Fredericton Community 2.0

Posted: April 19, 2011 by Alex Vietinghoff in Uncategorized

A basic idea of what you`ll see when you get to the site.

Fredericton is the kind of place that most people consider “the ideal town to settle down in” or in which to start a family.  It’s been named one of the “Cultural Capitals of Canada”, has around eighty thousand inhabitants (according to the Fredericton website’s Census data), and the average age is thirty eight.  About twenty percent are bilingual.

Fredericton has a lot of internet-technology businesses, and most people are very polite to one another.  (The stereotypical East Coast politeness applies here.) One of the popular places to gather is the Boyce Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.  I have always seen Fredericton as a mix of many different cultures, but with strong roots in its East Coast Heritage.

Fredericton is home to the St. John River (running through the middle), and has many avid exercise enthusiasts who make use of the woodlots, walking/cycling trails, and large park.

Because it is the capital of New Brunswick, it is home to the provincial government.  Fredericton is where people tend to stage protests or meet to attempt to effect change.  The legislature is a popular place to catch a politician and try to start a discussion.

When a local issue happens, everyone knows about it right away.  That’s largely because of word of mouth, but also local coverage, and even advertising.  People will put up posters informing the public of issues, and rallies to support or show displeasure on various things.

The goal of the Fredericton Community 2.0 Website is to produce stories that pertain specifically to Fredericton, while also encouraging user-generated content.  There will be a staff reporter for each of the different mediums.  Fredericton residents will also be able to upload their stories.  The website will
be sponsored by local businesses only and local events, whose advertisements will appear on the site.  And to encourage participation, people who submit content will receive deals or gift cards for local businesses.

There will be a main page with the most popular articles and the most current articles. (And the local weather forecast, along with a “Community Calendar” like on www.cbc.ca/nb/community) (This calendar tells you what events are happening in the city.) At the bottom, there will be a section detailing the purpose of the website, with a bit of information on Fredericton (For visitors to the site or the city).  Users will then be able to choose tabs that allow them to access different types of stories.  They can watch video stories, read print and long-form articles, listen to podcasts, and even view a photo gallery.  (The photo gallery will be primarily user-generated content.)

The website will of course have mobile capabilities, and a twitter, rss, and facebook page/feed that people can subscribe to.  (The facebook page will be very minimal, we want people to use the actual site, rather than try to discuss things from Facebook.) Subscribers will also have the option to receive bi-weekly
newsletters via email with the top stories and featured contributors.

Anyone who contributes stories or content has the option to set up a miniature biography that everyone can view.

Fredericton residents are encouraged to create an account for free, and they will be able to “like” stories or “dislike” them. (This is how the popular stories on the main page are rated.)  The site will have moderators who view all the content before it is allowed to appear to the public.  Rather than be able to comment directly on articles, readers/viewers/listeners will have to go to the discussion area of the site.  There, they can access general discussions about local issues, the site, or specific stories.

Having to put a bit of effort into commenting on a story will deter “spammers” or “flamers”. Members of the community can apply to volunteer as a moderator for the discussion section.  They will have the power to delete spiteful or irrelevant comments.  If they begin to abuse their power, their
privileges will be removed.

Report harmful or irrelevant posts.

The hope of the website is that the stories being covered will create interest and a forum for discussion among Frederictonians.  All topics will be covered; economics, politics, sports, education, health, fine arts, etc.  On occasion, the site will link to articles from other local news sources, and have discussion threads for those pieces as well.

There will be a section where residents can link to their own blogs.  This is where opinion will be encouraged, along with the discussion boards, rather than in the news stories that residents cover.

The purpose of the website isn’t to effect change, increase immigration, or promote anything.  It isa forum for discussion, ideas, and news.  If any change happens as a result of Fredericton Community 2.0, that’s great.  But the staff reporters are to remain impartial when covering stories, and the Editor will review stories submitted by residents, encouraging them to remain impartial, and re-submit a story that is too biased.   Not only will this encourage journalistic integrity in people who are bloggers or desire to be reporters, but it will also push more conversation towards the discussion boards where people can express their opinions freely.

One of the founding ideas about FredComm2.0 is: You read (or hear/watch) a story.  You’ve formed your own opinion on it.  Now share and discuss that opinion, with other people who also care.

