Attended the fourth Talk About Local Unconference event on Saturday in Birmingham. The event, called #TAL12, is a chance for those involved in hyperlocal/community and interested parties in this area to get together and have a chat and discuss issues, ideas and more.
The sessions ranged from all the funding which seems to have appeared for research, new ideas and more into the hyperlocal blogging arena. Here’s some issues I picked up on as I tried to take in as many sessions as possible:
Hyperlocal is maturing, but there is a difference emerging
I picked up on a mood running throughout the event that there is a shift in terms of hyperlocal sites in the UK. There are those which broadly are concerned with local news reporting and finding some kind of way to make it pay, such as Ventnor Blog, Blog Preston (the site I run) and Saddleworth News. I was in a session about forming a Hyperlocal Alliance and this was focused around forming an association which would be more formal, legal and have a chance to act as a voice of hyperlocal news sites. On the other hand there are the hyperlocal community sites, these may not be WordPress sites but might be Ning’s, Facebook groups and more – but they don’t do ‘news’ as other people define it, they seek to pass on information and allow communities to comment and talk about their area. The difference between these two types of sites is sometimes vast, and then sometimes not very clear as some sites can do both.
What was clear to me is that the Hyperlocal Alliance put forward by Philip John is timely and needs to happen. At first it may not be all formal and proper, a chance for people to share issues they experience and get help from those at the other end of the country – as we’ve been doing recently around community and commenting guidelines on some hyperlocal sites.
Putting my big media hat on (I work for Trinity Mirror, across our regional digital titles) there is a chance that a Hyperlocal Alliance would make it easier for big corporations, publishers and the likes the of the BBC, to engage with hyperlocal news sites and this could lead to better relationships as a whole – rather than on one-to-one levels between local publications and sites. I would urge people to go and have a look at Philip’s post about creating a Hyperlocal Alliance and give it some thought.
The funding issue
There seemed to be a few cheque books floating around at TAL, not the kind of start-up Silicon Valley money but there is definitely a funding stream there for hyperlocal at the moment. From NESTA’s Destination Local programme to Francois Nel’s MADE project funded by Google to help news start-ups, this is a good time to be having good ideas about the hyperlocal news space. It just struck me that back in Stoke in 2009 there were a bunch of people chatting about something new and exciting, three years down the line and there’s people walking around with a heck of a lot of money available to do some exciting and innovative stuff. Who knows what there will be in three years time?
A comment from Dave Harte, who runs the excellent Bourneville Village, about his research into just how much content hyperlocal sites are producing. He’d calculated an output of 750 articles a day produced by hyperlocal sites in the UK at the moment, based on an RSS feed he’d made from all the sites in the Openly Local directory. Let’s say that’s an average of 50 page impressions per post, over a month that’s 1.1 million hyperlocal page impressions. Not ground-breaking, but it shows the audience interest and the potential.
The BBC get serious about hyperlocal
Robin Morley from the BBC gave a presentation about how they plan to engage more with hyperlocal sites. It appears the BBC looking to improve their linking out to hyperlocal sites, and other sites in general, particularly around news stories and within articles – as picked up on in my daily The Brief posts a couple of weeks back. I quizzed him on clear guidance for linking to original articles which form the basis of articles on the BBC, said this is still being worked on but would increasingly happen. No plans for BBC to go more granular in its content in terms of location. The Beeb has a big issue around consistency, and while one region may be great at working with and linking out to local sites another region may not – and the radio arm of one region may be really proactive in its engagement with hyperlocal sites while the online arm may not. This kind of inconsistency is confusing for those who would like to work with the BBC to help provide them with great local content and also don’t mind the odd firehose of traffic back to their own site via the relevant BBC regional article or site listing.
Overall the Unconference was as thought-provoking as ever, and it always makes me reflect when I get on the train that starting Blog Preston is up there with one of the best things I’ve ever done. Because if I hadn’t, I just wouldn’t be having these kinds of conversations.