Universal Hub was created by Adam Gaffin and Steve Garfield, who both wanted to collect the "best" stories from Boston-area blogs and collect them all at one site. Using advertising on the website, Gaffin says he pulls in an extra $15,000 per year from the website. But he's definitely not in it for the money. He's in it to show the best blogs Boston has to offer.
An executive editor at Network World, Gaffin said there were a couple of different things that happened that got him into blogging.
"I was blogging at work and I was starting to read some interesting Boston-area blogs. I thought it might be interesting to do a digest of what local folks were talking about."
Enter: the Boston Common. According to Universal Hub's "About Us" page, Boston Common started as "a Weblog that tried to capture the best writing from the hundreds of bloggers in the Boston area." They then changed the name from Boston Common to Universal Hub. Gaffin follows hundreds of Boston blogs looking for great blog entries that he believes others would enjoy reading.
One of those blogs is Undercover Blonde, which chronicles the going-ons of Kirsten Amann, a writer and waitress in Boston. Her blog entries are often posted on the Universal Hub front page, and Amann says she enjoys it.
"I think it's a great site and enjoy scrolling through it for news, interesting stories, and Boston-centric anecdotes. I'm happy to be a part of the Universal Hub community," Amann said in an e-mail interview.
However, Amann said since her blog is about her personal life, she often gets a mean comment, but says Gaffin has helped her out.
One post that Adam excerpted last winter elicited an abusive, threatening response on both the UniversalHub.com site AND on my personal blog, which was really offensive. Adam was quick to come to diffuse the situation in a fair, neutral way and made it very clear that such commenting would not be tolerated on the site, which led to a broader discussion there about good commenting behavior and Internet decorum in general. The way he handled it really made me trust him and feel loyal to his initiative and the site. That said, I was happy to see that he didn't link to Undercover Blonde for a few weeks thereafter. I know I should expect to be contacted by at least some crazy-folk this being the Internet and all, but that person's comment was so nasty it left me feeling a bit unsafe.
Universal Hub has recently changed the commenting procedure - one who wants to comment on the entry must sign up for a free account and provide a legitimate e-mail address, so there is no more completely anonymous commenting.
Amann said she can see traffic to her site go up around five to six times as much after being linked to on Universal Hub, and said, "I'm sure I have more regular readers today thanks to his [Gaffin's] cross-linking."
It is becoming more common nowadays for bloggers to "break" or "uncover" stories that newspapers find and then study further. Gaffin said, "When people see something firsthand, they usually do a pretty good job at telling the story. It's more when you get into the 'why' and second-day-story phase that professionals gain the edge." Bloggers usually do not have the capability to follow-up on their stories, whether it may be because they don't have the experience or the capabilities to do so.
That being said, Gaffin has had experience, as a former reporter for the Middlesex News, now known as the MetroWest Daily News. Gaffin said he helped start the newspapers' online ventures while he was a reporter there. He's also had the opportunity to post some of his own stories about living in Boston on Universal Hub, including this story on a car crash at 2 a.m. that occured on his street.
"Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there with stories to tell. I will post about unusual and odd stuff I run across on those rare occasions I do get out," Gaffin said.
Amy Derjue, who blogged on Boston Magazine's website, says she really likes Universal Hub. In an e-mail, Derjue wrote, "I think Adam Gaffin does a good job of pulling quality quips/observations/stories from local blogs and putting them out there for others to read. When I was blogging for BoMag, I learned just how hard it is to keep up with all the sources he monitors and make sense of it, so I admire his tenacity."
Tish Grier, a community developer at Place Blogger, said she has Universal Hub listed in their blog database. Place Blogger is another aggregating website that lets people submit their blogs and they organize the links by where they are from.
"I think it's a really great site," Grier said. " Adam does a wonderful job with it, it's clearly a lot of work."
She also spoke about the importance of blogs in a hyperlocal sense.
"These aggregators [like Universal Hub] are necessary. You find out about local things by hyperlocal blogs," Grier said.
She added, "It [picking out stories to post] is like being an editor. You can just do so much in the digital realm, but you have to have a human context as well."
Marie DeFer, a Northeastern student majoring in political science, says she turns to Universal Hub for the latest news in Boston while she has been on co-op in South Carolina.
I check Universal Hub at least once a day Monday through Friday; however, I read it more often when I'm at work for several reasons. First, it connects me to random, funny, and interesting stories in Boston. Second, I absolutely love that posts are added throughout the day. Third, it is all about Boston. As a wanna-be Bostonian not living in Boston, it makes me feel more connected and on the inside of developing news. Fourth, it posts news about Boston that I really can't find anywhere else. More specifically, I read Digg often but it is not Boston based.
DeFer added, "I really like its user friendly format and lack of obnoxious ads, I feel comfortable reading it at work and not worrying about co-workers assuming I'm up to no good on the WWW."
On a personal note, I have been featured on Universal Hub several times, including a post on a ringing phone on the Blue Line and the riot police outside my apartment when the Red Sox were playing Game 7 in the ALCS down in Florida. The times when Universal Hub links to my stories, I see the traffic on my website go up exponentially. Usually, there is an extra 100-150 hits to my blog, linked from Universal Hub. It's great to see my traffic go up after having just one entry featured on Universal Hub.
If you're a blogger who wants to be featured on Universal Hub, Gaffin suggests an interesting blog entry title because of the way his aggregator is set up.
"My aggregator shows RSS headlines like a wire feed, so it's fairly easy to browse them. It also provides a sort of serendipity factor - since I don't organize them by topic, I never know what I'm going to run across," Gaffin says.
Additionally, he's a fan of any stories about the MBTA, and says he will post "almost every interesting T-story I come across."