A site like this will allow virtually anyone in the community to share their side of the story.  Whether they do it through a story, blog, or discussion.  On the internet platform, they have the same voice as politicians, lawyers, low income families, or businessmen.  Everyone is equal and gets a chance to be
heard.

If a story is done on local farming, the hope is that local farmers will go to the discussion thread and give input-  Was there more that should be said?  Were they misrepresented?  Or are they happy that their issues are becoming better known?  Politicians can speak directly to public members, civil servants to maintenance workers.  Any number of interactions that people might want, but don’t do in person, for whatever reason.

This conversation isn’t meant to become a replacement for face-to-face gatherings.  Rather, it’s like an open meeting between everyone in the community, without the pressure of crowded rooms, speaking over others, etc.

If people are being verbally attacked, or conversations drift off-topic, the forum moderators are encouraged to remind everyone of the initial topic, or the forum rules.

In order to promote and increase the popularity of the website, Fredericton Community 2.0 will use some viral marketing tactics.  Many car window and bumper stickers will be created, links to the website will appear on all the local business’ websites and shops.  Word of mouth will play a large role in raising interest levels, and there will be info booths at the Farmer’s Market and local malls.

Success will be measured by the stats on day-to-day usage, and overall membership.  The hopes are that there is a slow increase in users at first, and then it will suddenly jump to many members, and the site being interacted with constantly.  The goal is to have at least a third of Fredericton’s population using the site after the first year.

Some of the obvious barriers are maintaining sponsor interest at the start (when there won’t be many members), and generating a genuine passion among people.  (The kind of passion that will lead them to want to produce stories, or see what’s happening in the community.)

Another obstacle would be over-users.  “Over-users” are people who are overly dedicated to a forum or topic, and see themselves as the unofficial power or professional voice on topics or for discussion boards.  These people tend to have something to say about everything, and it can turn off the casual reader/viewer, or people who would like to share an opinion, but are worried about being confronted or discredited.

Should over-users pop up, they will be privately messaged, being told in a nice way that while their opinion is valuable, we don’t want anyone “controlling” conversation.  They will be encouraged to express their views, but less frequently.

One potential way to solve this would be enabling something that prevents people from typing more than a certain amount of characters.  (Limit of 200 words approx.)  And also prevent double posting.  This forces people to be concise, prevents them from getting past the word count by posting more than once, and allows others to reply with their opinion.

In face-to-face conversation, no one wants to have the discussion dominated by one person rambling on or not allowing others to speak.  It won’t be allowed on Fredericton Community 2.0 either.

Another obstacle to the discussion is making sure the many surrounding communities are actively involved.  Nashwaaksis, New Maryland, St. Mary’s, Kingsclear, and places like Burtt’s Corner are all part of the Fredericton community.  “Outsiders” wouldn’t know or count them, mostly because of geographical reasons.  But lots of issues in those communities affect Fredericton, and vice-versa.

Reporters will be encouraged to cover stories in those communities.  Those communities will not have their own section for “village discussion” or anything like that.   Rather, they will be melded into the larger discussion, with their stories being brought to light, and being seen as relevant by the larger community.

Another large obstacle is the elephant in the room- Irving’s media dynasty.  Fredcomm2.0 doesn’t want to look like “a free man’s soapbox”.  It is not supposed to compete with other news organizations for covering stories, or breaking the stories first.  Again, it is a discussion starter as well as informer.  Other news organizations hopefully wouldn’t see it as a business threat-especially because no one pays to subscribe.

The moderators will keep a close watch to ensure that discussion doesn’t branch off into tiny, private conversations, or that personal information isn’t being given out, or that people aren’t using the site for personal gain.  It’s not a social networking tool.

And one rule that will be put in place:  Anonymity will have no place on Fredericton Community 2.0.  People who wish to discuss anything or post a story must register.  To do this, they will call in by phone when they create their account.  They will prove their identity.  And they will be allowed to post.  An operator will verify that everything is correct, and if it isn’t, their posts are deleted.  People may argue that anonymity protects them from employers, from segregation in the community, etc.  But if they can’t publicly stand by what they want to say, or would only want certain people to hear it, then there’s something wrong.

There are lots of obstacles, but they can be dealt with as they arise.  New policies can always be put into place, and changed if need be.

Fredericton Community 2.0 has the capacity for growth, but like Fredericton itself, will stay true to its roots at its core.  It can evolve and change along with the media and internet, but it will always keep its direction- informing people, and generating a forum for discussion.

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