I went over to Walsall in the West Midlands last night to attend the Black Country Social Media Cafe. Part of this was to see how they do it over there to feed into the Derbyshire Social Media Cafe but also it’s fantastic to meet up to talk about online with people (yes, enjoy the irony that we all want to talk face-to-face about online stuff).
There was lots of good chats but one that really got me thinking happened on the street as we tried to bid our good-nights. We started talking about hyperlocal, something which has been in the periphery of my vision but I haven’t looked directly at yet.
What is hyperlocal? It is information and data published about a specific community and living in that community. It might be aggregated news stories about that community, blogging, images – anything really that reflects or comments on life in the community.
It is an interesting subject for me as it potentially comes into contact with my two areas of professional interest – local government and local journalism – so I was glad to get the chance to chat about it.
The conversation between myself, @danslee and @theyamyam continued to explore some of the potential for hyperlocal bloggers that Dan looked at in his post about how local gov PR should deal with the movement. We talked about how newspapers were changing, or failing to change, in the face of online and our own experiences of journalism. This lead onto a discussion about the Northcliffe Group’s hyperlocal pilot scheme.
The Local People network of hyperlocal sites (currently in beta) for the South West of England is about ‘Your place. Your people.’ and encourages members to join groups, find out about their community and read and write local news. It deals specifically with communities with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 with has 36 portals online at the moment.
How does this project support the local newspaper business? Well, presumably they can feed their own local news, business directories and classifieds into the portal and sell advertising against that. Allowing the community to contribute also means they have a beat reporter in all these locations – a set-up they haven’t directly employed for some time. There is clearly a market here that local newspapers would want to tap.
And local government? Well, with initiatives like ‘cohesive communities’ and generally trying to make people as happy with the place they live in as possible supporting them with hyperlocal would be beneficial. @theyamyam expressed his belief that hyperlocal communities naturally spring up around the local council as they deal with the business of being a resident and so much of the content is about services for residents, the business of the council.
This is probably pretty accurate for urban or suburban areas where the geographical area covered by a council can be quite tight. It may be less so in rural areas where county and district council’s often have large geographical areas containing a number of disparate communities. In these areas perhaps hyperlocals would spring up more around the parish or town councils, or perhaps communities we wouldn’t define in any traditional sense will emerge.
If local government does start looking at hyperlocal will they look to enable through training and support or deliver more along the lines of Local People? Certainly local councils already hold a lot of hyperlocal information – from directories of groups and organisations, events, news and services.
Most councils probably aren’t enabling or delivering at the moment. A low percentage have RSS on their websites for key areas such as press releases and meetings so existing hyperlocals can’t make use of this information easily. The press offices also may need to evolve, as @danslee explored in his post, to consider and converse with local bloggers in the same way they have and do with the traditional media.
It’s certainly an interesting area filled with vibrant, creative, passionate bloggers. If you want to explore some examples look to The Yam Yam or The Lichfield Blog or take a look through the directory of ultralocal blogs that Matt Wardman is compiling.
Our discussion of hyperlocal led to talk of the need to move, especially for local government online, away from pulling people to our websites and toward making our information available for them to pull into their own online space, be it a blog, iGoogle or another network. But that’s another story, for another day…