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Mother of two, living life in small-town South Africa

Not in my backyard

In the same week that Avusa iLab launched its new multimedia portal for The Times, I see they’ve launched another new Avusa product, mybackyard. I noticed the ad* for it this morning in the Sunday Times magazine. It looks like an interesting experiment in hyperlocal news, inviting users to contribute their own stories and news. Not the prettiest of sites, but the content is well written, albeit very thin at this stage. I’m curious as to who is putting it all together, but there are no clues on the website, only a “proudly part of Avusa” tagline.

I’m a bit mystified by the branding strategy (what branding? what strategy) and surprised that they’re not taking advantage of their “home brands”, like the Sunday Times. I’ve been looking for the About Us page too. There’s a passing reference and link to The Times website for news in one of the static articles, but not much else. There’s nothing consistent in the look and feel for the site with any of the Avusa products either.

I’m also a little disappointed that the powers that be at Avusa have decided to market mybackyard.co.za before The Times’s multimedia portal. But I’ve worked at a big media organisation before and know how hard it is to get others to believe in your online products. That’s grist for another mill though…

Most surprising to me, though, is the lack of any online buzz around these products. I found out about the iLab product by reading Vincent Maher’s blog. But, last time I checked, he was working for the “competition“. I’ve checked out the blogs of iLab’s team – Justin Hartman, Groogle and Colin Daniels. Nothing. Twitter? Nothing. (Hell, I even checked iLab.co.za, but that’s got nothing to do with anything.) I think Gregor may have mentioned it in his Facebook status. And Ray Hartley, editor of The Times, has an entry at least. But given the depth of the Times’s multimedia site, and the ease at which its possible to cause a stir online in South Africa where the community is very small, I am surprised at the vacuum.

We’re all looking over each other’s shoulders, the competition is tight…. I would think it’s worth bragging if you’ve done something interesting.

(*And as for the print ad… I thought it was an Absa product, frankly. It shows a suburban housewife, in a very 50s dress and a bad tan line, looking over her neighbour’s fence. I get it, but I don’t like it. Not entirely convinced that’s the right target market to go after either.)

Update – Monday, 18 May: I picked up on a Twitter conversation last night around the ‘Flames of Hate’ slideshow the Times have put together of the out-of-control xenophobic violence in Alexandra. It’s a gory, horrific, terrifying piece of work but gives real insight into the situation — and showcases the courageous Times’ photographers have been doing. The voiceover, by Simphiwe Nkwali, is dramatic and so sincere it will stop you in your tracks. 2,336 views since it was put up last night and it’s only 9.20am. Now this is truly the way to launch a multimedia portal…

Check it out here: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/photos/2008/05/flames-of-hate/

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