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RESEARCH

Assigning the Job

“Consistent effort by a small number of people is what makes casual contributions by a huge number of people possible.”
—Lisa Williams
H2otown

It’s difficult to get volunteers to make the rounds of civic organizations to solicit content. Doug Bratland, chairman of the nonprofit Northfield Citizens Online, said the group could find volunteers who would handle the technical side of the Northfield site, but “what we couldn’t get volunteers to step up to the plate to do was getting people to contribute content.” He made the rounds of meetings in his time off from his full-time job, but after the site hired a part-time editor to bring in more posts, Bratland said, he began to recover from burnout, and the site began to hear from a larger circle of posters.

K. Paul Mallasch launched Muncie Free Press on July 4, 2005 as a one-man operation; he’s the site’s editorial, business and tech support staff, and cannot afford to hire help. He hands out business cards at events he attends and covers, but that has not been enough to build a healthy content flow in the first year.

Speaking in late spring 2006, he said the site flounders when he stops posting. “I learned in the last four weeks, while I ramped down to concentrate on web design, that the more you feed, the more people are going to respond. It’s my job to make sure there is at least one new thing on the site every day. It’s a tedious, back-breaking process. Do we have a community yet? Realistically, I would say no.”

Some site operators counsel patience in lieu of a wrangler; the founders of ibrattleboro posted almost everything in the site’s first six months, they said, and then posts seemed to self-generate as people stretched out and brought their various interests and obsessions to the site. “For years now it’s been the citizens who are doing the writing and the ‘journalism,’” said Christopher Grotke. Lisa Williams of H2otown says it takes just a nucleus of posters to keep a site vibrant: “Consistent effort by a small number of people is what makes casual contributions by a huge number of people possible.”

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