‘Hyperlocal’ websites

Something for your bookmarks list: The ‘Openly Local’ website seeks to aggregate information from websites that cover local issues -either local authority sites or the emerging ‘hyperlocal’ sites. They’ve now extended their coverage to the Irish Republic as well (though they need a nudge to change their ‘Hyperlocal websites in the UK’ heading)

I’m not sure whether my own perception on this question of ‘hyperlocality’ is correct. In England, citizenmanaged ‘hyperlocal’ community sites are – at least in part – a response to the near-total collapse of local newspapers in some areas as reported in this Guardian article a while ago.In the Irish Republic, this is less of an issue as the local press doesn’t seem to have consolidated to the extent that newspaper groups in England (and increasingly, in Northern Ireland) have. On my regular visits to Mayo, for instance, The Western People has – for as long as I remember – operated almost like a blog with local stringers (“Erris Echoes”) who are either voluntary or very cheap to run. It’s embedded in the local community in a way that English papers just aren’t any more and appears to be still capable of investing in local content in a way that many English locals aren’t.

In England, there’s been a growing controversy over the past couple of years about local authorities stepping into the space that commercial papers aren’t filling any more – pubishing their own news (with all of the attendant worries about impartiality) and providing a space for community notices (thereby damaging advertising revenues for local papers). My own view (lightly held) is that newspaper proprietors should stop whining and start investing in journalism again (as the Western People shows, it’s possible to run a commercially viable local paper). But the whole question of ‘hyperlocal’ sites is partly neutralising the problem.

Are there any good Hyperlocal sites in Northern Ireland yet?

  • Keithbelfast

    “In England, citizen-managed ‘hyperlocal’ community sites are – at least in part – a response to the near-total collapse of local newspapers in some areas as reported in this Guardian article a while ago.” I think the effect of these sites have been completely over-stated. And you’ll find the readership of these hyperlocal sites to be from a completely different demographic (young, tech-savy)compared to the local paper exodus (older generation).

  • The Openly Local map was opened up to the Republic of Ireland following an email conversation I had with Anthony Hickey of Mayo Today – he wondered if Ireland could be included to help keep track of the community websites that are emerging there, I asked Chris Taggart over Twitter and he saw no reason why not! I know Chris, like all of us, is crazy busy these days but I’m sure he’ll alter the ‘Hyperlocal sites in the UK’ heading to include Ireland as soon as he gets a chance. 🙂

    You’re correct in saying some of ‘hyperlocal’ sites, like The Lichfield Blog, are a response to gaps left unfilled by local newspapers but I think that’s a small part of it. I was talking to a group of Digbeth pub landlords last night who were all lamenting the demise of the Irish country pub (due to the smoking ban, cheap off-licenses, tougher drink-driving laws, etc.) and how this means communities are losing the place where they traditionally come together and talk. This is often what a local website will provide – a space where the community can exchange information, discuss what’s been happening, voice a few concerns or ideas, decide what needs doing and organising themselves into making it happen. In this way, citizen-managed websites can be something quite different to an online newspaper.

    Parwich.org is a great example – it brings the people in the small Derbyshire village together and is pretty much the online equivalent of the village noticeboard, parish newsletter, over-the-garden-fence conversations and pub natter all rolled into one. I’m told people go knocking on each other’s doors to chat about what they’ve read on the site, which is lovely! This call for spare green tomatoes illustrates my point – possibly not ‘newsworthy’ enough for a local paper but important to local gardeners and chutney enthusiasts all the same.

    A community website can also bring together local communities of interest as well as neighbourhoods, like Created in Birmingham (‘Linking up Birmingham’s Artistic and Creative Communities’) has done very successfully here – connecting local creatives and changing public perceptions of the city’s cultural scene. More recently, the cluster of arts organisations that has materialised in Birmingham’s Eastside quarter have joined together to create We Are Eastside, highlighting the concentrated hive of activity in the area. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the arts organisations in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter do something similar in the future.

    Local websites are often so much more than the online equivalent of a local newspaper – they can have elements of local conversations, activism, storytelling, group-gathering and lighthearted chit-chat. Community websites make it easier for people to do what people are naturally inclined to do – come together and talk to each other. This is why I think there is huge potential for a growth of useful community websites in Ireland.

    Contrary to Keithbelfast’s perception, the authorship as well as the readership of these hyperlocal sites are often far from young and tech-savy. Many of the people we at talk about local are helping to create and develop local websites are people who are simply active within and passionate about their communities. People like Drimnagh is Good’s Pauline Sargent, The Kington Blackboard’s Emma Phillips and W14 &SW6;’s Annette Newman – who’ve realised the web enables to them to do what they’ve been doing for years quicker and easier, with a wider reach and greater impact.

  • handy piece – not sure though that there ever was a halcyon age where local newspapers provided really granular coverage down to the street or block level – the economics have never been there.

    hyperlocal sites arise where people with a need to communicate bump into the simple skills required to publish online.

    would be fascinated to see what local sites you unearth in NI. if any NI readers would like help setting up a site then drop me a line william@talkaboutlocal.org and i shall see what we can do – we set sites up largely as a public service. if any public bodies would like a set of sites created in their area and have modest funding then also drop us a line.

    incidentally @keithbelfast i find the opposite – my readership in kings cross is very much the ‘older’ civic activist type. when we teach people to set up local sites the audience is invariably grey haired. i wish the web were a way of getting younger people involved in civic action.

  • There’s certainly room for more local NI sites on the Openly Local list!

  • Keithbelfast

    Hi William, Nicky.

    Interesting discussion.

    I had a look at your sites and I was wondering what sort of traffic you get per week?

  • You’re spot on Alan – loads of room for new hyperlocal sites of all kinds in NI! 🙂

    Keithbelfast – I get about 150-200 visits per day, which I’m pretty happy about as it’s quite a small, urban area with not that many residents (a lot of the ‘luxury apartments’ that were on the cards failed to materialise because of the credit crunch!). It shot up last week whilst St Patrick’s Festival Birmingham was happening, so it seems visitors to the area are checking in.

    In terms of how Digbeth’s a traditionally industrial area that’s becoming a creative quarter, I see quite a few parallels between what’s happening here and in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. I’m a regular visitor to Belfast and was pretty blown away when I stayed in the Cathedral Quarter the last time I was over – I’d love to see a community site covering all its great goings-on!

    BTW apologies for my amazing hyperlinking fail in my previous comment – I thought I’d followed the instructions under the comments box to the letter but it seems it wasn’t meant to be! Ah well. :-/

    Cheers, Nicky