Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Social Media and the Hyperlocal

Although one of the promises of Internet technologies is that it can put global information resources at our disposal -- it is theWorld Wide Web after all -- there has been a turn recently towards these very technologies being used to put us in better touch with our local communities, right down to what's happening in our neighborhoods. Although the buzz around location-based social networking has been going on for a little over a year, with Foursquare's launch last year at SXSW, the turn to location-oriented technology tools could mark a shift towards paying attention to a localized sense of place, and this in turn could promise a way for a more engaged citizenry.

Local Social Networking: The GPS capabilities in smart-phones have facilitated the growth of location-based social networking. These services allow you to "check in" in a particular location, marking your presence at a particular site. These services are particularly attractive to restaurants and other venues, who reward customers who check in with promotions. Location-based social networks do just that -- intersect social networking with a particular location, allowing friends to interact online and offline. Popular location-based networks include Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite. Local review site Yelp recently added the ability to "check in" as well.

Local Search: Although people have become accustomed to turning to the Internet to "search," they often want to be able to find something -- a product or a service -- locally. Many new Web 2.0 tools are being developed to replace the "yellow pages" as the resource people utilize in order to find local information.

Local Blogs: Blogs have long been one way to maintain a connection to the news and events of a particular community. Local blogs often pay attention to happenings that might not rise to the level of the local mainstream media. Written by local authors with a local readership in mind, blogs are one way in which the Internet technologies help communities stay up-to-date with what's important.

Local News: Although the mainstream media has suffered substantial cuts to its labor force in recent years, people's desire for news has not changed. Although many people have turned to national, syndicated sources of information, there seems to be a turn lately towards localized news. Social media startups, including sites like Fwix, EveryBlock and Outside.In, offer hyperlocalized news, allowing users to indicate not just the city or topics they're interested in, but the specific neighborhoods. These hyperlocal news sites aggregate local blog posts, local news feeds, and other public data, including in the case of EveryBlock, 911 calls, restaurant inspections, and other civic data.

All these new social media toolspoint to the importance in remaining connected to one's community. Despite the ability of new technologies to connect us to the rest of the world, the increasing popularity of these services indicate that people still are deeply interested in what happens at home.

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