Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hoboken411


I discovered Hoboken411 after talking to a fellow Dad at Church Square Park. I told him I was thinking about starting up a blog about life in Hoboken. My first post was going to be about how Hoboken somehow received a "Tree City USA" designation this year despite the fact I was seeing trees being cut down on city property all around the city. He mentioned 411 and said he followed updates to the site obsessively. When I got home and checked out the site I saw I had been "scooped"! Like my obsessive friend, I now subscribe to the 411 news feed and look at articles the minute they're posted.

411 is great example of "hyperlocal" journalism described in this August 2007 Wired article: "To Save Themselves, US Newspapers Put Readers to Work". Hoboken is the perfect place for a site like 411 to flourish: it's high density and small. People want news about their community. Or, to put it plainly, everyone wants to know about everybody else's business and in Hoboken it's relatively easy to find out about it. The problem is, before 411 there wasn't a good way to get the word out (except perhaps by chatting with parents in Church Square Park).

The local newspaper, the Hoboken Reporter, is respectable but only published weekly and pretty thin after you remove the real-estate ads. If the Hoboken Reporter had moved faster they could have filled the void that 411 has filled (411 is only 1 and a half years old). The City Hall website is a big disappointment. During the recent scheduled power outage, and the water main break the City Hall website provided next to no information. In fact, a local Councilman had to contact 411 to find out what was going on during the power outage.

Because 411 welcomes postings from the community I was able to 'get to the bottom' of two curious things my wife and I noticed lately: an injured bird not far from our apartment, and a group of dancers on Washington one afternoon. These kinds of trivial news items are one of the main reasons I love the site. 411 also posts transcribed minutes of School Board and City Hall meetings which I really appreciate. Not only can I keep up with what's going on in local government, these posts add transparency that our local government should already maintain (but doesn't), particularly given the reputation of Hudson County politics.

On the other hand 411 also has "loosely moderated" user comments for every posting. I've found that comments can be xenophobic, argumentative, and obnoxious so I generally don't look at them unless I think there may be real information content, as there was during the water main break and the power outage. (Why is it that the comments are like this? Is it that I'm only noticing the obnoxious postings? Is it that people revert to obnoxious behavior when their identity is hidden behind a pseudonym? Or is it that people who choose to post comments tend to be obnoxious people?)

A contributing factor to the success of 411 is that the guy behind it all, Perry, is truly interested in all aspects of Hoboken life. He's also an egoless blogger - opinionated but never offensive. Having read so many of his posts now, I'm beginning to get to know him a bit and he seems like a nice guy :-) I miss his daily postings when he takes time off (like over the previous Labor Day weekend), and I'm pleased that he's able to make a living from the site. I'd hate to have it disappear. 411 has become part of my daily routine and a vital part of the Hoboken community.

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