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Internet Gentrification

August 2012

As the internet grows up, parts of it are becoming slightly gentrified, much as the rougher areas of cities do from time to time; we are seeing the more civilised and educated types moving in and smartening it up.  This means that if you keep your eyes peeled, you can find a new and increasingly worthwhile breed of specialist website run by cultured people that will repay a visit.

There are, I suppose, about three types of commercial website that are any use. 

First, and most numerous,  are the brochure sites – a few pages explaining what a business does, with contact details; your local pub might have one, for example.  Perfectly worthy, highly practical, often homemade; but not really much more than a beefed up entry in the Yellow Pages.

At the other end of the scale are the sites that are simply there to sell you things or provide a service; Amazon, for example , or your bank;  they need to look adequate and work well, but they have no pretentions beyond that.  In pre-internet terms these are the equivalent of a high street shop, or department store.

In between them are the sites that interest me; these  are the sites that we actively seek out, to see what’s new; sites we might glance at once or twice a day out of interest.  In that sense they are competing with the print media, but the distinction is more subtle; they have a lot in common with the independent retailer in a town, staffed by specialists who love their product.

There are some giants, of course, like BBC News or the Huffington Post, but because publishing your own website is easier and cheaper than it has ever been there are many much smaller, specialist sites that are making the internet a more interesting, congenial and worthwhile place than I once feared it might become.  These are the gentrified areas, using techniques developed by the big boys to build small businesses in agreeable niches.

I suppose that some of the people who are moved to start their own website are often the same people who might, twenty years ago, have tried to publish a magazine; however, the cost of starting a website is tiny compared to the cost of publishing a magazine, and it is just possible to run a respectable, worthwhile, if slightly loss-making website whilst holding down a day job.  If it goes well, it will begin to generate a profit (mainly through advertising) and may even, one day, become valuable and provide an income.

An excellent example of this is The City Planter (, which I recently came across by accident.  It is a charming website all about city gardening, from window box onwards.

It’s only about a year old, and by any measure it’s a small business, but you wouldn’t immediately know it.  The site’s sole owner is Rhiannon James; she has a background in journalism and marketing.  Having helped someone else set up a business she uncovered a desire to strike out on her own, and used her love of gardening as the inspiration. The site it has frequent updates from her and several freelance writers; she also has the help from friends and family that all new businesses rely on.

She had to invest a bit to get it going; in her case she decided to use a professional website designer to create the architecture of the site, and it shows; but once built, the running costs are relatively modest.  As for income - she simply makes space available on her site to several online advertising networks; they place appropriate adverts in that space, and pay Rhiannon for privilege.  Generally, the more readers that click on an advert, the more Rhiannon is paid.

It is always worth a visit, if you share her enthusiasm.  That’s the point; it is now possible to set up a worthwhile site with a very narrow focus and if enough people share your interest it might even make you enough to live on, as well as improving the internet neighbourhood.