I've been doing a round-up of Croydon community sites lately, and it's reminded me quite how good the Purley Mail is. It's a weekly email newsletter and basic website run by a former journalist, and member of the Purley Business Association Ken Trench.
It's a very niche product - and not just because it's so hyperlocal. It's obviously slanted towards business, but also deliberately avoids grimy crime - Ken told me his wife cannot bear to pick up the hard-nosed Croydon Advertiser because it depresses her too much.
It's a formula which, knowing his circulation, works very well. Even though we often have more Purley news, Ken's strength is his readers know he's focusing his sole attention on them.
This is something we can replicate with our hyperlocal sites, like the dedicated Purley section - but it's got me to thinking about how much you need to differentiate between how you treat each site to make each area feel special, not cloned. For instance, would you put stricter rules in place for commenters on the posh Purley site than the downmarket Thornton Heath one? Are there some areas in which you would take the view separating the site out far more is of more benefit than providing links to some of the more general parts of the site?
I think one answer could be to get our beat reporters to take more responsibility for their sites, making those judgement calls. It's something I hope we can work towards.
Meanwhile, in a cheerful article called Echoes of Dispair in the Guardian yesterday, Peter Wilby speaks about the pothole paradox - how potholes in your road are the most interesting thing in the world, but a mile away mind-numbingly boring.
He says hyperlocal sites are one answer, but they tread a fine line. I assume he means if you attempt to feed back mundane user generated content to the general newspaper, you will bore most other readers.
That's a problem which arises if you try and shoehorn that kind of content which, I think, only really works online into print. (It's undoubtedly a temptation for suits wanting to cut costs, and I hope one which won't make it into our newsroom.) But the technology which allows you to create endless variations on your content means it should be much easier to solve online.
Well, here's hoping . . .