This comes from Shelli Johnson from YellowstonePark.com. She is the founder of the Yellowstone Journal Corporation, and I found this story interesting for understanding how places can speak. See what you think. Oh, she had 3 titles for this piece.
From Out of the Woods, Into the World
Bears, Buffalo and Broadband
Is That a Voice in the Wilderness?
Yellowstone Journal Corporation, an independent business, reaches 4 million people every year who are considering or planning a vacation to the worldâ€™s oldest national park, Yellowstone.
But it wasnâ€™t always this way.
After all, we live and operate from out on the frontier of Wyoming. The U.S. Census Bureau actually classifies Wyoming as â€œfrontierâ€ â€“ not even rural!
Frontier means, â€œland outside the region of existing settlements.â€
In the early 20th Century, a famous American historian named Frederick Jackson Turner, used to argue that people were changed when they encountered the frontier. He wrote papers about the frontier, saying, â€œUnlimited free land offers a psychological sense of unlimited opportunity, which in turn had many consequences, such as optimismâ€¦â€
That describes my husband and I, and our business, at its start in 1994: Out in the middle of nowhere and wildly optimistic.
For those of you unfamiliar with Wyoming, only 500,000 people live here. Thatâ€™s 5 people per square mile. This is compared to 235-people/sq mile in California, 405-people/sq mile in New York. Even Utah, our mountain state neighbor, has 32-people/sq. mile, which seems utterly crowded compared to our five per mile.
There are, literally, more animals than people in Wyoming.
In case you arenâ€™t picturing it, this should conjure up images of a few people jumping up and down shouting and boasting about Wyomingâ€™s wonders. With nobody listening.
And yet despite all of these â€œlimitationsâ€ when starting our business, we felt (passionately) certain that what we had to tell the world about was exciting, authentic and unique.
Wyoming is home to Yellowstone, the worldâ€™s first, and most famous, national park, which is home to 60% of the worldâ€™s active geysers. We have places like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where the Yellowstone River carves a canyon that is 1,300â€™ deep in places and thatâ€™s home to the 308-foot-high Lower Falls. We have hundreds of mountains that stand over 13,000 tall.
Indians still dance at powwows. Many of our horses are still wild. Often during my travels to give presentations someone will ask me if people still ride horses and covered wagons to get around. I have friends who ride horses, but we do have paved roads in most towns. Yet the only rush hour we experience in our hometown is when a rancher herds his cows down our Main Street once a year. And, our region is home to more big and small wild animals than anywhere else in the Lower 48 states.
So we had lots to promote.
But there was just one problem, and it was a big one: We couldnâ€™t get anybodyâ€™s attention.
Well in 1995, we began reading and hearing about this thing called the Internet. We had no idea what it was, but by the sounds of it, it was going to be huge.
So that year, from our little office in Wyoming, I registered the domain, yellowstonepark.com. Nothing would ever be the same again for our business.
The next year, we developed our first website, which soon after was named a â€œYahoo Site of the Week.â€ Our traffic went from 15,000 people a year to 15,000 people in a 24-hour period following the honor. What the internet did for us was astounding and immediate.
Since our first website, weâ€™ve innovated and added more products and services, including two print magazines, a direct mail Trip Planner Kit, an RSS Yellowstone news feed, enewsletters, podcasts, videos and user-generated â€œTrip Notes.â€
YellowstonePark.com has twice won the Webby Award for â€œBest Tourism Site in the World.â€ Imagine these small-town Wyoming folk rubbing elbows with Vince Cerf, Al Gore, David Bowie, Jon Corddry, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and other industry leaders at the Webby â€œgalaâ€ in New York City. Our 2005 acceptance speech, limited to 5 words, summed the experience: â€œFrom Yellowstone to New York. Yeeeehhhhaaaaawwww!â€
One fall day in 2005 I remember downloading some of John Furrierâ€™s Podtech.net podcasts. Then, I took the next day off from work and went camping with my family on South Pass, above Lander. South Pass is where 340,000 emigrants crossed the Continental Divide on their journey westward via the Oregon and Mormon trails in search of gold or to settle. At our South Pass camp that day, with my iPod connected to my iPal and powered by my solar charger, I listened to podcast after podcast as visionaries such as Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine visited about his Long Tail book that was being written via his blog, Mark Cuban talking about innovation and the future, Steve Forbes and so many others, including the interviewer John Furrier himself, inspired me and showed us what the future was going to look like for business and technology. Being privy to such conversations and insights had a profound effect on our small business out on the frontier.
There are advantages to being small â€“ and independent. You can brainstorm one day and develop the next.
In May of 2006, after becoming excited due to these early podcasts, our small team (Ryan Johnson, Florian Herrmann and myself) got together in the front of our small office and said, â€œLetâ€™s do 50 podcasts by September.â€ We basically traveled our market, (Yellowstone Park and the states surrounding it) attending and capturing on our recorders events like rodeos, festivals, concerts and Indian powwows and sharing them with a growing audience at YellowstonePark.com and on iTunes. We achieved our goal and by September we had 50 podcasts up.
Thanks to access to expertâ€™s insights, like those of Tim Oâ€™Reilly, we started learning about â€œWeb 2.0.â€ It was mid-2006 when we realized that the customer would be increasingly in charge and that they would be all that mattered in the new landscape.
As a result, we redesigned YellowstonePark.com in late 2006 and built its architecture based on what our customers told us. We reviewed closely more than 6,000 extensive surveys we had generated from people who were considering or planning a Yellowstone vacation. We then went to work at building a site that was based on what our customers said they wanted and needed from a destination site.
We think weâ€™re pretty smart, but at the end of the day we had additional confidence in what we were creating because we asked, took note of, and built the site according to what our customers told us. There is power in feedback, particularly when you do something with it. Our growing traffic, and winning the Peopleâ€™s Voice and critical Webby Award in 2007 validate this.
Today, although we are still avid podcast listeners and fans, we benefit from additional technology, most of it social, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, live feeds with live chats.
Sure, the wonder is the technology that enables us, but a bigger wonder is the fact we can do all this participating and learning from out on the frontier, from â€œthe edge of any existing settlements.â€
And if you canâ€™t tell, I am truly giddy about this!
The best way I can describe Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and free live streams of events like VentureBeat, and others, is itâ€™s as if weâ€™re able to sneak into the homes and lives of visionaries and industry leaders and get a glimpse of what theyâ€™re reading and what theyâ€™re working on. Only better: They keep their doors open, roll out the red carpet for us, point us to their reading materials and let us look at their monitors and sometimes even engage in a conversation with us.
Even if you are a small-town girl â€“ a virtual nobody â€“ living out in the middle of Wyoming!
Shelli Johnson is the founder of Yellowstone Journal Corporation , YellowStone International, and Yellowstone Park. She can be reached at [email protected], via twitter: @yellowstoneshel , via Skype at shellisnowboarder or via LinkedIn. Right now she and her team are hard at work on their next big thing from out on the frontier.