In the old days (about 1995) we used to say that the web meant ‘the death of distance’, the joy of the interweb was that you could communicate to the world for free, breaking the tyranny of the PTOs. Now things have come full circle economically and socially and people realise that the most interesting folk to communicate with are the people you share a street a suburb, a subdistrict, village a town a city with.
This has led to an addition to the web2 bingo lexicon ‘hyperlocal’. A rash of hyperlocal platforms have sprung up in the UK and USA to aggregate local content and to encourage people to post simple content. The technology and design is usually slick with nice rounded corners and clip art of attractive young people being down and with it on the site. They invite you in to post your community events or write about life in Midfordshire. But in general these hperlocal platforms have an ‘empty restaurant’ problem – you browse-in attracted by a nice menu and some marketing but there is no one there, so you move on swiftly.
This dearth of real content in the hyperlocal platforms comes from focussing on the technology, rather than the content and the people. The money goes into building a national or multinational technology platforms, not into creating content. Sites that are people-led and content-led such as the locally-organised Netmums, the excellent Created in Birmingham or Steve Hatts SE1 show how to build local online content – focus on real community needs and get some people who understand the target community to run it and write it.
Many of the hyperlocal platforms or don’t quite answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ proposition for people wondering how to promote local causes or otherwise share their content from community sites. I don’t want to send my content into a closed network, with few members that just eats it and gives my community site nothing back.
So how can hyperlocal sites work with kosher community sites in a two way relationship?. I have had some interesting exchanges recently with Richard Pope, Simon Grice and Matt Collins (Localmouth) who all have differnet takes on hyperlocal platforms. (Richard has set up a new register an interest page for people interested in his StreetWire proposition). Here are my own emerging views on how such sites can best work with independent community led sites:
1 – take feeds in from real local sites. Many hyperlocal sites are closed-ish platforms trying to attract ‘members’ to post. To be truly useful for a local webservice such as kingscrossenvironment.com or a punter trying to get some airtime for their local issue a hyperlocal platform has to take feeds in. This presumably poses a liability problem for the hyperlocal platform but gets around the empty restaurant problem. Matt has taken a feed in from KingsCrossEnvironment.com here.
2 – offer feeds out customisable to post/zip codes (as http://www.fixmystreet.com does) with population density radii (i.e. you get a feed for an area in which 50k people live no matter what the population density). Then independent community sites can take your content and provide some visibility. I would love to have a feed from Patient Opinion of comments on my local hospitals in my kings cross site. Make the feeds customisbale to content – so i can take a feed of say events in museums and art galleries but not in pubs.
3 – provide in and out widgets for community sites to have in their sidebars. Both a widget of feeds out and an ‘add content’ widget to take stuff into your hyperlocal service.
4 – be totally open don’t restrict services to members or, if you feel you have to have a sign up service for your platform to target content by postcode, still allow the feeds as set out above. Have a tradesman’s entrance to the walled garden for content to come in and out but send individual members of the public through the turnstiles.
All views welcome