most of online communities.

Caroline took the students through some of the ways in which people gather online, and the places where they do that, from more traditional forums to Facebook groups both public and private. Mumsnet remains a classic example of how a strong community can become not only a thriving forum, but a significant media brand in its own right. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, of those of us in the room only me and Caroline would admit to ever actually going on it, but I suppose 18-year-olds aren’t really in their target demographic (I went on Mumsnet occasionally in my past life as a stay-at-home dad, although really only for recipe tips – the rest of it seemed a bit impenetrable, even for me).

For concepts to help students understand the power of online communities, Caroline turned to both the classic idea of the wisdom of crowds, as well as Clay Shirky’s idea of cognitive surplus: that many of us use much of our increased spare time in order to create and share things online, just as in the past we’d have used that time to, perhaps, inadvertently become experts on TV shows. For Shirky, it’s a typically optimistic view of how the development of technologies is generally a positive thing in all sorts of unexpected ways.

What I’m Reading: Connected: The Power Of Modern Community

Well worth £1.99.

Well worth £1.99.

I was very kindly sent a review copy of the new ebook from Guardian Shorts about online communities. Called Connected: The Power of Modern Community, it’s by the Guardian’s Hannah Waldram, Ed Walker of Trinity Mirror, and the Cardiff-based publisher and journalist Marc Thomas. And having read it over coffee in Huddersfield this lunchtime, here are some brief thoughts about it.

Cardiff’s a bit of a recurring theme here, because Hannah and Ed both worked there on Guardian Cardiff and Your Cardiff respectively. And the book kicks off with a great story from the city, about how a remarkable trove of old pictures was found and then shared both online and off, culminating in exhibitions and the tracing of the original photographer.

The blend of online and offline features throughout the book. In the conclusion, there’s a list of ten principles for managing an online community, the first of which is ‘get offline’. This excellent advice might seem counter-intuitive, but the rise of Meetup among other similar services has helped take a lot of the hassle out of organising real world events.

A group I’ve joined this year, the Manchester Whisky Club, which runs tastings in a Northern Quarter pub and in members’ homes using Twitter, is a classic example of how those tools and others including Blogger and Paypal can all be harnessed to create a lively community. Even though the main aim is to get drunk and talk about whisky, rather than do something worthy like save the local swimming baths.

The book also touches on Reddit, Mumsnet and some good examples of current hyperlocal news activity in London such as the Brixton Bugle and the evergreen london-se1.co.uk.

You can get the book here. It’s well worth £1.99 of your money.

A Brief Lesson On The Power Of Buzzfeed And Facebook

My Buzzfeed opus on Aberdeen.

My Buzzfeed opus on Aberdeen.

You’ll be familiar with Buzzfeed and its listicles, the eminently clickable posts which have helped turn the site into one of the internet’s rising stars. But you may not be aware of Buzzfeed’s Community feature, which lets anyone put together posts for the site. As a bit of an experiment yesterday, I thought I’d have a go at doing one, to see how quickly it spread.

Calling on my hazy memories of my hometown and scanning Flickr’s Creative Commons for pictures, I quickly put together 31 Signs You Grew Up In Aberdeen in what I hoped was a suitably Buzzfeed style. I tweeted it once, Facebooked it once, stuck it on the Aberdeen subreddit, and waited.

But I didn’t have to wait very long. I was soon receiving emails from Buzzfeed telling me that the views were piling up. Helpfully, I didn’t have to take their word for it, because the Buzzfeed Community pages allow you to personally check the analytics for your post, so I could see it all for myself. Within 24 hours, it had 45,000 views.

My post made it onto the front page of the UK site for a while, and the BuzzfeedUK Twitter account promoted it once too, but the analytics show that it’s been overwhelmingly spread using Facebook. About two-thirds of total views are from Facebook, and almost all the rest are either clicks on the Buzzfeed site itself or are classed as Dark Social – sharing via email, third party Twitter clients and the like. Views from Reddit are only in the dozens, although that may be because the Aberdeen subreddit is not exactly one of the busiest pages on there. Views from search engines are in even smaller numbers, so far at least.

At the risk of reading too much into one little experiment which I did for fun (seeing friends I know on Facebook sharing the post without realising who’d actually written it was certainly that), it’s been a reminder to me of the persistent power of Facebook. We in the media might snark about it, but ordinary people are still on there in large numbers. And it seems ordinary people like listicles.