Hyperlocal voices: Brian Ward, Indolent Dandy (Fitzroy, Melbourne)

This latest in the Hyperlocal Voices series of interviews looks at a second Australian hyperlocal blogger: Brian Ward, who runs Fitzroyality, a blog covering Fitzroy in Melbourne – which he describes as “vehemently anti-commercial” – as well as a number of aggregator blogs around the city. He has successfully fought major publishers on inaccuracies and copyright, and the site has now broken 1.4m pageviews.

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds?

Fitzroyalty is entirely my work. I’ve been using computers since I was 12 and have been online since 1990, the year I started university. I have a PhD in literature and have worked as a writer and editor in print publishing. I now work only in electronic publishing and have expanded into social media marketing and managing online communities. I’m a cliched digital native.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

I wanted to do some writing online, and spent months examining the blogging phenomenon in 2005-2006. I wanted to understand the motivation to create free content, and to ensure I had the motivation to maintain my interest in my subject(s) and to keep publishing regularly.

I read a lot about the online content ecology, about search engine optimisation and audience engagement. I also have an IT background, so it was fun to learn more about managing servers, installing open source software and other tasks associated with electronic publishing, which was essential to being able to operate indpendently.

The theme took some time to discover. I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, and moved to Melbourne 8 years ago. I was passionate about my new home in the bohemian centre of Melbourne, Fitzroy (the cultural equivalent of Hackney, Spitalfields or Shoreditch in London), and decided to write about it.

I was significantly influenced by a hyperlocal site for the nearby suburb of Abbotsford (http://abbotsfordblog.com/ – still online but defunct since 2008), which started about 3 months before I started Fitzroyalty. It was very important to have a theme I would not get bored with.

I was keenly unimpressed with the inane superficiality of the local (suburban) weekly newspapers (which tend to feature little local news and lots of syndicated content – they’re just vehicles for real estate advertising). I thought I could create something new that people would find useful and entertaining. Fitzroy is Melbourne’s oldest, smallest (about square 1km) and most densely populated (9000+) suburb. In 150 years it’s gone from industry to slum to gentrified urban cultural precinct. It has the critical mass of people and culture to enable an online local news publication to work.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

I started Fitzroyalty in May 2006. After researching platforms I decided against a free hosted one like Blogger and opted instead to host my own WordPress installation because I wanted to be free and independent of potential censorship, interference or intellectual property disputes (some hosts make claims on the content you publish on their platforms).

I registered a domain, bought hosting, installed WordPress and started writing and publishing. I already knew HTML and learned some CSS and PHP so I could alter WordPress templates, and also some (very basic) SQL to administer the database underneath.

I made the theme or concept loose enough to give me some diversity, so the site is mostly about Fitzroy, its culture, people and politics, and also whatever else I am doing. I am partially a food blogger and review places outside Fitzroy. I also do something quite unusual in deliberately analysing and commenting on the Melbourne online publishing scene, critiquing the business models of commercial guide sites, local government, and local business sites and the ethics of the blogging scene.

I also publish a series of 10 hyperlocal sites that aggregate posts from hundreds of local bloggers about inner city suburbs. They feature thousands of posts about restaurants, art, theatre, music and culture.

I started these in 2009 and so they have been running for 18-24 months (I built them over a period of months). They function as interesting destinations in their own right for local audiences, but via syndication they also serve a powerful (white hat) SEO function for the contributors, which is the incentive to participate.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

The Abbotsford blog was my primary inspiration, as well as the emerging food blogging scene, which is particularly strong in Melbourne. I’ve also been influenced by my reading about the future of media and the rapid development of social media. Hyperlocal aggregators like Outside.In have influenced me a lot, to the extent that I built my own hyperlocal aggregators using WordPress and an RSS aggregating plugin.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

I have a vigilante hatred of commercial media corporations and the anti-intellectual, lowest common denominator banal suburban celebrity culture they perpetuate, although I mostly admire government media corporations like the BBC and the Australian equivalent the ABC. I have little in common with any of them.

I deliberately have no business model and I’m vehemently anti-commercial. I publish free content as a hobby. I refuse advertising and all offers of free goods and services that businesses and public relations agencies send to food bloggers. I have no need to meet the needs of my audience because they don’t pay me. The only thing they give me is attention, and that I have to earn by being interesting.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I’m most proud of winning copyright disputes against corporate dinosaurs. News Ltd used a photo I supplied them in breach of our agreement, did not credit me and published a deliberate falsehood about me. I took them to the official body, the Australian Press Council, and won. They had to publish an apology and correction.

I also defeated the billionaire might of Formula One Management (FOM) in a dispute about ownership of video I shot at the Australian F1 GP. I forced them to concede that I understood the US DMCA better than them and my deleted videos were reinstated on Youtube.

