Hyperlocal websites like any volunteer activity wax and wane. The vast majority start off as volunteer efforts to help someone’s personal endeavour, campaign or hobby. They can start quickly if they hit a rich vein or slowly building an audience month after month. It’s common for sites to hit a bump and slow down for a spell and then come back to life. What makes hyperlocal sites resilient?
Quite often sites hit a bump as a result of something happening to the lead contributor to the site. People running a site might move house, have a baby, look after a sick relative, get a new partner, take up a new hobby, have pressures at work. This can radically alter the amount of time a person has to run a website. This ‘volunteer time budget’ is often very loosely defined from a few minutes a day to copy and paste some stuff in to several hours a week to write original stuff or take and edit pictures.
People (often professional writers) are surprised that people do want to volunteer to do this stuff for free, but it’s rare to find someone who puts as much time into a volunteer hyperlocal site as a committed football fan does into following their team.
The joy of many hyperlocal sites is that they are not slaves to traditional industrial media practices – such as a daily paper or needing to be first with news from the ersatz PR cycle. They find their own pace that suits them and their community. Often that’s what appeals to their readers and contributors. All of the distractions above have happened to me in Kings Cross, but the site soldiers on. The site continues because I work with a fantastic collection of people in the neighbourhood who contribute. They either write direct onto the site or send me or each other stuff so I can more or less copy and paste it in. When I’ve been distracted my local colleagues often take up the slack. And vice versa. It’s quite normal not to hear from someone for 6 months then they pop up with a load of great stuff for the community. We are by no means an organised team, we don’t meet up, we stay in touch on and off by email. It works for what we do. If i fell under the metaphorical bus tomorrow i’m not sure what would happen. Not least because i am the only one with admin details for Typepad.com
Philip Blond’s excellent TED Global talk seeks to root or rather re-base a modern society in small local groups. I hugely enjoy working with a small group locally and this feels right to me. In a Sunday Times interview yesterday (17 July 2011) Philip Blond said:
“There should be a web page in every community where people can post their needs, and other people can say they can help”
We’ve seen a few sites recently talking about adjusting the way the site is run in response to changing circumstances . Richard runs the superb Saddleworth News a project while he was caring for his baby daughter. He’s facing returning to work and has written an excellent post to discuss his options with the readers. Over at the marvellous InsidetheM60 they are taking a short break and according to Twitter ruminating on the future. Chris Unitt is thinking publicly about Created in Birmingham.
But this isn’t a new thing – The YamYam your source for all things Walsall went away and then came back again (see comment at link). The Stirrer, an excellent West Midlands politics site also died and was reborn. We know of several sites have survived or even thrived with a change of management such as Bournville Village and Blog Preston.
The web doesn’t need to have a smooth continuum. Like life, it’s a bit messy. It’s striking how many news brands can trace an almost continuous history back over 100 years. In part tied to the need to keep hugely expensive capital assets earning every day or week. The web, with different expectations and technologies is endearingly different to the trad media.
So if you are thinking of moving on to something else or taking a break either now or in the future here’s a few things you might want to consider or prepare for it:
broaden the base of contributors – the more people you have involved in the site the greater the odds of it surviving as your ability to contribute waxes, wanes or finishes. Have a standing invite for new contributors say
make the technology very simple and cheap
control – passing on a site is often about getting the balance of control right. if you are too controlling it won’t survive if you have to walk away. If you share control then there is a greater chance of someone else taking it forward
confidence and delegation – you need to be confident to share control with team members without putting them off. This requires confidence in your team and sometimes some informal coaching
skills – try to make sure that there are more than one administrator or tech person who can run the site
personal capital – this is a tricky one – do people respond to your voice through the site or are there a range of voices people like. In many ways a trad. media issue – do you buy a magazine for the columnists or the pictures or the info? If the site is very much ‘yours’ then it might be harder to get others to take forward
pausing – many sites don’t publish frequently, some do reflecting local interest. Might your site stand a long pause? In Kings Cross we hardly publish anything in August for instance when we see a traffic drop anyway.
money – you may be happy to put £10-£20 a month into your hobby (much less than a ticket to see a football match) but not everyone will be so.
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