Cobblestone: a WordPress-plugin and local Crunchbase Knight application

From Flickr user IceNineJon

Image of Old City Philadelphia cobblestone courtesy of Flickr user IceNineJon.

In the future, this project leads to:

  • Open source platform for other regionally-grouped niche sites to come together.
  • Community-edited profiles of local focus and meaning (i.e. city government lobbyists, community associations presidents and other leaders who might otherwise remain anonymous)
  • A cross-platform tool that can go beyond WordPress and work with meta data from other CMS.
  • Membership model based on support of an entire local news collaborative network.
  • Ad network integration, further connecting disparate niche sites
  • This will connect and encourage collaboration between other and future content providers in Philadelphia.

Niche news sites need to be brought together to strengthen the future of journalism.

Last year, we at Technically Philly started that hunt with a Knight News Challenge application for News Inkubator, a business services hub and incubation space for independent news startups. We didn’t make the cut, but we have taken to bootstrapping the concept by starting with an advertising network.

Today is the 2010 Knight News Challenge grant deadline, and we’ve continued that focus.

We took time to learn that our News Inkubator proposal was too broad and focused on trying to find smaller, more actionable steps, particularly ones that could work with other larger investment.

In doing so, we’re introducing Cobblestone, a proposed tagging WordPress plugin that will feed a searchable, dynamically updated, mobile-friendly directory platform homepage with content from various partners.

See our Knight application here.

Though we think it has real monetary value — considering it is based on a Technically Philly directory aimed at a membership model — this is a decidedly more editorial-first focus. Get the niche sites together, and we can build revenue together.

Perhaps the first question we expect to be asked: why is this different than Google alerts and RSS feeds?

Cobblestone gives tag-specific and cross-partner content some place to live. Once the alerts of Bill Green or the feeds from each of the partner sites pass in time, they are lost. This creates a true homepage.

Below, see our application, which you can also see here:

Project Title: Cobblestone: A shared Crunchbase to unite local independent news sites

Requested amount from Knight News Challenge: $65,000

Expected amount of time required to complete project:1

Total cost of project including all sources of funding:$65,000

Describe your project: Cobblestone is a shared, Crunchbase-like, editorial directory that will unite local independent news sites. The tagging WordPress plugin will feed a searchable, dynamically updated, mobile-friendly directory platform homepage with content from various partners.

For example, if established niche news sites like PlanPhilly and NEast Philly both “tag” Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green in a story, there should be a central place to find those stories on a timeline of news about the councilman from all local news outlets . Tag pages, like ones for city council members, will bring together a fractured ecosystem of independent content providers by sharing a search-engine optimized homepage. This project will create tag-specific pages for all local people, companies, organizations, groups and places that will feature a chronological feed from all those content producers. The homepage will update as new stories are published and will have advanced filtering capabilities.

How will your project improve the delivery of news and information to geographic communities?: Philadelphia, like many other cities, is home to a variety of local and niche news sites that often write about the same people, companies and other topics but in varying contexts. Cobblestone would offer readers information about the people and places that affect their neighborhoods as told by the diverse set of publications that cover Philadelphia.
Cobblestone’s homepage can also act as a Facebook-like “news feed” displaying the recent entries across the entire network so readers can see the latest news. The pages of Cobblestone should rank highly in search engines as they will be linked by at least a dozen local news entities and growing, thus providing additional exposure to local news. Readers will also be able to subscribe via RSS and email to the people, neighborhoods and other information that matter most to them, regardless of source. This project makes local independent news more robust by giving it greater impact and a better chance for readers to find news that might not otherwise seek.

What unmet need does your proposal answer?: While Philadelphia has a diverse group of news outlets, these sites are often not connected in any way that extends beyond a hyperlink. Providing a shared directory will be the first step in exploring the ways local media can collaborate with one another. Cobblestone’s homepage can also act as a place where content consumers can discover news again, offering the serendipity of past news media.

How is your idea new?: During the past year, many mainstream and independent media outlets in Philadelphia have pursued content partnerships. Cobblestone is the next generation of content partnership by offering a shared taxonomy structure that lives well beyond the story’s publish date.

Large local news sites, such as The Texas Tribune, have a robust directory, however the directory is only powered by a single news outlet. Crunchbase only serves a single niche. However, what if every local news ecosystem had its own Crunchbase bringing together the work, insight, knowledge and audience of local niche news sites? Cobblestone’s homepage could also serve as an experiment in the next generation of aggregation and curation on a local scale. The homepage could eventually have “trending” topics and taxonomy that would highlight the most relevant news source for a specific topic, much like Google News.

What will you have changed by the end of the project?: By the end of our project, Cobblestone will have created a tangible relationship between independent news sites in Philadelphia. Additionally, Cobblestone’s homepage will track content powered by the city’s most meaningful content producers while completing an open source product to be shared with other hyperlocal ecosystems.

Our project will also serve as the basis for actionable sustainability ventures, like a shared membership model and create a robust, central landing page and service for the region’s news and information, growing the serendipity of community awareness of readers.

Why are you the right person or team to complete this project?: We have meaningful experience in the three primary pillars of this project. Technically Philly has an existing WordPress-based Directory platform that pulls our content and offers outsider user editing and functionality. (http://technicallyphilly.com/directory)

For an advertising network, we have brought together independent niche news sites (http://newsinkubator.com/proan), all of whom are readily interested in collaboration. Finally because of our coverage and our roles in various communities, we have relationships with Philadelphia’s legacy and independent media partners, in addition to developers and designers, all of whom can help ensure a locally-focused, collaborative and successful project.

What terms best describe your project?:

Collaboration.

Here in Philadelphia, there is an existing news ecosystem. The challenge is using the combined efforts of these sites to create an economically sustainable and editorially innovative news and information resource for the citizens of Philadelphia. We hope that other cities can also use our technology to create similar products for their hometown.

Community.

Cobblestone will bring together various niche audiences of Philadelphia that care about similar public and community affairs but are increasingly segmented. By bridging these disparate sects, growing collective audience and pooling resources and research, Philadelphia will have a strengthened news network and a more empowered citizenry.

Context.

Much like how a person’s Facebook account aggregates social activity, Cobblestone’s pages will act as a news feed for the people, places and organizations that matter to Philadelphians. Because Cobblestone will be powered by local independent media, readers will be getting their news produced by niche media without existing in a “silo” of a single news site. This will help readers understand how news and information impacts different communities and Philadelphia as a whole.

Have you applied to the Knight News Challenge previously?: Yes

Credit to Sean Blanda for the Cobblestone name.

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