Placeblogger launched on January 1, 2007. Done on a shoestring budget using open source tools, Placeblogger let people find and see the large and growing number of placeblogs — weblogs devoted to a particular geographic community.
Placeblogger’s origins can be traced back to a lunch in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, in June of 2006. I was seated with Jay Rosen of Pressthink and Dan Gillmor, author of We The Media and director of the freshly-minted Center for Citizen Media. Jay asked me, “How many blogs like yours do you think there are?” And, just pulling a number out, I said, “A thousand. In the US.” And I began to add to the list of great placeblogs I knew about, like Baristanet in Montclair, NJ, or Universal Hub in Boston, ones that had inspired my own local site, H2otown.info.
As I began to build the list, I discovered that there were many more placeblogs than either Jay or I imagined. But they weren’t easy to find — often they were buried in search results. It was Susan Mernit of Yahoo! that gave me the idea that what I was doing was more than just a list of sites: it could be a service. Something modest and useful that let people search the sites by location, subscribe to their feeds, browse headlines, and most importantly, visit them. That was the genesis of what I now think of as Placeblogger 1.0.
Six months later, Placeblogger was live, and H2otown was ticking along, and I was realizing that I was reaching the limits of the kinds of projects I could do as an individual. To go to the next level, I needed to work with other people, and I started to work with Teresa Hanafin, Bob Kempf, and Jason Butler of Boston.com, the online wing of The Boston Globe on adding interactivity and hyperlocal focus to the Globe’s online presence.
But with the support of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge, Placeblogger got a team of its own, and a chance to go to the next level, from something modest and useful, but largely based on well-known technology, to making a new contribution of its own: Placeblogger 2.0.
What we’re working on is exciting — but it’s the first thing that has ever put has put a crimp in my blogging. If I’m not working on Placeblogger, or talking to the others who are coming on board on the project, I’m thinking about it. But even in the era of perpetual beta there is some wisdom in waiting until something is ready. I look forward to revealing what we’re doing, and the backstory behind it, as we bring pieces of it live.
Even though much of my brainpower is currently yoked to parts of our project that are not yet fit to blog, I know there are things that we should be talking about. Perhaps the most important is this one: As journalism becomes a high-tech profession, one essential skill will be learning how to be an effective partner with programmers — even if you’re not a programmer yourself. (Yet).