It’s frustrating working in social media and social networking in Australia, which is so far behind the latestÂ developments in the US. This is partially due to population; Australian cities are simply not big enough to enable a minority of social media early adopters to form the critical mass required to support thriving online communities.
One of the most interesting social news sites in the US is Outside.In, which aggregates old media (newspaper articles) and new media (blog posts) into a stream of location specific hyperlocal content. Blog aggregator PlaceBlogger has a focus on location, and Metblogs has a geographical structure although it is yet to do anything meaningfully hyperlocal.
“Hyper-local news is the information relevant to small communities or neighborhoods that has been overlooked by traditional news outlets.” Hyperlocal aggregators like Outside.In operate on the premise that “Everything at a hyperlocal level is news.”
Outside.In uses clever tools to identify and tag content to locations. As a user you can view content about the locations that interest you. There’s nothing like Outside.In in Australia (yet). Of the major media corporations and organnisations, only the ABC is starting to tag news by location (at the suburb level), albeit in a haphazard and incomplete way (see news for Fitzroy 3065), which can be viewed in a browser map or as a Google Earth layer. But they’re not interested in aggregating hyperlocal news.
The Leader weekly local or community newspapers in Melbourne are tired and boring and have only a rudimentary web presence. Search functionality is poor, metadata is nonexistent, and stories are not tagged or grouped by location.
Update 29 August 2008: while the existing Leader site remains live, News Limited Community Newspapers appear to be developing a new web strategy. The Melbourne Leader is now available online in a new format, which is part of the WhereILive potentially hyperlocal news platform. The design is horrible and the search function useless – I searched for “Fitzroy” and “3065” and it did not return a single relevant result. They’re still not tagging stories by postcode. It’s a bland vehicle for advertising.
The Melbourne Times weekly newspaper / magazine (the glossy square one with lots of expensive real estate in it) has far more style and personality and would translate well to the internet, but it has no online presence apart from corporate and circulation information.
Geodata and geotagging technology
Outside.In provides incentives for bloggers to be aggregated by them beyond the desire to reach a wider audience. They offer a free GeoToolkit and advice about how to geotag blog posts. This is very cool stuff for bloggers aspiring to implement all the new geo tricks but who don’t have the capacity to do it themselves.
While big media in Australia does little to nothing, Fitzroyalty employs the GeoRSS WordPress plugin and geotags place related posts in a far more precise manner than the ABC (down to the exact street location). My deadline for implementing geotagging was the release of the 3G iPhone in Australia, which may be the first widely adopted device to popularise the use of location and presence aware services.
The nearest thing to Outside.In in Australia is a Melbourne startup called LocalHero. Geotagging Fitzroyalty makes it easy for LocalHero to syndicate my content and aggregate it with other content on its maps, which users can then browse.
The purpose for implementing these technologies, which are not widely used by Australian blogs to date, is to encourage location aware syndication that may result in increased readership and provide a greater service to the Fitzroy community. The purpose of writing about how I have implemented these technologoes is not to boast about my work but to demonstrate their utility and their future potential.
Location awareness and presence awareness
Creating the infrastructure for location awareness enables presence awareness, where geographically specific content can be identified by a user in real time while physically in the space represented by the content. Presence awareness has great potential, particularly when viewed on mobile devices.
Want to know where to eat in Fitzroy on a Friday night? Browse Fitzroyalty on your 3G iPhone while walking along Brunswick St and find restaurant reviews mapped and geotagged for your convenience in a mobile device optimised user interface thanks to the WordPress mobile edition plugin.
Hyperlocal best practice
I’ve been reading a lot about how the hyperlocal principle is being realised internationally and trying to implement the best ideas. One article lists the five principles for hyperlocal according to Reetta Merilainen, editor-in-chief of Finnish hyperlocal site Oma Kaupunki:
- Hyperlocal is not only about geography it is also about mental proximity.
- You must cover issues which are really close and relevant, touching or at least funny.
