Localmouth: a new model for online neighbourliness

Recent get-togethers about local online have both rekindled enthusiasm for what social media can do for neighbourhoods, and also pointed to more general models of how collaborations may work between commercial, public, nonprofit interests and volunteers.

My early enthusiam for the web in the mid-1990s was fired by the example of Freenets and community networks in North America, so I was delighted when my friend Kevin Harris helped organise a couple of events recently, as I reported here.

One of the people I met was Matt Collins, who is developing Localmouth, aiming to provide a “Local Community Guide to Every Town, Village and Hamlet in Britain”.

When local enthusiasts tried building local community sites in the 1990s – as I recalled here – they found it difficult to develop models that worked either as a business, or for volunteers. Part of the problem was you had to get everyone to contribute to the same place, then persuade them to maintain it, or do it yourself.

When I met Matt again the other day – video above – I said it seemed he now had a better way … and then asked him how Localmouth started, and how it worked.

He started off explaining that inspiration came when he was staying with his parents in a Wiltshire village, after spending time in big cities, and getting bored. So he did what any geek would – and searched the web. Nothing easily findable … too spread about.

Localmouth solves the problem, and that of the 1990s model, by making use of the fact that commercial sites now provide comprehensive national information on houses for sale, events, and local businesses. What’s more they want to give it away by enabling other sites to search and pull results across via a bit of geekery called an Action Programming Interface (more here on APIs). They get more traffic, commissions, eyeballs for adverts and so on.

Non-commercial sites are also providing national but locally-focussed data, like Groups near you. If you run a group, you add its web site, blog, email list once and it is then seachably on site and also distributed via the API.

Just using other people’s data won’t be enough to create good local content and conversations, so Localmouth allows bloggers to add their sites directly, and has a forum for conversations.

I talked to Matt about other locally focussed sites he admired, and among others he mentioned TrustedPlaces, whose co-founder Walidd Al Saqqaf I interviewed here last year and We Love Local. That enables you to search for and review restaurants, cafes, pubs, and clubs. On the purely local Matt is a big fan of London SE1, run by James Hatts.

Perhaps the biggest potential for linking up lies with mainstream media, where both BBC and commercial interests are creating more local content and working with citizen journalists, as I’ve explored in some items here. Charlie Beckett – interviewed here – has written a book called Supermedia on the potential for Networked Journalism, so I suggested Matt might like to get in touch. My bit of aggregation.

What interests me about Localmouth is not just the potential benefits for localities, but that it provides one easy way to show people the difference between the old 1990s Web 1.0 “come to my place” idea of community, and the Web 2.0 possibilities of aggregating content from different places while still building something special. It should be possible to build a business model based on the combined efforts of commercial interests, volunteers and other public data as Government is exploring through Showusabetterway, explained here by the Minister responsible, Tom Watson MP.

I know it’s all more complicated than that … so I hope others who know more about APIs, RSS and other means of aggregation can add a little gloss to this account. Matt says Localmouth is now his day job, so he has confidence.

9 Comments

  • October 14, 2008 - 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi David

    “It should be possible to build a business model based on the combined efforts of commercial interests, volunteers and other public data” I’ve been trying to do this with our site over the past 5 years but it has proved elusive. The commercial organisations can’t come up with the business models to share the revenue and the traffic in villages and small towns is not big enough to generate much income.

    I like the localmouth model though – nice screen layout.

    Daniel

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  • Chee Keong
    October 16, 2008 - 9:05 am | Permalink

    INterseting to see how this “national model” works. Will it ever really feel local?

    Websites like Harringy Online (http://www.harringayonline.com)in my area, Harrringay provide an alternative model – built by locals and with a real sense of ownership by all of us.

  • October 16, 2008 - 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Chee,

    That’s a great question. In areas where there’s an enthusiastic person willing to drive this kind of local community site, the results can be fantastic and really valuable. I think HarringayOnline is a great example of that.

    In my experience, though, many areas aren’t lucky enough to have someone like that. Or sometimes they do for a while, but then that person moves on and the site starts to get out of date. I think that’s where a national service can potentially be useful.

  • October 22, 2008 - 6:34 am | Permalink

    I am torn on this one – i like Localmouth nicely designed, well thought through, national. But i suffers from the problem of all national hyperlocal web2-eey offerings of a lack of decent local content.

    The hyperlocal debate always stalls on genuinely local content. The only way to access this is to tap into the huge resource of local campaigners, volunteers, activists and ‘community organisers’ across the UK who have a burning need to communicate to make their volunteering effective. But for these folk tightly controlled national platforms such as localmouth might well be too rigid.

    Localmouth would be welcome to take a feed from say http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com but i can’t see a way of making that happen.

  • October 22, 2008 - 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Regarding, taking the feed, is this roughly what you have in mind?
    http://www.localmouth.com/go/kings-cross

  • Pingback: How ‘hyperlocal’ web2.0 platforms can work with genuine local content « Ultra Local Voice: communities, communicating

  • Chee Keong Wong
    November 2, 2008 - 1:41 am | Permalink

    Matt, I get where you’re coming from. Two issues for me.

    1. Yes local sites need someone to kick them off – but if they’re just a painting by numbers set-up and there’s no drive and energy behind them, will they ever achieve anything? Even in our tech-enabled world it’s will still take individuals to create change

    2. Yes, local sites can be born and die with a sad predictable regularity.
    a. The guy who runs my local site in Harringay has set up a group of locals to help steer the site,lead funding initiatives and make it sustainable if he move or whatever. You can read all about it on the site. Anyone can be part of that group.
    b. Is it such a disaster in this dynamic web 2.0 world if sites come and go as long as there’s action and connection created in their wake?

  • December 15, 2008 - 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Good article. A web site I have been working on with a client of mine for the last year or two is http://www.yourlocalweb.co.uk.

    The client had the original idea some 10 years back, but has struggled to get funding and understanding of the platform.

    It’s not perfect, and missing a lot of functionality in my view, but this will come in time.

    Would be good to get some feedback, etc.

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