Online Publications on the Prairie: Omaha.net
Today's installment, the last of three in our series spotlighting new online publications on the Prairie, features Omaha.net, a community generated media (CGM) website focused on Omaha. Taking inspiration from other CGM site, such as Jerusalem.com and Austin.com, Omaha.net founders Jordy Clements and Morgan Schwartz have set out to do a bit more. With Jordy
Today’s installment, the last of three in our series spotlighting new online publications on the Prairie, features Omaha.net, a community generated media (CGM) website focused on Omaha.
Taking inspiration from other CGM site, such as Jerusalem.com and Austin.com, Omaha.net founders Jordy Clements and Morgan Schwartz have set out to do a bit more. With Jordy taking the role of content manager and Morgan developer, the site, which is less than a year old, is developing into a hub for local writing on newsworthy or personal subjects as well as a dynamic event and business listing.
It might be a stretch on my part to label them as a “publication on the Prairie,” but because these two, with the help of interns and volunteer contributors, are producing original content on a spectrum of topics and packaging it on a site with a variety of features, I felt they should be included
Above all, their domain name, Omaha.net, gives them a leg up – it’s easy for Omahans to remember as it’s very similar to the World-Herald‘s domain name, Omaha.com.
Check out the interview with Jordy and Morgan below. It’s a bit longer than the previous two, but the two have lots to say about Omaha, domain names, and local news portals.
Silicon Prairie News (SPN): When and why did you create your online publication?
Omaha.net: Morgan acquired the domain name Omaha.net early in 2009.
In a strange twist of fate, he was awarded a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in the spring of that year to work on a project about Utopian communities. He didn’t find Utopia but became enamored of Omaha.
In chatting with locals about what he might do with Omaha.net, he sensed dissatisfaction among the people here. No one website really represented the whole of Omaha well.
In addition, he was struck by the creative energy of the city, both in terms of the arts and social entrepreneurship. He kept hearing about the boomerang effect: the phenomenon of some of the best and brightest young locals “escaping” to the coasts to live and work, only to boomerang back after realizing what a gem of a city Omaha is (Rachel Jacobson at Film Streams, Beth Katz at Project Interfaith).
After selling Jordy on a move to Omaha, Omaha.net began to really take shape in September of 2009.
SPN: What is its focus, and in addition to its content, what information does it feature?
Omaha.net: We’re Omaha’s biggest fans! Maybe it’s cheesy, but that’s the mind set we approach anything site-related with. Omaha is a great place, yet many people (some of them related to us) still think of it as a “fly over” city. We want to do our part to celebrate what Omaha has to offer, and our goal is to make Omaha.net a prominent online destination for both local residents and visitors.
We feature local writing and videos, media rich businesses listings, and information on major attractions and city infrastructure (things that don’t change frequently, like the airport, the bus system, etc). We’ve also recently began listings events, which we’d like to grow into a comprehensive events calendar for Omaha. Omaha sorely needs one!
Our site is built on a strong belief that people make the place. Most important to us — the focus of our site — are the people of Omaha. This site is really a platform for you.
SPN: What can visitors of your website regularly expect to see on your homepage and what makes it, as marketers say, sticky?
Omaha.net: It depends on what type of visitor they are. For someone considering a move to Omaha, they might find the “static” city information the most interesting: what are the universities like here? Where are the hotels located? There are a lot of great sites out there if you know what you’re searching for, but if all you know is that you’ll be coming to Omaha, where do you start? We want Omaha.net to be that starting point.
For people that live in Omaha, the writing, video, and events will probably be more interesting. We spotlight only the best local businesses. Compare the last business we built a page for, Long Dog Fat Cat, with some of the alternatives. They’re just a better product, a better store. That’s the same driving force behind everything we do: a list of the Top 5 Vegetarian Restaurants in Omaha or an article on the College World Series. We just want to share the best of what’s here with everyone.
SPN: Who is on the team behind the development of your publication’s website and the management of its content? How did you all come together?
Omaha.net: Omaha.net is written by Ann Troe, Shawn Finch, Jessica Kamish, Cristina Guerro, Jeff Randall, Beth Katz, Dave Splash, Mari Partyka, Vickie Seitner, Christa Hillmer, Kathleen Nicolini, Christy Pooschke…and more new writers all the time. Omaha.net is first and foremost for and by the community.
That said, we feel that many pure community generated media (CGM) sites are fraught with problems of quality control and lack of editorial guidance. Behind the scenes, Omaha.net is currently a two man operation (Jordy & Morgan) with support from two interns (Jessica Kamish & Cristina Guerro). Our focus is on building a platform for local content creation, and this means building both a technical infrastructure that can scale gracefully as well as a social infrastructure that is inclusive and encourages participation.
SPN: What pulled you in to creating online content and what affect, if any, did the worsening state of the print industry have on your decision?
Omaha.net: The worsening state of the print industry definitely had an affect in us believing in the value of the URL. There is a limited supply of high quality URLs, and as more and more print businesses go under, people will naturally go online more for their news and entertainment. People used to talk about a one newspaper town, a two newspaper town, and so on. We think that model is dying. We don’t view ourselves as The Journal or The Record, or the .net to the World Herald‘s .com. We live in an information democracy. The question becomes, can you do at least one thing well that no one else is doing?
