While running our Destination Local programme, we often debate about the scope and nature of hyperlocal media. It’s such a new term that a number of very different types of service get described as hyperlocal, usually depending on who we talk to.
For example, hyperlocal media has been described as very local citizen journalism, hand crafted news stories or campaigns for change operating at a very local level. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the semi-automatically produced services that can offer local content to anyone in the world from a central technology platform. Some dispute this as hyperlocal, suggesting that, say, Twitter or Google is too divorced from the local geographical place its content refers to for it to be considered authentic hyper local.
For the record, we have a working definition:
“Online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community”
which will do for the time being until there is a bit more consensus.
But, despite its global aspirations, one of the services which I think qualifies as hyper local media is Waze. This mobile app provides up to date traffic information to help drivers plan and iterate their car journey.
It operates like a regular satnav, but with an important difference – it gets its information from its community of drivers, in real-time, as they encounter problems on the roads. In this way, Waze operates as a dynamic collective awareness platform fed by both a personal and common interest, to make navigating our crowded roads easier (and consequently reduce carbon emissions). Users have no obligation to report traffic hold-ups to others, but they do so (presumably) on the basis of collective benefit and karma. One day, after all, they might be the ones benefiting from advance warning about jams.
Is Waze journalism? Certainly not. But it does meet some of the characteristics of hyper local media at its best. Timely, useful (and importantly) communal information about a geographical location which can help people make informed choices about their lives.