How about celebrating the 20 year history of community networking and hyperlocal

The annual Talk About Local unconference #TAL15 on Saturday was a great opportunity to catch up with the world of local blogging, online communities and community journalism that’s now collectively known as hyperlocal.

As usual on these occasions Will Perrin, Sarah Hartley and Mike Rawlins did a great job of semi-organising the crowd into self-managed sessions about everything from WordPress plugins to crowdfunding, and “surviving the abusive relationship with Facebook”, and stimulating lots of energising conversations in between. Here’s Sarah’s round-up.

The event also prompted me to reflect that it’s now just 20 years since I and a bunch of other enthusiasts, inspired by earlier North American online pioneers, and the arrival of the World Wide Web, launched UK Communities Online as a network to support local digital initiatives, or what we called community networking … so please excuse a little digital nostalgia. Maybe 2015 is a good time to look at what was then, what’s now, and what might be next.

In 1995 I spotted, thanks to the Web, that the Morino Intitute was holding their second Ties that Bind conference at Apple HQ in Curpertino, and managed to blag my way to a fare and conference tickets. Thanks due to Kaye Gapen, and Steve Cisler.

You can read here a history of what happened over the next few years, including a launch conference in October 1995 at BT headquarters, and funding for network development from BT, IBM, the Department for Trade and Industry and others.

Tribute is particularly due to Richard Stubbs, Michael Mulquin, Kevin Harris, Dave Greenop and other pioneers who did so much of the early work. Michael became UKCO director. Terry Grunwald provided so much inspiration and experience from the US (and we must rehost the Making the Net Work site). I hope we might update all our stories – about which more below.

Although Communities Online didn’t survive as a network, I think it helped people explore what the Internet might mean to local communities, and to share experience in experimenting with different approaches before the days of blogs and other social media. I believe that we contributed to government thinking, and industry too.

I’ve put together below links to pages I wrote. Many external links are unfortunately broken, which shows how digital is not necessarily a good archive medium. Or put another way, if you want stuff to last, you have to maintain your own site. Even so, I’m afraid I lost some stories.

What’s perhaps most interesting is the sort of models for Community Internet we envisaged then … as expressed in a Manifesto which the BBC helped promote at the time.

Summary of a manifesto for local onine communities – 1999

  • Every citizen, regardless of their economic circumstances, should be able to share the benefits of the Information Age – including better communications, greater participation, electronic life long learning, and e-commerce. To achieve this they should have access to local community technology centres, plus public online forums and services to create an online community. The centres will provide technical support and help ‘on the ground’, the forums will be ‘virtual spaces’ for online communities related to localities.
  • Centres and online communities should be easy to find – signposted locally, and through a national gateway.
  • Public support should be available, particularly in low-income neighbourhoods, where the market is unlikely to provide facilities on a sustainable basis without public funding.
  • Development of centres and online communities should be piloted through pathfinder projects, with community participation.
  • There should be a network and support for the local champions and partnerships who will develop the centres and online communities.
  • A virtual resource centre should be developed to provide sources of advice for local champions and partnerships, and a neutral space online for discussion of the development of centres and online communities.

Long version of the manifesto

Quite a lot of this has come about. The Tinder Foundation has been particularly successful in developing and maintaining a network of local centres.

The people who gathered on Saturday at #TAL15 – and others – are innovating locally in ways we couldn’t dream of. Chris Taggart’s Openly Local map shows hyperlocal sites throughourt the UK and Ireland.

There is a Centre for Community Journalism and course at Cardiff University

I mentioned the manifesto and Communities Online to Will and a few other people at the unconference, and found some interest in discovering more about our collective history … and what we can learn from the journey.

We talked tentatively about a 20-year anniversary event, and re-gathering stories from the pioneers.

It could provide an opportunity to explore more fully what community-based models are most relevant today, to complement the local digital frameworks being developed by Government: see for example my reflections on the Grey Cells blueprint. My hunch that in future we’ll have to look at personalised approaches, as well as local sites, as I wrote here about Living Well with tech.

I’ll check whether others involved in 1990s, and now, would be interested in organising something, and if so hope to get an organising group together, ideally with TAL.

Meanwhile, if you are interested, please drop a comment, or contact me via or @davidwilcox.

Talk About Local and #TAL15

Links from the Partnerships Online site

Other links


  • March 3, 2015 - 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Another shoot that grew from Communities Online is the Community Informatics Research Network ( with its conferences in Prato, and its journal (

    • david wilcox
      March 3, 2015 - 11:13 pm | Permalink

      Thanks David – that’s good to know. I hope we’ll find other strands and stories

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