You can’t own conversation

Here’s a little scenario

I read the paper on a Friday evening and then go to the pub. There I am chatting with friends and discussion swings round to one of the stories I read. “did you see that thing in the paper today abo…”. Suddenly a door is kicked in.

A group of paramilitary journo’s storm the pub wearing old typewriter ribbons for headbands. They demand that if I am going to discuss anything I read in the paper that I must come back to the newsroom and do it there.

Okay, it’s unlikely to happen.(Newspapers just don’t have the staff to mount raids on pubs.) But it seems that this approach is how many people want hyperlocal to work.

That scenario came to mind as I looked through the coverage that Rob Curley’s (The Washington post,) hyperlocal project , the LoudounExtra.com, is getting.

The whole issue of hyperlocal and its associated buzz word, community, has been increasingly in my radar at the moment. It seems that where once the big stampede was to multimedia the rush now is to community. Of course community and hyperlocal is what user generated content and citizen journalism was meant to be about . So it’s no surprise that as we see two citizen journalism projects fall by the wayside come to an end , for different reasons, we see a hyperlocal project being presented as the next big thing.

But the churn is giving people pause for thought. Jeff Jarvis admits:

I think I’ve been thinking about hyperlocal the wrong way. Like most everyone else chasing this golden fleece, I’ve defined it as content, news, a product, listings, data, software, sites, ads. It’s not. Local is people: who knows what, who knows whom, who’s doing what (and, yes, who’s doing whom).

That’s the real nub. People are the key factor but the problem is that these people are already having the conversation. As Jeff says they “already are a community, already doing what they want to do, already knowing stuff.”

Facebook groups related to loudoun

If you Facebook Loudoun then you get 94 groups. From the tone of the groups there is a big social divide in Loudoun which I didn’t get from the site. The site makes big play of the shopping habits of teens feature – a great feature- but a large number of teens on facebook seem to be concerned with the disparity in Loudoun schools’ grading systems. A number of minority sports are represented (including rugby, which for some reason is listed as an extreme sport!) A community already exists.

In terms of what that means for Hyperlocal, Jarvis puts it better than I could

I’m not suggesting that hyperlocal is just a social networking tool. Or just a forum. Or just a bunch of blogs. Or just a listings tool. Or just a search engine. Or just a news site. It needs to end up being all those things and more. And as I said the other day, this will not happen in one place, on one site, but will be distributed across wherever people are being people and communities communities, locally. The trick, once more, is to organize it all. Elegantly.

So is the LoudounExtra barging in on a conversation that is already happening? I don’t think it is. Many of the blogs that are featured fro example, are part of active and informed communities. But the tone of the site, and the comment it has raised seem to suggest that there is still a way to go before hyperlocal really shakes itself out.* And that’s rooted in more fundamental problems.

Media companies are just getting over the big shock that they no longer own the news. It’s one of the things that has made the move to digital most painful. But as on the positive side they have also realised that there is as much value in the conversation that is generated by news as there is the lecture that creating it had become.

The problem is they can’t seem to want to shake the idea of ownership and their right to control that conversation.

Hyperlocal is about being one of the places where communities meet -maybe the most popular place – but not the only place. It strikes me that is less effort to be part of a community than it is to push all your resources in to creating a new on.

*but all of this comes with the give that there should be heaps and heaps of praise for Curley just for trying this

7 thoughts on “You can’t own conversation”

  1. Fall by the wayside? I’m not sure what you mean by that. Assignment Zero ended, as it was supposed to, with a package of pieces published at Wired.com. Backfence was supposed to succeed as a business and did not. I don’t believe your statement is accurate.

    Sorry to quibble (it’s a very small part of your post.) Quite a good post.

  2. Andy, Good thoughts. Re: “Media companies are just getting over the big shock that they no longer own the news,” historical perspective is helpful. “Media companies” actually “stole” the news 500 years ago when the printing press was invented — prior to that news was owned by people and spread by word of mouth. Even governments had to compete to be part of it, at times resorting to silly entertainment, like minstrels, to get noticed. It has been a rough 500 years, because once media was ownable, it was also take-over-able by government. So 500 years later, the people are simply taking back what had belonged to them. Rough time for journalists, perhaps, but a great time for Mankind. (Steve Boriss, TheFutureOfNews.com)

  3. Thanks Steve.

    I kind of agree with that but would say that these are great times for journalists. In the past the role of the traveling storyteller – the minstrel – was vital for the flow of information to those not privy to the machinations of court and society. Now journalists can take that role again. They can use new technology to be storytellers. To take that information to anyone who will listen no matter how small.

Leave a Reply