- Newspaper and its website are there to serve and to connect people.
- You can easily combine the role of a watch dog and a guide dog.
- Ivory Towers are history, you mush be ready for close encounters – virtually and physically!
Outside.in recently published a Guide to Great Local Blogging:
- Go where big media doesn’t.
- Connect with your neighbors and other local bloggers.
- Post early and often, or at least regularly.
- Be timely. Break stories.
- Tag your posts. Use relevant subject, place and (most importantly!) location tags so that your content is easily searchable and identifiable.
I don’t limit my wanderings to the strict borders of Fitzroy. About 35% of my posts are directly about Fitzroy, and over 50% are about events in the Melbourne metropolitan area, often those in suburbs surrounding Fitzroy: Collingwood, Carlton and Brunswick. My readership reflects this local focus. More than 50% of my visitors are from the Melbourne metropolitan area and over 80% are from Australia.
I seek out stories that are closeby and relevant (and that are interesting to me). Legacy media is not interested in small edgy art exhibitions (such as the Gorker gallery opening, reviewing new restaurants that have not yet gained a reputation (Ink seafood restaurant) or providing a commentary on ephemeral local circumstances (a resident posting a note about their stolen bike in their window).
I do my best to connect people and businesses. Whenever possible I inform a restaurant or business by email once I have written about them, and I also introduce myself to business owners in person, and recently had the pleasure of meeting Gorker gallery owner Luke, Marthes from Friperie and Clem from Clemente Talarico.
I try to always reference other blog reviews, particularly if they have covered topics before me. In my review of Houndstooth I acknowledge the excellent Where’s the beef? vegetarian food blog, and I discuss how the developing conversation between a business and its customers is benefiting The Commoner.
I love breaking local stories (I claim first reference in 2007 to Little Creatures opening in Brunswick St and first review of the Little Creatures Dining Hall in 2008). I broke the story on the opening of IGA on Brunswick St and seem to be the only blogger to note the closure of Gertrude St’s Japanese eatery Ume Nomiya.
My posts are geotagged and mapped, my feeds are also geotagged and metadata categorises posts by suburb and by street, so readers can view posts and feeds of these categories.
Hyperlocal blogs in Australia
It makes me happy to know I’m not the only hyperlocal blogger in Australia. Here’s what’s happening in other Australian hyperlocal blogs. Some were featured in an Age article.
Unfortunately the Abbotsford blog and the Smith St blog (both Melbourne) both seem to be dead. If the Business on Smith St (BOSS) traders association had any initiative they would talk to the creators of the Smith St blog about using it as the basis of their $6000 wonder site. They could probably get it for nothing and spend the money on educating themselves and local business owners about how to use the technology so that it does get used.
The adventures of ShinyShiny and Halfeman has not been updated since February 2008. Hopefully it will pick up. The Republic of Moreland is updated regularly and is a fantastic read. St Kilda Today is a photo blog and I love St Kilda is an occasional conceptual art blog that I wish posted more often. There’s also an Essendon community blog (all Melbourne).
Update 6 November 2008: thanks to Life in Chippendale, I’ve discovered that Sydney is blogged more than I thought. There’s Life in Chippendale, Marrickvillia, Kings Cross Times, Darlinghurst Nights (Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Kings Cross, Woolloomoolloo, Rushcutters Bay, Elizabeth Bay and Surry Hills), Nosey in Newtown, RedWatch (Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo) and Furtivity – all about inner city Sydney suburbs.
I’ve also recently found Sensational Adelaide and Riot ACT (fantastic name!). Sustainable Penrith from the Penrith City Council (NSW) is self explanatory, there’s a Byron Bay blog (NSW), the Cassowary Coast Regional Council (Qld) posts regularly and The Worst of Perth (WA) is hilarious.
All of these blogs could benefit from some mapping technology and more sophisticated metadata, but they all represent the voices of real people in local communities. Should a local Outside.In come along, it is these blogs that will benefit most from the broader distribution that aggregation platforms provide.