I had a very enjoyable time at HyperLocal GovCamp West Midlands in Walsall on 6th October, which brought together local government, community website managers and open data enthusiasts for a one-day unconference. As one of the event organisers Andy Mabbett said, â€œSometimes they were even civil to each other!â€ (Despite some very fruitful, robust discussion.)
A particularly interesting session was the presentation by Stuart Williams, who spoke about creating the local heritage website The Bloxidge Tallygraph using Webs.com, which thanks to his keen interest in photography and community goings-on soon evolved into an all-encompassing neighbourhood site.
It was not just the obvious quality of the content that bowled me over, but the sheer amount of it that Stuart himself generates to create what he describes as ‘an online newspaper’ (he interestingly views ‘blogs’ as being an entirely different beast) that gives in-depth coverage and features on local history, events, businesses, environmental issues, etc. Stuart seems to spend all of his spare time going to community events and venues, talking to local people and researching the area, which he then posts up whilst at home. Knowing how time-consuming generating website content can be and that Stuart has a full-time job at Walsall City Council’s Local History Centre, I found it difficult to fathom how he finds enough hours in the day. Like most successful hyperlocal sites, this is obviously the secret of The Bloxidge Tallygraph’s success – the personal passion and commitment of the website manager driving it forward.
Stuart’s dedication to the website led to an interesting discussion after the session between myself, Michael Grimes and Clare White. Michael expressed some concern over the situation that arises when a person creates a community resource through a personal passion, which then becomes something many people rely upon and have expectations of but is still down to one person to sustain voluntarily. What happens if that person finds they can no longer maintain the website?
I then spoke about some of my experiences in managing Digbeth is Good and how the local community seem to find it useful, which is great. People often email me notices to post up, which I do as soon as I’m able – most people understand that I’m maintaining the website in my spare time and are fine about that. But there have been one or two occassions where people seemed to expect a quicker turnaround than I was able to manage.
Clare then responded with a bit of a brainwave – offering local businesses the option of paying a small fee for a ‘premium service’ on a hyperlocal site, which brings posting their notice to the front of the queue – not necessarily an overly prominent or gushing post, merely to guarantee a quicker turnaround.
I thought it was an interesting idea and one that could possibly help community websites generate a small amount of income from the small to medium sized local businesses that often benefit from the coverage.
Clare’s kindly agreed to let me blog her bright idea so what do we think – is this something that might work to bring some money into maintaining local websites? Not for a huge profit obviously, but maybe in the same way that Rick Waghorn’s Addiply can help hyperlocal sites achieve a ‘not for loss‘ equilibrium?