The ‘hyperlocal community’ is all a flutter at the moment with news that funds have been made available for investment in the area.
The excitement may seem slightly out of proportion to the money involved. There are two chunks of £500,000, one from Nesta and one from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). However, this probably exceeds the total revenue generated by the sector so it is perhaps understandable that there is much hoopla about sums of money that would be regarded as if they were presented as critical for the future of any other sector.
Nesta’s ‘Destination Local’ project is specifically for mobile related hyperlocal technologies whilst the TSB’s funding seem to be ploughing a similar furrow but less explicitly. Dr. Jeremy Silver, Creative Industries Lead Specialist of the Technology Strategy Board said of their funding, “new models for local media might emerge out of new smarter uses of enabling technologies”
On the one hand you could accuse these two organisations of following the herd. ‘So Lo Mo’ has been the happening thing for some time now and there is already a proliferation of applications available mainly in the states but plenty already in the UK. The area is hardly starved of funds as venture capitalist love this area at the moment and given the nature of the industry, once it is deemed hot everybody needs to be there. The small size of funding on offer means that the projects that are going to apply are likely to be the ones that venture capitalists have seen and passed up on. They are not infallible and often miss good ideas but they are also not complete idiots and will cream off most of the best projects.
On the other hand maybe there is a more carefully thought out plan in operation here. Nesta issued a report at the same time which was a review of the hyperlocal scene – ‘Here and Now’. Despite the unflappable desire to celebrate the sector on behalf of the authors, it made for depressing reading. The focus was, as ever, on a small group of sites and was broadly an attempt to cheer-lead for them but the lack of numbers on visitors and revenues and the sheer mediocrity of some of the sites featured reinforced the impression that the key competency needed is networking rather than giving a local community what they need. If there is an underlying recognition that as it stands the hyperlocal sector is not going to fill the growing gap in local media provision then it may have brought Nesta round to thinking it is time for something new hence the concentration on mobile.
Although the sums of money are small there are plenty of people out there with the skills and inventiveness to come up with useful apps within a small budget. They are not the same people who are currently involved in the hyperlocal sphere. If the money is spent wisely it will attract a new set of younger, less conservative people into hyperlocal one of whom may develop and application that gets widely used. Anything would be preferably to doling out the cash to the more well-connected and vocal members of the hyperlocal community who have little expertise in mobile and have thus far generally failed to crack the problems. What happens will be a good indication of whether there is a workable plan to move things forward in this sector or it is comprised largely of subsidy junkies scratching around for funding for their next project.