I’ve helped break significant local news stories, such as about a telco’s lame viral marketing campaign. I also do regular name and shame posts about content thieves and PR agencies that breach privacy laws by sending me spam.

I’m willing to write about stories no one else wants to touch, such as government censorship forcing local pornography producers to leave Australia.

In 2009 I pursued an FOI request against the local government to release details of restaurant hygiene inspections (Victoria is far behind Sydney in NSW, London and other cities in transparency and disclosure in this issue). I failed to get all the data I wanted but I certainly exposed the local council to be blundering idiots (not that it’s difficult to do that).

In 2010 I had a big impact writing about the ethics of food bloggers accepting free goods.

As a former academic it is satisfying for me to know that my site is on the curriculum of one of Australia’s most prestigious universities (University of Melbourne) and I have been approached and interviewed by several journalism students from other universities.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

I initially published stories whenever I could – 2 or 3 a week. Eventually I managed to have enough content to publish 1 a day, and then 2 a day, which I have managed to stick with for 2 years.

The regularity really drives traffic – publishing every day helped a lot, as did a lot of SEO I did in early 2009. In October 2008 the site received only 2,800 pageviews a month. By October 2010 it was over 120,000 pageviews a month (WordPress stats), with over 10,000 unique visitors by IP a month (Google Analytics stats). At December 2010 the site had received over 1,400,000 total pageviews.

My goal was to reach a significant percentage of the Fitzroy population, and I think I have achieved that; my readership is larger than Fitzroy’s population and it’s mostly from Melbourne.

According to Google Analytics, 82% of Fitzroyalty’s total (worldwide) traffic (based on the month of August 2010) is from Australia. The traffic from Melbourne is 79% of all Australian traffic and 65% of total traffic. It’s as local as it can possibly be measured. I believe in radical transparency and take the initiative to share information others hide for commercial reasons.

I am fascinated by the broader phenomenon of social media and I conduct deliberate experiments on my audience. I see my mission as not to please an audience and make them feel comfortable and good about themselves but to stir them into reflection and action, sometimes by making them uncomfortable. I’ve discovered you don’t have to be liked to be relevant and thus well read.

49 thoughts on “Hyperlocal voices: Brian Ward, Indolent Dandy (Fitzroy, Melbourne)

  1. The Worst of Perth

    Excellent work Brian. I like your battles against media morons
    (Amazingly after arranging to meet Brian on a trip to Melbourne last week, we found we knew each other and had both worked for a very, very dodgy digital media company in 1998. A company I had to turn up to work in a tshirt saying “I can’t pay my rent because xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx won’t pay me.”)

  2. Fitzroyalty

    Thanks! Yes, the recipe to create a dedicated hyperlocal blogger is take a writer, humiliate them in a corporate environment then sack them without reason (and don’t pay their superannuation). This definitely encourages independence :-)

  3. Dowdy

    http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/2008/07/26/managing-the-underclass/

    “A new paternalism is necessary. The underclass needs to be managed like animals for the benefit of society as a whole.”

    “We need to reverse the incentives so that the underclass is encouraged to stop breeding, such as by mandating the use of the Implanon contraceptive implant”

    It’s a constant source of amazement that some very decent people link and contribute via comments to Brian’s website.

    Well I guess even some of the worlds worst regimes have had sympathisers.

    “I have no interest in maintaining the polite social taboo about discussing intelligence or its social consequences. I’m sick of having to pay so much for the social infrastructure (welfare, courts, law enforcement) that struggles to contain the underclass problem. Trying to socialise and educate the underclass is a waste of time. We need to stop them from breeding.”

    ihatefitzroyalty.wordpress.com
    Fighting fascism since 2010

  4. Marko

    In a cohesive community like Fitzroy, measuring your sucess by the amount of people who hate you is a very strange yardstick.

    I have a lot of trouble in believing some of the anti corporate and anti ‘marketing goon’ act that Brian carries on with when you consider his job profile….

    “Reporting to the Communication Manager, you will be specifically responsible for the following: Developing and implementing online initiatives to support the strategic and tactical brand initiatives Developing and implementing social marketing initiatives Developing and seeding content across a range of online forums Reviewing and responding to forums, blogs and other social media”

  5. Fitzroyalty

    This anonymous coward seems incapable of understanding the difference between me as an individual and my role as an employee.

    My site Fitzroyalty is my hobby and has nothing to do with my work, and my employer has nothing to do with my site.

    This coward can’t even put his name to his opinions.

  6. Disillusioned

    Hey Fitzroyalty is this true?

    In your real life you are a marketerer yourself?

    If so this is hypocriasy of the highest order.

    Out of hours you go on about these so called marketing goons but 9 till 5 you are “seeding content across a range of online forums”

    Does this include my Melbourne based food blog.

