I was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. Neslted on Lake Erie, it’s the fourth largest city in the commonwealth and it its a great place to live, work and raise a family. Media wise, there’s 1 daily newspaper, two companies that control the radio stations (read: very little local programming) and 4 TV stations, again run by 2 media companies.

In 2003, I started a directory of Erie bloggers, as there wasn’t a good list. It started off as a subdirectory of a domain I owned, and for a year or two it grew very slowly. Over time, I added in a blog, updated rather infrequently, that talked about local issues. In 2005, I had a partner and a new domain name, ErieBlogs.com. Reaching a couple of hundred people a month, it was a fun hobby and we started to build a nice little community. We commented on each other’s blogs, we linked to each other, it was great.

We also merged with another local blogger who was doing a blog, updated daily, covering news and events around the area. We started selling ads and formed an LLC. Our little hobby had turned into a real business.

Fast forward to May 2009. The blog marches on. Now on my own, the site reaches 35,000 readers a month, a couple of hundred thousand page views and it makes a small scratch of money. We hold a yearly blood drive, we’ve raised money for a local parents of autistic children group and people locally have helped me raise almost $3,000 over the last three years for the March of Dimes.

Now that you have a little background, let’s get the meat of the post. The Press and Tower is a blog that covers media happenings in Erie. This week, they are running a poll asking people who the most influential media person in Erie is. I was included on the list, which is an honor. The other people on the list are media professionals from the TV, print and radio worlds.

After a day or two, I’m winning.

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Let’s be honest. There’s no way I’m the most influential media person in Erie. I run a small blog that doesn’t make any money and I do it on my own.

But…

I think in 2009 and going forward, blogs and social media can be a part of the mass media landscape.

While I can’t compete with media conglomerates for eyeballs (its especially hard not having a newspaper I can fill every available inch of unused advertising space to promote my website, or reference it on every newscast and station break on TV), I can do something that they are struggling with.

I can build a community.

I can help people connect, converse, share, experience, learn and more. Since I’m a one-man operation, we can be very nimble and jump into and use technologies like Twitter and Facebook. No corporate oversight or overhead here – our decisions and actions are driven by what’s best for our community, not the bottom line.

When I meet people in Erie or we’re talking about my site, they often say its the first place they go in the morning for a quick news recap and they go on their way. Maybe they come back to see a job posting or what local blogs have updated. They leave insightful comments that rarely turn into the flame wars that were once found when the newspaper’s website had comments enabled. For the most part, it’s a civil, engaging place.

To show the power that a medium like Twitter has, and how you can use it, I linked to that survey from our Twitter account and asked people to vote for the small guy (i.e. me).

So, in 2009, why can’t an independent blog be part of the larger “mass media?” I think it can.

What’s the takeaway for higher ed? Respect your community, and base your actions on what’s best for them. Engage them and keep them part of the process. You’ll see a definite return on that investment.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Rackspace and Mosso’s new Cloud Servers product. Cloud Servers will compete with Amazon’s EC2 product. Here’s a quick overview from their site:

Cloud Servers will be priced per instance hour and will start at $0.015 per hour ($10.95 for a full month of usage). Since you only pay by the hour, it will be really easy and affordable to spin up a new instance for testing or development—and then simply remove it when you’re done.

I’ve finally had a chance to log in and start up a few Cloud Servers and let me tell you, I was very impressed. The administrative control panel is easy and quick to navigate around, the servers started up quickly and accessing them via SSH was a breeze.

Here are a few other thoughts I had from spending an evening with Cloud Servers…

I like the fact you can make backups and they make automatic daily, weekly and monthly backups of your data. If you are worried about losing data, you may want to do automatic backups more often. If your Cloud Server instance happens to crash, they are able to migrate some data. They say:

One of the most significant differences between Cloud Servers and EC2 is the persistence of each virtual server. Cloud Servers has access to local, RAID10 disk storage—much like you’d expect in a physical server. This is important because it means your Cloud Server has inherent protection against drive failures. If for some reason the host does fail or become degraded, we will restart and/or migrate your cloud server for you. A failure doesn’t mean that your cloud server goes away.

Keep in mind – similar to EC2, if you shut off your instance, your data is lost.

I like the different varieties of OS available, including CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo and Red Hat. Because of licensing issues, if you use Red Hat, you will pay a little more for your server. Amazon does this with EC2 servers running Windows.

I found connecting via SSH much easier to do compared to Amazon’s system of keypairs and certificates. Cloud Servers give you a root password. I’m not saying Amazon’s way is bad or Cloud Servers are less secure, but it was easier to just grab the password and connect. This may be useful if you have multiple people working on a Cloud Server instance.

I very much like the fact you can run a server for $11 a month + bandwidth costs.

One thing I like about EC2 is the fact you can get machine images pre-configured for a multitude of uses – LAMP, ROR, video encoding and more. When you start a Cloud Server, you’re given a blank slate. When I started my first instance, I wasn’t sure how to even get Apache installed and running, though I eventually found their extensive help documents. BTW, I installed Apache on CentOS using this:

sudo yum install httpd mod_ssl

In the end, I’m sure this could all be automated but it would be great if Mosso would let you save a setup or suite of apps you’d like to have installed at startup. I’d wait a few more minutes for my server to be live if I didn’t have to manually install Apache, MySQL and PHP every time.

Overall, I’m very pleased with Cloud Servers. Ease-of-use coupled with Rackspace’s support makes this a strong player right out of the gate. I know I will definitely include them when planning new web apps in the future.

Here are a few screenshots I took while spinning up my server.

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