Like building a block of flats without doorhandles

In my scarce spare-time, I’ve started work on a non-commercial ‘hyperlocal’ website in my neighbourhood. It has brought home to me just how near-yet-far local social networking is from achieving what it could do.

A doorhandle, yesterday.

It’s in it’s early stages, but go and have a look at Finchlinks and tell me what you think?

The whole idea behind hyperlocality is that you build a web-c0mmunity that can create the kind of energy and momentum that will encourage local voluntary organisations to talk to local people (and each other) more effectively, to get business networks working well and to improve the quality of local dialogue – something that local councillors get listen in on and improve the way they represent you.

The whole hyperlocal thing is covered in some detail on this community website.You’ll see that we have a ‘seen elsewhere’ block on the side of this site and it will carry stories of interest from all some of the other local websites that we have listed in our sidebar.

There are some we will link to regularly. There are some that we will either link to very rarely or not at all – not because we’ve got anything against them, but because they don’t have an RSS feed.This isn’t all about us either. RSS feeds allow those sites to get more readers and allow other sites to carry their content. They’re a sort of magic bullet that increases the reach of those websites dramatically.

I work as a web-consultant to government departments, agencies, businesses, local government, trades unions and the voluntary sector. In many cases, the first thing I look for in their websites is an RSS feed, and if one of my paying clients said to me…..

“If you had a choice between a horrible looking website with an RSS feed or a great looking one without one, which would you chose?”

I’d always pick the horrible-looking one with the RSS feed. There are some consultants who sell their clients what they think they need rather than what they actually need, and this explains why there are so many beautifully designed sites without RSS feeds. Economists explain this phenomenon with the illustration of the ‘market for lemons’, and I’ve mentioned this here before.

Anyway, back to the point about local websites: Here’s a list of the sites we’ve got in the sidebar of that site at the moment. I’ve put an asterisk  next to the ones that don’t have any RSS feeds or any other obvious sort of syndication.

  • Age Concern, Barnet *
  • Arts Depot *
  • Avenue House *
  • Barnet and Finchley Photography
  • Barnet Council
  • Finchley Society *
  • Finchley W.I. *
  • Phoenix Cinema East Finchley *
  • City Local – Barnet
  • East Finchley Online
  • Facebook Group – Finchley Village (Church End)
  • Facebook group – North Finchley and Woodside Park
  • Finchley Arrow (online newspaper) *
  • Freecycle Barnet *
  • Not the Barnet times
  • Ironically, this isn’t normally a question of cost. The best, cheapest web-development software has a free set of RSS tools. And it really is important. It’s like building a block of flats and forgetting to add the doorhandles.

    Here’s a short video explaining what RSS does:

    I’d suggest that – if local community websites had RSS feeds – all kinds of potential to build a lively local community of well-visited websites that reference each other could be realised. The Phoenix Cinema and the ArtsDepot would sell more tickets!

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