Can you gentrify the local web?

In Oakland, we have an angry community member who is telling his peer
group that Oakland Local is
going
to “gentrify the web”–i.e take traffic away from his site and the
other grassroots sites that have existed for the past 4 years.  This
person is an angry cyber-bully who talks about conspiracy theories, and
Big Brother, but the question he raised–could you gentrify the local
web?–was interesting enough that I went home and did a little research
and want to share what I found.

Basically, gentrification means
that local people who live in a area and have roots there are pushed out
as outsiders come in and improve the buildings and raise the cost–and
value–of housing. This is a classic pattern of displacement that
happens all too often in cities, often with the new people as white
gentrifiers and the displaced people as people of color. In Oakland,
where neighborhood have been disrupted due to development,
gentrification is a big issue–as it is in many cities.

So can
this happen on the web? Understanding whether the local web could
gentrify–or, to be specific with these accusations–was the existence
of Oakland Local actually taking audience and attention away from
pre-existing local sites, particularly those few run by people of
color–seemed a worth exercise.

In Oakland, where Oakland Local
launched in October 2009 and had an immediate, popular impact (we have
over 3,000 Facebook
fans
), there were a large number of web sites and blogs already in
existence–over, 1500, to be precise (see the Blog directory
we
built for more details),  Oakland Local’s M.O. is to be a portal, or community
hub
,
where we feature and send traffic back to content and community
partners, as well as feature original writing and multimedia.

To
test whether Oakland Local–and other new media sites in Oakland–were
indeed gentrifying, or taking traffic away from older local sites, we
did a little experiment with metrics–follow along and see what the
results were.

First, we identified a set of local sites to test
with:

Next we set up a research methodology–look at the
free, public Alexa data on each site and
see how the traffic was being reported as increasing or decreasing over
the past 3 months. Then, check Google
search
, using custom date ranges and the URL of each site, and see
if the number of referring links–a way to measure influence–had
increase or decreased over the past 11 months. To do that, we
established two sets of date ranges–one from June 2009-October 2009,
before Oakland Local launched, and the other from November 2009-May
2010, when Oakland Local was active.  We did not factor for issues of
quality, frequency of updating, relevancy or any other issues that
actually bring users to a web site–we just went for the basic
comparison.

When we ran the data on these sites what did
we
find?

In every case, the discernable traffic for these
sites–and the number of links they receive in Google–has gone up,
typically by 30-60%.  These number show that The Block Report, rather
than losing traffic since Oakland Local launched, has gained traffic,
and that these other sites in Oakland have gained traffic as well.
.
In
other words, this suggests the local web is NOT like a city block, or a
local neighborhood. The concept of displacement–of a web user
abandoning one web site in favor of another–is not supported by this
data. Instead, it suggests what common sense dictated all along–web
sites compete for audience based on the quality and relevancy of what
they offer, and most people spend their day visiting several–certainly,
in Oakland, they have many to choose from.

Block Report Radio

Alexa.com
statistics  for Block Report Radio report
that the site grew 90% in traffic over the past 3 months, and 300% in
the past month.

The Google links to the site between
June and October 2009
were 155; the links between November
2009  and May 2010
were 252.

The Black Hour

We
then looked at this college-run site, which offers terrific coverage for
Black students at Laney College, one of the Peralta Community Colleges
in Oakland, Their coverage is also of keen interest to the broader
community in Oakland. (Note: The Black Hour has been an active partner
with Oakland Local, and we have published and co-published a lot of work
with its editor.)
Alexa data on The Black Hour showed that
the site had taken a 40% dip in the past  month, but that the site has
grown 20% overall in the past 3 months.

Google links show that
from June-2009-Oct 1, 2009, the site had 4 links; from  Nov-May 1, 2010,
there were 10 links

Oakland
Rising

Oakland Rising is a slightly different kind of site
than the previous two, because it belongs to a non-profit project, but
since it is both local and community-action focused, it seemed like a
good choice to research (note: they are also an OL partner)

According
to Alexa, Oakland Rising took a dip in
the past month of  50%, but in the past 3 month, their traffic rose
150%.

From October 2009-May 2010, OR received 13
Google links
, from June to September, they received 14, so that’s
pretty much a wash..

Other data

Although it is outside of
Oakland, and has a very different focus than Oakland Local, we also
looked at stats for the SF Bayview, a
historically Black web site in San Francisco, since our accuser said we
were harming them.  Was that true?

According to Alexa, traffic
for SF Bayview was
down 20%
in the past month, but up 30% over the past 3 months.
Google links for SF Bayview were 607 for June-October
2009
,  and for November
2009-May 2010
, 11,600 (!!!) ) (Clearly, I am not the only
person
who thinks this site is providing great news and value).

Oakland
Local’s data
It doesn’t seem right to go through this exercise
without also sharing Oakland Local’s stats, which I ran as a comparison
(and to understand whether our critic might also be motivated by
jealousy). Here’s that data:

Alexa says that our traffic has gone
up 40%
in the past month, 22% overall,
Google links: Oakland
Local was not alive before October 19, 2009, so we don’t have site
results to report. From October
2009-May 2010
, we have 14,500
references i
n Google.

Latest Comments

  1. carsenu.myopenid.com says:

    I really don’t know if we have the rights to gentrify the local web? But one thing for sure, Country music artist Chely Wright, has officially released she is a lesbian. She has completed talk shows with multiple news programs that are not designed to air their data until May 5, 2010 on Cinco de Mayo, but People Magazine introduced the details today, 2 days sooner than planned. Chely Wright states this is a personal decision and intended to keep it quiet, but instead resolved to publicize it to the world. She is the 1st county music performer to broadcast she is a lesbian, and is a bit uneasy concerning how her supporters will react to the news. Don’t be concerned Chely we can deal with the news just fine because we all already knew.

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