  7. Fitzroyalty

    I repeat: what I do at work and what I do as a hobby are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other. My employer does not own me and what I do in my time is my business. My views about online marketing are my own and are not endorsed by my employer. The only hypocrisy here is this assumption that who I am and what I do for work are the same thing.

  8. Daniel 'Webby' Web

    Nah that claptrap just doesn’t cut it Brian. No matter how many times you repeat yourself.

    An obvious analogy of your attitude is that of the the philandering priest or politician who preaches family values.

    You are a sell out.

    You claim to be “vehemently anti-commercial” yet a third of your day is spent doing the very thing you rail against on your blog.

    I repeat: You are a sell out.

  9. Fitzroyalty

    Your essentialist view of labour, and its role in forming identity, is antiquated. My employer buys my time and my abilities by the hour, and the contract does not require me to believe in anything. What I do for work does not shape my personality. Who I am, and how I express myself as an individual, cannot be deduced from the labour I sell.

    My views on marketing and consumerism as expressed in Fitzroyalty are written from the perspective of an individual consumer in a capitalist society, not as a worker.

    In Marxist terms, all employees are sell outs if you expect them to believe in what they do. How terribly passe! Work has no essential meaning. It is merely a means to an end, in my case a comfortable middle class urban existence.

    Carry on with your naive babble if you must; it means nothing to me…

  10. Daniel 'Webby' Webb

    Brian what a very well written, philosophical response you have written above. I like the final rejoinder where you try and shrug it all off.

    Being such an intelligent man, surely you can see that you have been exposed as a fraud and a sell out.

    You are a thousand times worse then the marketers that send you a spam email

    http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/2010/11/19/the-retarded-vacuity-of-john-flower/

    They have the courage to put their name to the things that they are flogging.

    You are the worse type of ‘marketing goon’.

    You go about surreptitiously commenting on blogs about the merit of your companies product – never using your real name.

    No doubt you have 10 to fifteen sockpuppets that you are using, as you go about “seeding content” across the web on the merit of your product.

    Anyway back to work with you. I am sure you have a busy day….
    Developing and implementing online initiatives to support the strategic and tactical brand initiatives

  11. Fitzroyalty

    The malicious stupidity of anonymous cowards says everything about them and nothing about me. My company has an ethical approach to online communications. When I represent my employer online it is always as an official and clearly identified voice of the company. Your comment to the contrary is false and defamatory.

  12. Anon

    I am one of Brian’s ex girlfriends and generally I think that he is a good guy.

    Sure he has a lot of emotional problems which he is trying to deal with, but don’t we all.

  13. Lisa

    What I dont understand is that he makes out that he is such an intellectual, but he is infact just a wine salesman.

    A couple of steps up from working at the drive through of the bottle-o.

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  15. hsg

    I posted a comment on ihatefitzroyalty a couple of days ago, but, unsurprisingly, the anonymous author hasn’t “approved” it. This is the type of discourse this person prefers: to anonymously broadcast personalised insults and criticism, without any transparency or rebuttals. I find it impossible to take such a person seriously.

    I also suspect that many of the comments here are from the same person, using different bogus names.

  16. Dowdy

    Hi hsg,

    you are right, I didn’t publish your comment on my blog as I don’t publish any comments at all. Critical or otherwise.

    However here it is…

    Submitted on 2010/12/27 at 4:16 pm
    Wow. THIS is your hobby? I mean, I get pissed off by other people’s blogs from time to time too, but this seems like a lot of energy to be wasting when you could be… I dunno, eating sandwiches or learning to play the bassoon?

    I totally get your “BUT SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS WRONG!!!” obsession, but this kind of bitterness will ruin you (not to mention:make you less appealing to other people). You’re not saving the world here. This is nothing more than a weird personal vendetta. Your blog doesn’t give me any insights about Fitzroyalty that I couldn’t glean from reading his blog myself. Your blog only tells me about you: your anger, your hurt, your indignation. I don’t know if you can see this yourself. Your blog doesn’t make me re-evaluate Fitzroyalty—if I want to know what he thinks about a given topic, I can read his words for myself. He’s very forthright, so it’s not as if you need to highlight his controversial comments in case I missed them. I didn’t miss them! But your blog make me think about you. Who are you? Why are you so angry about this? Why are you so obsessed with his blog? Are you okay?

    Good luck.

    Facism is facism is facism. You can wrap it up with cute little photos of street art and restaurant reviews, but offensive, inhumane hate natter needs to be stood up to.

