Networked Neighbourhoods have published their study into local websites. Written by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris, it is as excellent as you would imagine it ought to be.
For lazy people, here’s a link to the four-page summary (PDF warning).
For everyone else, here’s the page of resources including the full reports, research material and video interviews. It’s a great resource and I recommend sifting through it.
Neighbourhood websites, or hyperlocal sites, are an interesting thing in terms of the way they tie into government and democracy. Catherine Howe has written in her customary thoughtful style on this subject numerous times – this post is a good one (and she also covered the launch of the Networked Neighborhoods report in detail).
Here’s a comment I left (before my recent house move!) on one of Catherine’s post which sums up my views on this:
What is local? I can see a street from my bedroom window right next to the one I live in, which couldn’t be any more local to me. But I never walk down there, drive down there, or anything – to be honest, I couldn’t really care less about it. But Stansted Airport – 40 miles down the road – *is* local as far as I am concerned.
I suspect local is defined by the individual and in the context of the issue or activity, which doesn’t sound too much like the great foundation to a community to me.
I’m not denying that location based online communities work – clearly they do – but what is the motivation? You rightly point out that pretty much every hyperlocal effort so far has a different bent to it. The link to democracy has been weak so far, I think – the greatest influence so far has been the dearth of quality local media, I would say.
The one thing I would say is that there is clearly more scope for where locally-focused websites are thriving for councils and local politicians to engage better with them.
The work by groups like Talk About Local also demonstrate that where sites do not exist, there is still an appetite to get them going, once people have been shown how to do so.
It strikes me, however, that attempts by government to act as a catalyst – and indeed a platform – for the creation of such sites itself tends to be less successful.