Monday, 29 October 2007

Who will cultivate the gardeners?

Say you are a keen amateur gardener. Where is your natural home on the web?

You read the newspaper gardening columns, you watch Gardeners’ World, you read a magazine or two. You may be a member of the Royal Horticultural Society. Most, if not all the off-line places you indulge your hobby will have a web arm. Some may be impressive in many ways. The RHS, for instance, gives you an extensive plant finder database online, not to mention posting you a glossy monthly magazine called The Garden.

Online, any gardening outlet worth its salt could be building a community that its readers or viewers will want to join, and which will provide a natural extension to the material offered in print or on screen.

They could do. Many don’t.

Of those that do, few have mastered the concept of community and belonging, and none have grasped the importance of hyper-local content.

As a keen gardener, I’ve been looking for a home on the web for some time. I’ve looked at all the brands I like and trust, and have been disappointed with them all.

Here’s what I found

It really knows its stuff; offers advice, guidance and training but not a lot of entertainment. No community, no interaction, nothing to share. And very impersonal. It has none of the warmth and enthusiasm of a gardening column or a programme presented by committed gardeners who you get to know and like.

Gardening Which?
A website largely for subscribers to the magazine, full of facts and advice, but no community.

Some sites, such as this one, are into e-commerce above all else. I do want to buy from the home I find, but I don’t want that to be the only reason they want me around.

Daily Telegraph
The Telegraph understands the need for community, but the contributions are thin, which suggests it hasn’t yet captured the imagination of this core area of its readership.

There is a fledgling community, and you can post a question for other readers to answer, but most have no replies, very few more than one. So it’s not coming alive yet, but is certainly one to watch

Amateur Gardening has only a couple of pages online, which offer you the chance to subscribe to the print publication, but little more. That’s a shame, because this is a very lively print product

The BBC should be the daddy.. It has all the advice and mutlimedia content you’d expect, plus vibrant message boards where the posts run into six figures. But you can’t blog here, and it has no hyper-local element, although the organisation has the resources to fix that.

So, looking to the brands I know and like, I don’t find a home.

I look further afield, and do find several very strong communiites. But at Dave’s Garden
the writing is amateurish and, while it has community in spades (sorry) with over 1,500 gardeners blogging, almost all are American. I’m not going to find a home here.

Likewise Organic Gardening which has good community, but offers no local UK content or community. You are pushed to subscribe to the allied magazine to access all the online content.

Community and hyper-local content seem to me to be the keys for making the internet work for print and broadcasters. Spotting communities that can be nurtured is essential, if established publishers and broadcasters are to avoid losing these readers, viewers and listeners. It might be classified advertisers, gardeners or any of the dozens of other interest groups that buy newspapers and magazines, watch TV and listen to the radio

In short, create communities or die

I haven’t found a home on the web that gives me all that I need, so I’m going to build my own. It’s just beginning to take shape here and here. I’ve no idea how it will work out, but I’ll keep you posted.

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