It's a fascinating time for the Britain's hyperlocal scene -- as ever similar to America but not quite the same, less commercial, more community driven. As traditional media nose-dives, Britain's grass roots hyperlocal web publishers come together for their first large gathering next week in Stoke-on-Trent on October 3. We've got about 80 people coming to the Talk About Local 09 (#TAL09) unconference and we can squeeze a few more in. If you publish a local website or local online group come along. Stoke is quick to get to by train and Staffordshire University is right next to the station -- oh, and it's free.
There is a wonderful air of optimism in the UK's volunteer run hyperlocal media. With high standards, passion a genuine local voice and almost zero costs, communities are online and bypassing the UK's failing commercial local media. People are using simple yet powerful web 2.0 tools in their communities to make a bigger impact with local campaigns, tell stories about their neighborhood, show a positive side to young people, communicate vital local messages build a sense of neighborliness or just have some local fun.
We've got hyperlocal web people coming to Stoke from all over the country -- from islands, peninsulas, small towns, villages, industrial areas and gritty urban centers as well as people who provide services to fix local stuff. And historic Stoke-on-Trent is the home of PitsnPots the UK's best council-chasing site facing some of the toughest local challenges in the UK. Tech giant Cisco, the regulator OFCOM, Media Trust and Business Link are confirmed sponsors so far with others hovering in the wings.
It's an unconference so the attendees are in control of what they talk about but we hope people will tell the wonderful stories of their excellent local sites, talk about working with the traditional local media or relations with the Local Authority. Others might talk about the mechanics of running a local site, building a team, sourcing content, running ads, managing comments, basic marketing. We hope people will talk about some of the great innovation we see in UK hyperlocal sites. Anyone is welcome to come along and run a session on something that interests them -- join the Google group and pitch in or follow the new #TAL09 tag on Twitter.
It's a fascinating time for the UK hyperlocal market. We only see a little commercialization in the UK compared to America where there is a lot of talk about commercial hyperlocal models and platforms. Although it isn't clear yet if anyone is actually making money. The UK commercial local media is in big trouble with the regulator OFCOM -- predicting a STG60-80million funding gap for public service news in the 50 year old model of regional TV and showed little optimism for local papers "it is far from certain that local and regional newspaper businesses will fully recover from the recession."
My own model with Talk About Local has been a public service play -- give people the skills for free, show them how to use established public web platforms. Then sell bespoke community empowerment services to Local Government now being measured on the extent to which its communities feel empowered (National Indicator 4). We also find national membership organisations interested in buying training services to help empower their members and branches on the web across the country.
The UK public service broadcaster Channel4 through its 4IP fund and regional development agencies Screen West Midlands and Advantage West Midlands are investing in Talk About Local. We are funded to train 3,000 people in 150 places across England by Spring 2011. The small Talk About Local team gets national leverage from the excellent UK online centers network. The service is gearing up in the West Midlands region and will go national early in 2010. We have a strong partnership approach -- a couple of early stand out successes from our pilot work with partners are this great social network in the W14 area of West London and this marvellous site in isolated rural Kington.
If you are in the UK and passionate about hyperlocal then see you in Stoke next Saturday (register here) - if you are a volunteer and can't afford the travel we can contribute to that thanks to OFOCM funding some travel bursaries. If you are in the USA get on a plane, fly to Manchester or Heathrow and get a train to Stoke. Or if you are quick you can get a cruise to Liverpool.