Local stuff

I always like reading Andrew Brown‘s roundups of stuff that’s happening in his area – Lewisham – that he regularly posts to his blog. I haven’t the discipline to do anything regularly, but here are a couple of things I’ve been looking at recently.

First up is that I took another look at the website for my village – Broughton, near Kettering in Northamptonshire. Before you click the link be warned: it’s not a very modern design. Indeed, as I suspected, a quick ‘View Source’ shows that the thing is done in Frontpage (argh!). But ignore that…

…because the content in fabulous. It’s a really, really good community resource. There’s stuff for the Parish Council, loads and loads of photos and bits of history about the village. Elaine Bradshaw, who is behind the site, really has done a terrific job.

The only shame is that I can’t find any contact details for her on the site, firstly to congratulate her on what she has achieved, but also to wonder how much easier it would be if we WordPress’d the whole thing. Maybe stuck all the photos up on Flickr, made it easier for anyone in the village to contribute… If somehow you end up reading this, Elaine, do get in touch.

Secondly, on the way to work today I saw a large fluorescent sign, imploring those that saw it to ‘Save Naseby Battlefield!’. I wasn’t under the impression that the battlefield was under any threat, but apparently it is:

Power company E.ON is investigating the possibility of installing turbines close to the historic battlefield.

The proposals have been met with anger from historians, who are working on plans to boost the national reputation of Naseby by building a visitor centre at the battle site.

A further bit of digging revealed that the campaign has its own site, and it runs on WordPress! Stop Kelmarsh Windfarm is the name of the site, which I can’t help but feel is a rather negative slant on things (‘Save Naseby Battlefield’ sounds much nicer, I think).

It also confuses the hell out of me. I mean, wind farms are good things, right? But heritage stuff is important too… argh!

Going local

Jon Bounds has put together a nice little site for guiding people around Birmingham. It’s wiki based, so anyone can get involved, and there is some nice Google Maps action going on there too. There’s quite a big group of social media savvy folk gathering in Brum, thanks to Nick Booth‘s Birmingham Bloggers meetups, and hopefully this group of people will be able to fill the site up with some great content. It is also the latest in a line of useful tools being built around Birmingham in the social web space – see BirminghamBloggers (put together by Paul Bradshaw) for example.

I attended the first Birmingham Bloggers meet but haven’t made one since – mainly because I have been tied up with other stuff, but its fair to say that I struggled to feel like I really belonged there. I work in Coventry, down the road from Brum, but live close to Kettering in Northamptonshire. What struck me at the meet was how strong a sense of geographical belonging was evident. It’s wonderful, but meant I kind of felt a bit excluded.

I’ve been thinking over the last week or so about how one can create local groups around topics of interest, and how this can tie in, or learn from, initiatives like Birmingham Bloggers, the Membership Project and the Tuttle Club.

I have no idea whether there is any appetite for any kind of social media meet in Kettering. I’ve looked around, and there is a Flickr group or two for Northamptonshire; and a county based Linux Users Group, within which there may well be a few bloggers. Perhaps something based on a larger area is more appropriate for less urban areas?

I’ve set up a few feeds to check for Kettering popping up in Flickr, Google Blog Search, del.icio.us and Technorati – it will be interesting to see exactly what starts to appear. Can anyone think of other ways of monitoring for this kind of stuff?

It doesn’t help that the local paper doesn’t provide an RSS feed; and while the borough Council does, it doesn’t actually work (at least for me, anyway).

So what are some of the things that might be needed to form a community around social media in a local context? Firstly a common tag which can be used to identify content, whether blog posts, photos in flickr, video on youtube, del.icio.us links etc. This has to be right and everyone clear on what the tag is – if people start using different tags then it’s going to be difficult to keep track of stuff. It’s probably also worthwhile created a hashtag for Twitter and other stuff like that – even if people aren’t using it straight away, it will be useful to have in place for the future.

The common tag is really the starting point of the community, because people can use it to follow conversations with their RSS readers. The second step is to create a hub where a lot of this content can be aggregated in one place. The easiest way of doing this is with a public personalised start page like those at Netvibes or Pageflakes. This gives some centre to the community, a single place for people to go and find out what the latest is.

Hopefully by this time people are talking to each other by leaving comments on blogs and other mediums, but the conversation is likely to be spread about and it might be difficult for people to feel completely involved. It’s probably time to arrange a face to face meeting, whether a few drinks in the pub or a photo  walk if there are lots of flickr fans about. How can this be organised though? It’s time for something to be built: maybe a wiki, or a Google Group mailing list or just a space on a social network that everyone is on. The latter is good because you can pick up new members easily, but not everyone will be on that network. I wonder, though, if putting this communication channel together should come earlier?

If the group starts to have some interesting discussions that are developing, it might be worth putting together a group blog as a focal point for others. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog about the group itself but about the issues that the group is interested in. As the group matures and other projects get started other stuff can be developed to meet the need, whether it be wikis or other collaborative environments like Basecamp.

So, the things to do to establish a local social media community (according to me) are:

  • Establish tags
  • Aggregate content
  • Communicate
  • Meet
  • Develop

I might try and put this into effect and see who else is about in Kettering or Northamptonshire who digs this stuff. If you pick up this post somehow and are interested, let me know.

Otherwise, what other thoughts do folk have on using social media to form local groups?