The challenge of scaling and sustaining hyperlocal

I’m delighted that discussions about local blogging, local councils using online engagement tools, and how to sustain these activities have lifted off on socialbysocial.net – the online community I’ve started with Amy Sample Ward, co-author in the Social by Social book (download free). I’ve now added an interview with Rick Waghorn, who explains how the Addiply service may help: more below on that.

governance

Michele Ide-Smith has a particularly interesting post about the choices she has posed to the council and other bodies she is working with: should that they support hyperlocal bottom-up activity, or develop their own digital engagement tools linked to neighbourhood panels and other methods.

Amy has reported on the workshop that we ran with Community Voices at the Digital Engagement event, and I’ve pondered on how far traditional community organisers could join up with those that are using social media. Will Perrin has set up a hyperlocal alliance group for these activists, and there’s also a group for the knowledge hub, which I’ve written about before.

Now back to Rick. Events like the Talk About Local unconference show the terrific enthusiasm developing around local blogs and online communities … but is it realistic to expect volunteers to keep them going?

scale

Nick Booth (podnosh) summed it up when he tweeted from a recent discussion: local blogs are compelling when they are the authentic voice of the blogger … but it’s difficult to get more of them because they depend so much on the individual. Not only do bloggers and community managers put in lots of effort, they probably have some costs to bear by way of charges for online services.

Rick Waghorn doesn’t have the complete answer, but the Addiply service he is developing does offer bloggers the chance to make a few pounds from small ads tailored to their locality. He suggests this might help them move to not-at-a-loss, helping keep up motivation, and also providing a way for local groups and businesses to get a presence online through low-cost ads. You can see the service in action on the excellent Lichfield blog.

I find people in the traditional world of community organising can be a bit sniffy about for-profit enterprises coming on to their territory … while often being keen to get local businesses to support their community newspaper. Fine – but I know from experience that it’s a real chore going round traders and collecting a few pounds from each for the next issue. Addiply very neatly shows how online commercial services can help do the job, even at a modest level … and hpw the old for-profit, not-for-profit divisions may be breaking down.

Update: here’s a summary of the meeting¬† at the Department of Culture Media and Sport tweeted by Nick Booth, including suggestions on what Government should and should do to support hyperlocal news.


2 Comments

  • November 4, 2009 - 12:55 am | Permalink

    Hi David
    Interesting post. Of course it should be possible to generate enough money to cover direct costs, especially since they are probably fairly low.
    It’s another thing to cover the time required to set up and run a local news-type/bloggy site.
    What I don’t hear much about in the hyperlocal discussions is how this is different to the thousands of local community newsletters, printed on paper as well emailed as pdfs. Run by groups that charge a small subscription and produced by one or two volunteers who perpetually chase advertisers and contributors.
    In my experience the two worlds are, to a large extent, disconnected. Bloggers are often not linked to their lcoal community association or resident’s group/whatever.
    And the traditional resident’s group is rarely at the vanguard of hyperlocal blogging. Some have websites run by the same people that produce the newsltter – see http://www.coldean.org.uk – but most don’t.
    On the other hand it seems odd that the new wave of bloggers are worried about sustainability and therefore solving the same problems already being tackled by the people in their neighbourhood.
    Do you have a sense of how big this gap between online and offline may be?
    Is there a cultural issue preventing better connections?
    And do you have any thoughts on where the crossover may emerge from?
    Mark

  • November 4, 2009 - 8:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks Mark – really interesting point, and one I touched on in this post to SocialbySocial – the general gap between traditional civic society groups and the more recent online activists. I sense that there is a cultural issue … and the people who are doing something of both are really important. Thoughts from others?

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