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The Huffington Post aims for more community

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The Huffington Post may have just taken a big step toward being the next home for hyperlocal Web communities.

In a press release issued earlier today, the company announced the acquisition of Localocracy, a Massachusetts-based Web-community and journalism start-up.

Started in 2009 by two University of Massachusetts Amherst graduates, the site calls itself “an online town common where registered voters using real names can weigh in on local issues.”

Right now, those online town commons only include six cities in Massachusetts.  Local residents register under their real-names and debate local issues. The community ranks the best responses on each side.

“We believe that the answers to a community’s problem can come from those people … and there can be a real interaction between citizens and their government” cofounder Conor White-Sullivan said at a TEDx speech in August, 2010.

The site bills itself an open platform for real people to discuss local issues online, but it promises to be a tool for government and journalists as well

“By harnessing user-generated content, we’re able to unleash a lot of people power,” White-Sullivan and fellow cofounder Aaron Soules said in a statement earlier today. “Our methodology is simple: we believe that everyone is an expert about something, so we want to give voice to that expertise and allow an exchange of ideas for all to see and participate in.”

For Soules and White-Sullivan, that free-flow of ideas is dependent on the site’s core philosophy. Contributors should user their real names and “stand behind their ideas,” as White-Sullivan told the TEDx conference last August.

That unique brand of online-civil engagement helped the company win a Poynter entrepreneurial journalism prize and a Knight Foundation grant in 2010.

The Localocracy acquisition comes at the end of a banner month for the Huffington Post. In the same press release, the news aggregating giant announced it had topped 37 million unique visitors, and over a billion page views last month.

It's unclear how the acquisition will affect local journalism initiative, Patch.com.  AOL, which runs Patch.com, also owns the HuffPo. AOL recently announced it will spend around $160 million on the network of local news sites this year in an attempt to make them profitable. Both White-Sullivan and Soules declined to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, the company also added four more so-called communities under the Huffington Post banner today: Huff/Post50, HuffPost Gay Voices, HuffPost Weddings, and HuffPost High School.

But on the Huffington Post, the term “community” doesn’t mean much more than a collection stories aggregated around a common interest.

With the acquisition of Localocracy, it appears the Huffington Post, long famous for its SEO trickery, may have finally realized there’s much more to the Web than search-engine serendipity.

Highly-engaged Web communities are serious business.