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Jun. 10, 2009 3:22 pm

Shop Talk: Obama Girl’s Leah Kauffman on Phrequency.com redesign

Updated: 5:33 p.m. 6/10/09 with additional attribution This is part of an irregular series of our Shop Talk department, called The Redesign. On a Friday afternoon in early May, Leah Kauffman dons a t-shirt to show off her gang affiliation. A pair of hands screenprinted on the bright red tee are positioned similarly to the […]

Updated: 5:33 p.m. 6/10/09 with additional attribution

This is part of an irregular series of our Shop Talk department, called The Redesign.

On a Friday afternoon in early May, Leah Kauffman dons a t-shirt to show off her gang affiliation.

A pair of hands screenprinted on the bright red tee are positioned similarly to the Bloods street gang hand signal. Fingers on the right hand are contorted into the shape of the letters ‘b,’ ‘l’ and ‘o.’ The left hand is flipped upside-down, and the index finger curled, creating a hanging “g.”

‘Blog,’ it reads.

At first glance, it’s easy to miss. But it makes sense. Kauffman runs Philly.com’s Phrequency, a news portal that covers the movers, shakers and rattlers of Philly’s music community.

In April, Phrequency was redesigned with a more streamlined, blog-esque interface; dropping the clunky, genre focus that forced users to choose hip-hop or punk, R&B or jazz, for a content-oriented design that doesn’t split hairs on artists who span all of those.

It was a move that Kauffman had wanted to make for months.

Phrequency.com dropped genres to streamline the process and better associate with new acts that are hard to classify.

“The reality is that people are not searching for music by genre. People are not classifying themselves [and they're saying] ‘I’m not just hip hop or punk.’ From a management standpoint, it’s insanely difficult to program eight pages of genres,” she says, seated in a conference room on the 35th floor of Five Penn Center in Center city.

Since launching in November, Phrequency has been quietly drumming up an audience of music aficionados and bringing together a community that didn’t have a local online portal before the site came along, she says.

“We have one of the biggest talent pools in America, some of the best studio musicians. We’re totally underserved by local media. There was a real void to fill.”

Kauffman, a Temple University graduate, made headlines last year with her viral video project “Obama Girl,” a set of tongue-in-cheek videos made in support of Barack Obama’s 2009 presidential campaign. Her song “Crush On Obama,” for which Kauffman sang vocal tracks behind on-screen performer Amber Lee Ettinger, has racked up 14.2 million YouTube hits.

Having gained a few new contacts, Kauffman pitched the idea of Phrequency last year to former Philly.com President Eric Grilly, who left the company in May to head digital operations at Comcast Sports Group, as the Philadelphia Business Journal reported and we mentioned in an earlier Comcast Roundup.

“[I knew] that a newspaper would be a perfect organization to start something like this and that Phrequency could help Philly.com reach a younger audience,” she says.

Along with a web development team, she began storyboarding the site design, looking to magazines like Nylon for inspiration. After it launched and as the site developed, Kauffman began to realize that the original plans needed adjustment. Seven months later, it was goodbye genres, hello blog.

Kauffman says that the site has been improved with better embedable widgets and updated from Yahoo’s Maven video platform to the industry-standard Brightcove video player. Videos are a popular part of the site, she says, and photos are more strongly integrated with the new format.

The whole editorial process is streamlined. Instead of having to feed an entire photo gallery with pictures, copy and captions, an author can drop a picture that speaks for itself directly into a blog post; that was something the old content management system didn’t allow.

Kauffman says that the blog format provides a less intimidating, linear accessibility to readers. “There is something about a blog post that is friendly, gives you a little more personality,” she says. “People our age look at blog posts and understand it’s casual,” she says.

It’s even helped get content out there faster.

In late April, speedy posting helped the site break a story about alleged police brutality that Philadelphia pop-punk band Valencia documented after a show at the Theater of Living Arts on South Street, as we reported.

See the video from after the show below.

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Since launch, Kauffman says that there’s been a “big change” in the way people are interacting with the site. They’re commenting more and linking more often.

Of course, it might be Kauffman’s connection with other online media outlets in the music community that could be driving some of those links.

Phrequency has been reaching out to local blogs like Mikey McFly, Vanache and Late Night Wall Flower to foster the community and expand its audience reach. In April, it partnered with local arts and culture magazine McJawn to host a show at Northern Liberties-based Silk City.

“There’s a new generation of young, positive bloggers in the city that say ‘if we stick together, we can make Philadelphia better,” she says. “Everyone’s trying to make it and trying to create art that’s meaningful to them and to an audience. That’s something we can all share.”

When major Philadelphia Web sites change, Technically Philly will find out why in The Redesign. Every Wednesday, Shop Talk shows you what goes into a tech product, organization or business in the Philadelphia region. See others here.

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Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

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