What's on the horizon? Image CC Flickr user Dominics Pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/786059029/
The evolution of the UK’s hyperlocal landscape has been interesting to observe, document and participate in over the past few years – but what’s to come? Is now the moment for hyperlocal, that perfect storm?
This time of year is long-established as acceptable for gazing into the crystal ball (despite the risk of certain ridicule in 12 months time when predictions remain way off target!), so here’s my few tentative thoughts.
Where we are
The last year has certainly been an active one for all shapes and sizes of hyperlocal publishing, that ecosystem of news, information and community provision has probably never been more dispersed since the days of the public sphere of the 18th century before that itself was disrupted by the arrival of the mainstream media barons. Some independent sites have become so well established and experienced now they are the mainstream for their communities while it seems not a month goes by without another venture starting – some news based, some campaigning others becoming the local glue by connecting local conversations.
The OpenlyLocal register of hyperlocal sites and blogs is showing many hundreds and put that together with the fact there’s 1,600 local newspapers operating websites across the UK (although it should be noted not many have taken on the challenge of that truly grassroots hyperlocal opportunity) it could be seen as all is rosy out here in local land. But we are all very aware that is not quite as the raw numbers might suggest – while the independent sector is growing, there’s the well-documented continuing retractions in local newspapers from the big media groups – 31 weeklies in the last year according to the latest figures compiled by Roy Greenslade.
What’s in store
Prediction one: A even greater dispersal of local news and information with more activity starting up but more of it looking into niche areas. While website/blogs which have aspects of traditional publishing (ie. news, sport, features etc.) might become fewer, the levels of hyperlocal activity across all and many platforms will undoubtedly become greater. Less about the destination and more about the journey.
Prediction two: Location, location, location. Given that most hyperlocal activity has a geographical focus, this might sound obvious but, taking in the point above, connecting with people across many and/or all platforms requires content to have geo-locative information like never before and the technologies to achieve that are now easily/cheaply available. As the tech giants and social media platforms offer ever more focused tools to drill into localities, the opportunities for hyperlocals to join up the dots in their communities grows and grows. Seems quite a few American hyperlocal pioneers agree on this point – just look at how often the ge0 issue is mentioned in Street Fight’s round up of their views.
Prediction three: A business model will emerge! Ok, this is a bit of indulgent New Year optimism over experience but …..there are some sensible moves afoot which are addressing the hyperlocal conundrum – how to offer sufficient scale to advertisers while keeping sufficient granularity for readers. Looking to the States, this model of hyperlocals huddling together to create scale while retaining their independence is interesting – could Liverpool or Lyme Regis, Bolton or Brighton be the UK’s Chicago? Maybe advertising’s not the whole answer for sustainability – a move away from traditional profit based company structures to a charitable or co-operative model is already being discussed in areas as different as Edinburgh, Port Talbot and London. It has to be accepted that not all hyperlocals are remotely interested in developing a business from their community endeavours, but in 2012, many of those that do, now have the confidence and experience to move this agenda on.
Wishing you a Happy Hyperlocal New Year!