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Hubs and Spokes in Practice

One of my first comments on Performancing was on an article by Nick Wilson on the idea of a ‘hub and spoke’ model for blog networks.

This would operate by having a central blog giving an overview of a topic, with individual blogs about specific aspects – for example a motoring central blog, with satellite blogs about Ford, Nissan, etc.

I mentioned at the time that a friend and I were setting up a blog network just like this and would let you know how we got on. Well, on 10th February we launched Real Life News so I thought I’d give an update on what we’ve done and why.

The model we have adopted is to create hubs around key topics and recruit fans to write individual blogs. Our first channel is Football (soccer), and the individual blogs cover English Premiership football teams and leagues around the world. All the blogs are run and hosted by us.

Some reasoning behind this:

  • by choosing fan-based topics we attract writers who are passionate about the area. We ask for examples of their writing so we can check their style (and sanity), but we go for passion over journalistic style
  • by going for start-up writers we don’t have to ‘buy’ blogs into the network, but we do have to start from scratch.
  • Although each writes about a specific team or league, there are good opportunities for overlap/cross-referencing. For example, the Newcastle United blog said the team were looking at a German manager, so the Bundesliga blogger wrote an article giving background on him.
  • The bloggers can also comment on broader football issues. We did an interview with the Football Association (the governing body in the UK) and published it on our homepage with no opinion, instead encouraging the bloggers to give their view of the interview on their own blogs.
  • We decided to have all the blogs on our site because we want to create a focal point for people wanting to read about the topic areas.

One question raised among the comments on Nick’s article, was how to start a hub and spoke network. Do you start with the hub or the spokes?

Our plan was to launch the hub along with a minimum 5 blogs. A hub on its own is just a blog and the spokes on their own have little or no benefit in terms of creating a community.

We set up on Blogger with posts focused on what we were trying to do – rather than about football – and used it as a landing pad for the recruitment. We managed to get 6 blogs up for launch so achieved our threshold. Now we have something live, we’re getting more interest from potential writers as they can see what they would be involved with. We’ve signed up 2 more since launch (to go live next week) and are talking to 4 others.

Moving into other subjects in future should be easier having existing traffic and some the credibility of a live site.

In terms of traffic generation the volumes are small – but bigger than we expected given that all the blogs are new. And because they are written by real fans and we’ve adopted a very open approach to other sites (viewed as part of the wider subject comunity rather than competitors), we’re getting good mentions on other football blogs.

So that’s where we are. We haven’t come across many blog communities (which I feel are slightly different to standard blog networks) so hopefully there is something others can take from what we have done.

Cheers

DavidM

Author: Chris Berry

7 thoughts on “Hubs and Spokes in Practice

  1. I loved this idea when Nick first wrote about it. Is there one blog software that is better suited to this format?

  2. Exactly right Gary.

    In my mind it’s all about the difference between a blog network and blog community.

    Networks have an important role in bringing structure to the blogoshpere – they provide central points of access to blogs on a wide range of topics so you can delve into many different areas from one place. However, there often doesn’t seem to be much reason why any two blogs are on the same network apart from the halo effect of being part of a network rather than stand-alone. In short, there is no community aspect.

    Our idea was to create blog communities rather than blog networks. There is an intrinsic reason why our blogs are together I one place – they provide various aspects of a single subject.

    You can come to Real Life News to read one of the blogs and nothing else, but the core proposition is stronger than that – you come to RLN because you want to read about football and get a range of views on different aspects of the game.

    Even so we could have linked to external football blogs from RLN and agreed advertising share and so on. But we didn’t feel this maximised the community aspect. By having the blogs in-house we are making a clear statement that this is one site, one community.

    We have seen hardly any other examples of this approach so consider ourselves the first ‘blog community’ site.

    It will be interesting to see if anyone else tries it.

  3. From what I’m seeing, this community isn’t a bunch of blogs on different domains, but a single domain made up of several blogs. Basically, each blog category (Football in this case) is a separate blog (http://www.reallifenews.com/football/index.php) with additional blogs in subfolders of each category blog (ie. http://www.reallifenews.com/football/birmingham/index.php).

    I am assuming this will be the pattern as other topics/categories are added. Using this model (which I really like), you wind up with one very large community of blogs instead of your typical blog network which follows along the path of a “central” blog linking out to numbers of “network” blogs on different domains.

    – Gary

  4. Google ‘punishment’ depends more on ‘duplicate content’. Heavy linking between different sites in a network will be appreciated by Google.

    In Davids network the hub is more a ‘directory’ than a link farm. The border for Google ‘punishment’ is reached when you just replicate and duplicate link structures and content.

    As always just my 2c …

  5. Are there any worries about Google viewing a hub and spokes setup as a mini-net attempting to boost page rank of the “spokes”, even though there is just one site (the hub) doing the linking? In other words, if the hub is a high ranking centralized site that is repeatedly linking to a bunch of lower ranking blogs on other domains, is there a danger of a Google penalty?

  6. Thanks Marcus.

    We are currently only using the hub as a directing aide – capturing the headlines for each of the satellite blogs to guide readers to the content.

    But I think there is much much more it could be used to do. It needs to bring a group identity to the satellites and add extra value through it’s own content, etc. We’ve started doing this a bit by posting an interview on the Real Life News homepage then encouraging the satllites’ writers to comment on it – good or bad.

    This is only the start of what the hub could do.

    Cheers

    DavidM

  7. That’s my spontaneous answer because otherwise all the spokes might point into different directions. I see networking primary as ‘weaving a net’. Maybe that is not the classical ‘hub and spoke’ approach but more a grid of topics.

    As you are talking about a very event driven topic you might think of having a collaborative calendar solution to put event feeds on the sites. Have a look at AirSet. Nice features like subsribing to iCal files, importing and exporting iCal files, calendar feeds and much more.

    Another idea is to use coComment for comment feeds to the sites. This also might drive traffic nicely without much work to do from the ‘hub’.

    You could also have Blogger ‘categories’ for every team, player, match, trainer, ??? on every page or on just a central ‘topic hub’ page. I just did some research yesterday … http://del.icio.us/merz1/blogger+categories … or more general http://del.icio.us/merz1/blogspot

    The net weaving possibilities are pretty endless 🙂 But that might be the real task for a ‘hub’.

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