The goal of any website is to use the online medium to connect with readers in a way that is impossible with traditional print journalism. For example, we’re really excited about the “ConnectOmaha!” interest groups area we have coming. Say you’re into pets. You’ll be able to go to our pet page and see all of the writing, video, and events that relate to pets. You’ll be able to discuss pets in a forum, and write brief posts about being a pet owner in Omaha. Simple, media rich. That’s just nothing you can do with a newspaper.
SPN: What is your background and how does is relate to your current endeavor?
Omaha.net: Jordy’s background: I majored in financial insolvency in college, otherwise known as a double in English and Philosophy. I wrote a thesis in poetry that went nowhere. Fast. This led me to a few years of traveling, from New Jersey newspaper reporting to English second language teaching in Seoul, South Korea. The written word – those little things like commas and pronoun antecedents – is really important to me, but the thing that relates most to Omaha.net is all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. It’s not easy moving to a new city, learning everything you can about it, and sharing that with the world. I’ve done it a few times, and I can’t wait to do it again in Omaha.
Morgan’s background: I specialize in career mashups. Originally I was trained as a chemical engineer, taught chemistry in Singapore, did my requisite stint of dot.com coding for WebTV in the late 90’s, freaked out and went to art school where I exchanged my bachelor of science in engineering for a master of fine arts in visual art and am currently a professor of digital media. As an artist and member of society, I’m interested in collaborating with people on projects that bring awareness to important issues, that offer tangible alternatives to current conditions, and that bring more joy into the world.
SPN: Do you feel your publication is truly innovative and adding to the new models of content creation, distribution, and business?
Omaha.net: We’re seeing a really interesting trend now towards hyperlocal news portals (i.e. patch.com and everyblock.com). There is a lot we like about them, but in their efforts to scale nationally, we find that they often fall short in terms of building genuine community involvement. They do a great job of scraping content together from a variety of data feeds, but in the end what you get is…a lot of data feeds scraped together. Because we are not trying to scale nationally, we have an opportunity to be a hyperlocal news portal that is built by real human beings with real passions who are concerned about real issues.
To claim “true innovation” is a bit presumptuous. We are at an interesting moment in the history of online media where technically we no longer need to create a wheel just to get down the road. We’re leaning heavily on the shoulders of our peers in this endeavor. Technically, our platform is built on top of Drupal, a powerful open-source content management system. Technology like this allows a small two-person team to do things that just a few years ago would have required a roomful of developers. We are also active students of other successful online communities.
We’ll let others measure our degree of innovation. We’re not currently involved in developing novel software technologies, but we’d like to think that we’re doing a good job of creatively mixing and matching off-the-shelf technologies and community building techniques to actively reexamine what it means to be a publisher.
SPN: Is there a similar publication that inspired your team to create yours? If so, which one(s)?
Omaha.net: We draw inspiration from a wide range of city-based websites.
Jerusalem.com, for example, does a great job. They make it as easy to book a hotel room for next week as it is to learn about Jerusalem’s ancient history. They’ve also thought of quite a few innovative revenue streams (unique iPhone apps, selling email addresses, a store, etc.).
Austin.com is another niche geo operation doing good work. The share their love for the city and balance the type of writing that appears on the site well. You can tell that they are proud of where they live.
Patch.com is a hyperlocal platform that makes it really easy to crowdsource writing and events from community members. They have a clean layout and are building a growing presence on both coasts.
SPN: Do you or any of your team members work full-time for your publication?
Omaha.net: Try emailing either one of us at 3 a.m. 🙂 We’re obsessed with making this website succeed. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re full-time plus.
SPN: Could you introduce us to two of your contributors, telling us a bit about each?
Omaha.net: We’d love to! One of the most enjoyable parts of this endeavor is the chance to work with people who have an infectious desire to share their passions.
Christy Pooschke was one of our first contributors. She’s the creator of Choose Real Foods, and the kind of person likely to show up at your door with quinoa recipes and an invitation to join her at the farmer’s market. She’s really passionate about improving people’s lives by improving their diets. Nebraska has such a strong connection to farming, but somehow between here and the drive-thru that gets forgotten. Christy writes articles about food issues in the city. Put the Twinkies down people
Mari Partyka is a book club president and creator of the blog Bookworm with a View. Mari’s one of those people that others tend to find inspirational. Marathon runner, successful business woman, and, oh by the way, battled dyslexia for most of her childhood. And know she has publishers sending her more free books than she has time to review. Her blog began with an annotated reading list she mailed to friends. Her work on Omaha.net is the spiritual continuation of that list: what she’s reading, why she’s reading it, and why she keeps coming back to books.
SPN: How would one go about either applying to write for your publication or pitching you a story?
Really… we do!
If you’re passionate about something, we’re likely to be interested.
SPN: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Omaha.net: First, we’d be remiss in not thanking Silicon Prairie News. We’re a fan of what you’re doing in the community and love the way that your whole model is predicated on sharing your success with others.
As we said before, we’re thankful to be a member of the Omaha community and are always looking for more ways to interact with them. If you want to write for us or see your business on Omaha.net, we’d love to work with you.
Or maybe you just want to tell us how we could be serving you better. Are we not covering your band enough? Do you want more coverage for your group bike ride? Your charity? Features that you think would be valuable? Let us know. All critiques will be followed by, “Thank you for sharing!” Promise.
We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.