Fredrickville is at a crossroads.
First the bad news:
Informal research suggests that readership and number of page hits are at an all time low. Even without specific data to back up this point, the 4 month long Gripe Corner shutdown has taken its toll on the site.
An interesting catch-22 is at play here:
The Gripe Corner is the most visible aspect of Fredrickville. When users post on it, they show each other and the admins that Fredrickville is active. Activity on Fredrickville encourages end users to keep coming back and encourages admins to post more. When there's an apparent downturn in visible users, admins get discouraged and don't work as hard to produce new content.
With less content being produced, users at the margin stop coming on the site, but the Gripe Corner alone is enough to sustain a small core community.
The PGC shutdown over the last few months took away every semblance of user visibility save for a few comment posts and a two or three admin articles (total!), thus eliminating the last shred of the core community and plunging the site into hibernation. If we want FV to return to its former high traffic, high interest state, we must aggressively reform its business model and simultaneously launch a reintroduction campaign to attract a new user base in addition to re-appropriating the old.
Let me make a note that the reason for the PGC shutdown was to introduce a new PGC (currently the 5th incarnation, I believe, although the difference between 3 and 4 was only cosmetic.) The new PGC was part of an FV expansion campaign that, due to labor and time costs, has been stagnant.
But fear not, things can be turned around.
Looking at the 2003-2007 period: 2003-2004 saw the highest level of total FV activity between number of gripe corner users and number of posts generated. Yes, this was in part because Wobert was a posting machine, but, more generally it is due to the fact that for lack of a better term, FV morale was high. There was action and debate to be had on the PGC and there was content to read. The visible use encouraged other endeavors such as the War in Iraq special updates, the quiz and picture contests, and the real life invitational gatherings.
2005-2006 were subject to a slowing but continued use of FV, part of which can be attributed, in this author's opinion, to the major constituency of FV leaving for college or "coming of age" in some way. This period of course also coincided with the rise of "Web 2.0" where sites like Myspace, Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Blogs, and other user-oriented material became widely utilized.
Fredrickville is clearly built on a Web 1.0 model. It is a site where admins and subcontractors generate content and where users passively receive that content, limited only to interactivity on the Gripe Corner and in the comments section. It is in my opinion that this is why the PGC has and will always be the most active and contentious portion of the site. This is not, of course, to disparage the quality of the admin generated material. While it is variable in its release schedule and sometimes better than at other times, it has generally been enough to attract and hold new visitors long enough to get them involved in the community.
However, Web 2.0 is a difficult trend to combat under the current FV model. Note that in 2006 FV experienced a SpIkE in popularity when it introduced the conceptual FVR portion of the site - where indie bands could get web hosting and exposure.
In 2007-2008 more than ever, FV saw a downturn in interest and user visibility. Because of the codependence issue illustrated earlier, this also coincided with a drop in admin productivity. It is unclear which caused which, although I suspect they act on one another more or less equally. Behind the scenes social issues between some of the constituency also eroded some of the core base. This was capped off by the PGC shutdown, which took visibility to effectively zero.
What we must do:
With the types of aggressively marketed content on the Internet right now, FV must prioritize who it can attract, if anyone. News, image boards, flash sites, lolcats type spam images, Youtube, and social networking are our competitors for peoples' time on the Internet. What can we do to get them to click our links and spend some of their day on this site?
This is the type of humor you are up against.
First, we need to identify a winnable demographic. In this author's opinion, that demographic must be significantly younger than the one which has been targeted from 2006 onward (the 20 and up demographic). Fredrickville started as a high school project and could do well to remember its roots. Kids love gossiping, posting angsty rants, having access to downloadable signed hall passes and blank fieldtrip forms, and generally de-stressing about the biggest part of their day. This is a demographic we can take from Facebook in that FV is about communal gripe rather than just engaging in a massive session of "check out the person next to you." I said it once before and I'll say it again - complaining about Biology and math classes is the fuel of Fredrickville.
To expand into this demographic, we need outreach into high schools by contacts on the ground - I am reminded on an anecdote of FV lore in which we narrowly lost the opportunity to be advertised in the newspaper of another school. I think one way to do this would be to start a guerrilla campaign centered on battles of the bands, community center functions, and word of mouth to get kids interested in a site that's less "mainstream" and therefore less "toolish" or "conformist" than Facebook. Facebook, after all, is run by the Man, and that man routinely upsets his users by changing the layout, adding annoying features, and running a site with a sterile blue and white exterior. FV is not sterile. FV is the mob. FV has an air of rebellion, and on this leg can we stand.
Secondly, we can no longer be providers of information to passive masses. We must implement a (moderated of course) discussion section that contends hot button issues and allows for grandstanding by the user base - this makes people feel important and gets them coming back for more - and better yet, fighting with each other, which in turn keeps the audience gripped with anticipation over what will happen next.
Thirdly, the material we provide needs to be more dynamic. Editorials, yes, because the quality of writing here has never been prohibitively bad, and because it instigates discussion and dissemination of the website onto other sites, but beyond editorials, we need to expand into pictures and humor - and not of the cheap Ebaumsworld variety. I mentioned before about photocopying pre-signed hall passes. This type of gimmick could be given an interactive flavor - you get a hall pass one day at school, you send it to FV, we Photoshop blank it except for the basic fields and the signature, and we repost it for download and repeated use. We could have a bank of these from schools everywhere. We could have a repository of study resources if anyone cares. We could have a calendar of community (or subculture) events like battles of the bands and parties. We would of course, take no responsibility for the promotion of private events (and maybe avoid it entirely), but at the battle of the bands, for instance, we could sponsor and advertise, get in good with the public's' heroes and use them to promote us further.
With a sizeable base, FV may again be able to achieve widespread currency or even turn a profit, or expand into other demographics. I've never believed in real life merchandise sales or website ads, but I think cheap subscription features are great.
I also want to note as an aside that the Friday Night Guide was hilarious and should be revived. That was forward thinking. That was user generated content.
This is our stand to make, or not.
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||FredFredrickson @ 10/25/08
"As a response, I want to first note: Friday Night Guide has been taken off the site, as well as many other features, to help focus back on what's important. But it's possible we lost what was important doing so. The guide is still accessible: http://friday.fredrickville.com/
Additionally, I'm open to suggestions if anybody has some for web 2.0 ideas, I can program them. Please comment here..."
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