BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — What started as a simple online directory of businesses, restaurants, and other establishments serving Boston has grown into a full-blown hub of Beantown information. After a layoff prompted him to take his side project full-time, Adam Gaffin set about building Universal Hub into a hyperlocal news hub with an original Boston twist. If you want the day’s biggest stories, stick with The Boston Globe. But if you’re a Bostonian looking for a ground-level view of your city, the Hub serves a distinct purpose.
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The site is basically a one-man show. Gaffin does all the reporting and aggregating as well as the nuts-and-bolts programming of the site. He has a part-time ad salesperson as well who works on commission. While it looks like one person on paper, the unofficial roster is larger. The site’s strength comes from a network of concerned citizens and local bloggers contributing content from across the city’s various neighborhoods. Gaffin estimates a dozen or so tipsters regularly feed him information and another dozen photographers regularly contribute photos to the Flickr feed. If there’s a burglar loose in your hood, the Hub knows. If baby turkeys are wandering around, the Hub’s got photos submitted to its Flickr page. If a storm hits and you want to know who else has lost power, the Hub’s on it through its active Twitter feed.
As for the numbers, Gaffin reports 70,000-100,000 unique visits a month and a half a million pageviews. “That’s [equivalent to] a small newspaper,” he says. “I do see potential with what I’m doing.” While he says the site is profitable in that it earns revenues beyond its costs, it is not yet at the point where it can earn Gaffin a full income. He supplements his earnings from Universal Hub by working as a consultant for other web sites. Universal Hub primarily earns revenue through local direct sale display ads (check out the rates here) and Gaffin hopes to expand his ad sale efforts.
Gaffin admits that his kind of reportage isn’t the best tool if you’re trying to expose government corruption or document a war, but it does a great job of keeping people up to date on all the important minutiae in their environment. One particular piece of news that the Hub “owns” is the status of “the T,” the Metro Boston Transit Authority’s transport system. The site has it’s own section dedicated to news on “the T” which covers everything from track upgrades to on-the-ground reports on delays. By plugging into his network of citizens, Gaffin can bring real-time reports on service delays or just a little local color from the daily commute.
“I think there is a need for insidery sites written by people who live in the place,” Gaffin says. “They understand what it means when the T isn’t working today. Traditional media are still concentrating on bigger stories. That is probably more important, but when I’m stuck on a subway train, [those stories] are not my main concern at that point.”
Although he was an early entrant in Boston’s hyperlocal game, Gaffin now contends with hyperlocal giant Patch and several other sites. He’s not worried himself, though. He’s more scared for the weekly community newspapers who have to contend with the neighborhood-specific coverage those sites offer. Although Universal Hub and other hyperlocals may be up against each other for the occasional banner ad, the site’s differ because the Hub’s authentic brand of homegrown character sets it apart. Among the news updates, there’s also “The Wicked Good Guide to Boston English,” documenting the dialect of the region and the names and places that make it so unique. Also be sure to check out “The Wicked Good Guide to Boston Restrooms,” an impressively thorough guide to the city’s public restrooms, broken down by neighborhood and rated by cleanliness.
Named after Oliver Wendell Holmes’s insistence that Boston was the “Hub of the Universe,” Universal Hub may not be the go-to spot for all of existence or even the galaxy, but it’s become a web essential for the ins and outs of Boston daily life.
Universal Hub Data
Name: Universal Hub