  17. Fitzroyalty

    hsg is not me because, unlike these anonymous cowards, I am
    proud to put my name to my opinions. I would be very surprised if
    any of my former girlfriends were engaged in this ridiculous
    trolling. I doubt any are sufficiently interested in my site to
    even be aware of this petty exchange. They’ll all intelligent
    articulate women with strong opinions of the own. If any were aware
    of this I’d expect the use of a witty in-joke pseudonym that made
    me aware of her identity while protecting her privacy. My
    cheerleading hater sees no place for freedom of speech. S/he seems
    to think that simply disagreeing with a set of ideas and labelling
    them ‘fascism’ forms an argument, but this is incorrect. My article may express controversial
    ideas but it is coherently argued. Thought requires reason, which
    the haters evidently lack. Childish emotional insults have no
    impact on me.

  18. hsg

    Dowdy will be well aware that I’m not Fitzroyalty – in fact my IP address will show I’m in a completely different timezone.

    Incidentally, the comments about fascism aren’t mine; Dowdy has reproduced my comment in italics and then added his(?) own commentary afterwards in roman. I would never have called Fitzroyalty “facism” [sic] because a) I’m pro-Fitzroyalty; and b) Fascism is a ridiculously hyperbolic term that alerts readers that the author is a loon and not to be taken seriously.

  19. Dowdy

    hsg’s ip is not based in Australia.

    Further, hsg supports violence, thinks people being killed is funny, and believes the ‘underclass’ should be managed like animals.

    What a shitty person hsg must me.

  20. Fitzroyalty

    Sigh. Think first, speak second. Thanks hsg for confirming you’re not me. Unfortunately the inane and irate now have multiple targets.

    Apologies also to Paul and his team who publish this site – this is hardly the informed discussion about the impact of hyperlocal sites they hope to encourage.

  21. kickz

    no Brian, most of the discussions have been perfectly on point.

    the article says you describe yourself as ““vehemently anti-commercial” and you go on and on and on on Fitzroyalty about “PR & marketing goons” but then it turns out you’re one yourself!

    you’ve been called out as a bullshit artist of the highest order and you don’t like it one bit!

    and the whole argument of what you do for a job and what you do as a hobby doesn’t wash – if you felt so strongly about “PR & marketing goons”, then you wouldn’t do it for a living.

  22. Fitzroyalty

    As a matter of fact, I do not professionally engage in the kind of unethical marketing practices I criticise as an individual. You really do need to get a life. Your ignorance is simply embarrassing.

  23. kickz

    “seeding content across a range of online forums Reviewing and responding to forums, blogs and other social media”

    and all under your own name 100% of the time i bet…

  24. Fitzroyalty

    I’d argue that sex work is generally more honest than marketing, and the clients usually get better value for money, so I’ll accept that as a compliment.

  25. Jason

    The first two posts on this thread make cryptic reference to leading Perth IT company Dow Digital.

    Not knowing or caring who ‘Worst of Perth’ is, let me say that Brian Ward worked for Dow for less than three months, and did not leave voluntarily.

    When it comes to employee performance and attitude he could certainly have appeared on the WOP website.

  26. Fitzroyalty

    Now that’s pathetic. This so-called ‘leading’ company broke numerous laws, including not paying employee superannuation benefits, then went bankrupt c1999-2000.

    I was dismissed on the last day of my three month probation period for three main reasons:

    1 Repeatedly refusing to join a personal development cult with which the company was infested

    2 Repeatedly asking for a written copy of my contract and details of my superannuation account, both of which employers are required to provide to employees by law

    3 Repeatedly asking that other terms of my contract be adhered to, rather than undermined, by management

    ‘Jason’ is another anonymous coward who doesn’t have the courage to put his real name to his worthless opinions.

  27. Jason

    No not right. I remember your employment beyond your probation wasn’t extended because of your general poor attitude and sub standard work. You didn’t live up to your resume kid.

    Even now you can still see that confrontational attitude in your writings on this thread.

    Re ‘anonymous coward’ I am using my real name, I note that you are not “Fitroyalty”.

  28. Fitzroyalty

    My full name is in the title of this article. Where is yours? In this toxic workplace confrontational equalled insisting on my legal entitlements and refusing to be bullied into joining your stupid cult.

  29. Jason

    This week I asked another ex Dow employee if they remembered you and they said

    “yes, wasn’t he the big fat f*ckwit who was always having a hissy fit about one thing or another”

    I said to him that I didn’t think you were that fat.

  30. Fitzroyalty

    Briefly knowing me seems to have been particularly memorable for you, because after 12 years you still remember me.

    Even if I knew your real name I am sure I would not remember you. I’ve moved on to much better things but you obviously haven’t.

    You and all your banal trolling brethren are incapable of insulting me because your worthless opinions mean nothing.

  31. Jason

    You are remembered because you were so whiny and were the only person at Dow who failed probation and wasn’t hired.

    Better things? Like publishing tweets for a wine company. Good grief.

  32. Fitzroyalty

    I was dismissed because you and your cult clones failed to recruit me. I was probably the only person who successfully resisted the constant harassment to join your stupid cult.

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