How important is the ‘hyperlocal’ sector, what does it cover, and what are its prospects for sustained development? Will hyperlocal resources really fulfil their promise and bring about distinctive social change by weakening the centrifugal forces of contemporary politics?
To help us begin finding some answers, here is a ‘landscape’ paper prepared by Damian Radcliffe, formerly an Ofcom adviser (and also a member of the advisory group for the Online Neighbourhood Networks study). Damian was one of the first people in an official national capacity to grasp the significant potential of local online resources, and he explored its potential with welcome enthusiasm.
The paper has been published as background for a new programme, Destination Local, recently launched by Nesta, who summarise it as follows:
‘It maps the current landscape of hyperlocal media activity in the UK, defining what we mean by the term, highlighting the ingredients for success and identifying some of the challenges the sector is facing.’
The term ‘hyperlocal’ is widely and uncritically used, and is contested, but Damian offers a definition which we can probably all get along with:
‘Online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community.’
The paper is very readable and strong on two particular themes: the relations between traditional local media and hyperlocal; and the (uncertain) potential for sustainable business models to strengthen the sector. The international coverage is also a very distinctive contribution, giving perspective to the development of hyperlocal in the UK.
Where we’d welcome more focus in the future is on demonstrating an appreciation of the significance of voluntary effort in establishing and managing local online resources; and the way that effort fits into the shifting culture of civic and community involvement. Of course, that’s a complex and fuzzy area, under-researched and under-theorised, but hugely important in the next couple of years at least.