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Building "smart" community websites

Anrdea Scholz

By Daniel Betts

In 2004 Andrea Scholz and her partners conceptualized an idea regarding the structure of a community website. 

Chamber of commerce websites tended to service the business community, while city websites serviced the business of the city and were constrained by unrealistic budgets that cost them functionality. 

Andrea and her partners wanted to build a website that was easy to navigate, had great sources of information, looked amazing and that serviced both businesses and the community. 

Ultimately, they wanted a website which was community driven so articles, events and classified ads were entered directly into the website by community members themselves.  

The result was http://www.ilovenelson.com, which has won the Kootenay Business Magazine's Reader's Choice award for coolest website four years in a row, and now enjoys monthly traffic of over 33,000 visitors a month. 

Dubbed "Nelson's community website," www.ilovenelson.com is at the top of most Google Nelson, BC searches. Few people in Nelson don't know about the popular website; it's bi-weekly Nelzine, reaches out to over 7,000 people, two thirds of the population of the city.

Reaching this goal required the rebuilding of the former www.nelsonbc.ca website, which Andrea and her partners purchased four years ago. With innovation they gathered to them developers, graphic designers and content writers, which resulted in something they didn't expect; the creation of a web development business that was aptly named Smart Nuts Technology. 

While www.ilovenelson.com grew and flourished, the newly formed Smart Nuts Technology soon found a market for developing websites for small business, ecommerce websites and even a community futures website in Ontario. 

They realized that www.ilovenelson.com was only the beginning and that it was a model of success for the development of other community websites. This idea gave birth to the Far North project.

"For months, every morning at 3 am, I would wake because the Far North idea was dominating my thoughts,” Andrea explained.

“I had lived in Alaska for a long time and I realized that community websites was something that was missing in that region.  Looking at a map of Alaska I could see that there were four primary regional locations in Alaska and the Yukon where community websites could be strategically placed for the maximum benefit of the population.” 

After many early mornings and much discussion the Far North project got underway. Using new and improved technology, four new community websites were built: www.farnorthjuneau.com; www.farnorthwhitehorse.com; www.farnorthfairbanks.com; and www.farnorthanchorage.com.

Being the hub of the Yukon, the benefits of a community website for Whitehorse was very obvious.  Having a reliable place to list community events and having another source of traffic for Yukon business would fill a void. 

Recently launched www.farnorthwhitehorse.com has already shown the most traffic of the four sites.  Because all four Far North community websites network together, travelers and residents of the region, who tend to travel between all four communities, have the ability to access and share information about all four locations.

In recent months Andrea has made the business decision to buy out her partners and is now the sole proprietor of Smart Nuts Technology, but still retains her web developers who are responsible for all the technology of her company’s attractive and functional website designs. 

Some of their recent developments include the creation of a complicated e-commerce website, www.slipstreamathletics.com. Smart Nuts Technology is also developing a community website in Alberta for an entrepreneur wanting to duplicate the success of Nelson's community website.

For this new community website, “I Love Cochrane,” Andrea conceived of yet another innovative and improved template which has been named "HUB." Andrea's vision for the future is to market the HUB template to entrepreneurs wanting to develop their own community websites, much as the owners of Alberta website have done.  

Marketing and maintaining a community website is no easy task but Smart Nuts Technology, having a great deal of experience with this process, has developed an easy to follow and straightforward manual which goes with every new community website the business creates and develops.

Recent innovative improvements to www.ilovenelson.com include the creation of a companion mobile site for smartphone users, which will allow people to find businesses, accommodations and restaurants while they are driving through town on their iPhone or Blackberry. 

Also the offering of monthly subscriptions for advertising space will allow businesses to have better control of their advertising budgets and increase advertising sales.

As has been the trend, any improvement made to www.ilovenelson.com is applied to the other community websites, Andrea and Smart Nuts Technology operate, this opens up a tremendous potential for businesses to be seen by the increasing number of people using their smartphones to surf the web.

Andrea Scholz is another example of an entrepreneur whose innovation, vision and hard work resulted in not only success for herself but has wide reaching benefits for the business while servicing the needs of the community.