Community networks, or “we networks,” are so poorly used that they tend to really be “me networks.” That's the gist of a new article in Annenberg's Online Journalism Review by Tom Grubisich, who revisits the subject a little more than a year after first looking into it.
The review of sites is a little scattershot. It doesn't mention some of the brighter projects (i.e., BuffaloRising). It doesn’t get into some of the new models for community nets, such as the place blog movement. (What is a community net, circa 4Q 2006 anyway?) But Grubisich still provides valuable usage and ad data on several sites, and he has some important critiques.
While the community nets aren't eclipsing incumbent media, they've proved to be invaluable laboratories. And in my view, “community” in whatever form it ultimately takes has got to be part of the equation.
Grubisich notes that “the best sites WestportNow and iBrattleboro have got better over the past year and are closing in on profitability, but only because the key players don’t take salaries. It’s not clear how scalable either operation is. Neither has the capital yet to expand or even hire advertising staff.”
He also notes that one of the more promising sites is The Muncie Free Press, which was started by K. Paul Mallasch, a former staffer at Gannett’s Muncie Star Press. The site has tripled its monthly visitors from 2,543 to 8,034 between January and September, and almost doubled its page views from 28,867 to 74,651. At this point, the site attracts just 1/8 of the traffic that The Star Press had when Mallasch left a year ago. “They're still stomping us in the search engines, too, because they've had their domain since '96 and Gannett heavily crosslinks their sites,” Mallasch wrote, in an e-mail to Grubisich.