It can be really hard to find local groups online even if you live in an area. Most ultra or hyperlocal groups are below google’s radar. Small groups in communities with distinctive names often show up but others get lost in the internet ocean. Also many local community groups are online in closed email lists – which you can’t take part in unless you know they exist, which often doesn’t serve them or the community.
Richard Pope over at MySociety produced an easy to use but technically very smart site a while ago to help crack the problem. Groupsnearyou.com makes it easy for a local online group to relate itself to an area on a google map by clicking and dragging a box. The site then converts the map area into as many post code references as appropriate. People can then find the group through a simple ‘type in yourpostcode’ box. The model Richard uses is a dig in the ribs for the semantic web community. Groupsnearyou gathered about 700 community groups without any marketing. Like all MySociety sites it is altruistic and non commercial.
MySociety have now applied a game approach to try and build the list of sites and break into the huge repository of residents email groups on Yahoo:
‘There are nearly 30,000 yahoo groups containing the word ‘residents’ and over 15,000 with the word ‘neighbourhood’ in, but we’ve no idea what towns and cities they actually cover. That means loads of local knowledge locked away where no one can find it (boo). So we need your help to map them! (don’t worry google, you’re next). How it works
‘We show you the description of a random group. If you think it looks like a local email group (a residents’ association or a knitting club), you then have to guess what area you think it covers.
You can go direct to adding groups here. It’s great fun, with a slight sense of prurience as you delve into community activity in Georgetown…
But in spotting a load of community groups last night I was struck by how disproportionately many were American and how few British. This helps build a case for a stimulus to grassroots volunteers in the UK to get online by giving them the simple skills required.