This is the final post about hyperlocal websites, that started with my own experience with HashBrum, as described in one, two, three posts, and with the special contribution of five sapient minds that work on hyperlocal endeavors. I learned a lot from my own efforts – mine and the rest of the team’s – and also from this reflection. It was interesting to analyze the list of characteristics presented by different people for hyperlocal websites and find common terms, common ideas, a common ground, even in the choice of words. Here’s what i learned, organized around a few main concepts. To understand them better, you should have read the previous posts of this series, but i think this will be quite clear and straight to the point.
Why are hyperlocal news websites important? Why do people feel inclined to “backyard news”? Precisely. Proximity is the keyword here, and it’s not only a geographical concept, it’s also about the relationships that a hyperlocal blogger/journalist must have with the community (s)he covers. You have to live there, be a part of it, like Will Perrin said. You’ll beat any other local newspaper because of your knowledge, you know the ground better than them, the real problems, because they are your problems too. And since you are there, you can get to the news faster, and stay on them for a longer period of time, without deadline constraints: you have availability. And will the local media send a reporter for every story you find interesting? Not really, no. Your broken streetlight is not an issue for the general audience, but it is for the people who live in that street: granularity, or , it’s the small stuff that counts.
Another good thing that hyperlocal websites are good at is by providing a better user experience. Innovation and experimentation in storytelling, using maps, multimedia, different ways to look at and navigate through the news. And without the need for a huge investment, because most of the tools to create a website like this are free and open source, so only a small financial investment is required, the real expense here is time. But to be effective, the hyperlocal website’s technology must promote participation, allow people to offer their input, and the users should be able to conform their experience through customization, getting the information they want, the way they want.
At the core of hyperlocal behavior is passion. It’s your reality, or at least a reality that is right outside your front door. The level of engagement and commitment hyperlocal news websites have are huge, compared to the average reporter, who is assigned for a story and educated to be detached. Hyperlocal reporters are involved in the story and they can afford to be critical and assertive close to the local authorities, and use their work to improve their community’s living standards and environment. It’s what matters to a few, that becomes really important.
Another relevant characteristic is adaptability. A good hyperlocal website is aware of it’s shortcomings and is constantly looking for new ways to do their work, something quite impossible to do in the bigger, slower structures of traditional media, and their sluggish procedures and bureaucracies. They can be built and developed fast, and still bring added value.
A new market is open for these projects: since it’s about and for the local community, it is also an advertising opportunity for local businesses, who can’t afford ads in the pages of a newspaper. If instructed to develop interaction and user experience like the hyperlocal website should do, there is a lot to get out of this, for local businesses.
The bottom line is, your neighborhood news matter, whether it’s a poorly made manhole, or a broken streetlight, or crime. It’s these bits of information that become important when you are living – or wanting to live – in a neighborhood. And if there’s a way to connect us back to our neighbors, whom we usually don’t know, and join efforts to improve our real, every day life experience, it was well worth it. And if you want to do it, there isn’t much stopping you. All you have to do is to talk to people who live next to you, see what is already being discussed online, and build a space to host the information that matters. All it takes is time, and quick thinking.
When we first thought about HashBrum, we believed we could create a small network of street level information, and let the different communities take part in the process. In the end we leaned towards reporting specific issues neglected by the local media, who didn’t have room in their agendas or the resources to cover them, or do comprehensive follow ups on the developments. It’s the idea that a brief article in local media can be a huge story for a community/hyperlocal website. And do you know what?, sometimes they’re huge for other communities too, that have the same problems, and what seemed to be an isolated event might be a more general issue within society.
With the fragmentation brought by the internet, the rule is no longer defined by the majority. It”s the individual’s rules and needs that matter, and we can customize them in size, subject and location. With all this power, citizens can start improving the world, starting at their doorsteps. Or just have their garbage collected more often. If you have your own ideas on this, please, do share them in the comment box below. If you aren’t already starting to build your own hyperlocal news thing…