With the advent of the television newscast people began taking an interest in what was happening not just in their town, but the world around them. Subsequently we’ve come to rely on the news industry to decided what’s important, distill the important facts, and convey it to us in a relatively timely manner. Until recently TV’s and radios have kept us wired to our homes and vehicles resulting in cocoon-style, filtered living — a trend which, today, is being broken by mobile devices and social networks. Welcome back hyperlocalism.
What is hyperlocalism? Though the term is only a few years old, the concept goes back much, much further. Via wikipedia : hyperlocal content, often referred to as hyperlocal news, is characterized by three major elements. First, it refers to entities and events that are located within a well defined, community scale area. Second, it’s intended primarily for consumption by residents of said area. And third, it’s typically created by a resident of the location. (Note the third point is up for discussion because, for example, a photo can be hyperlocal but not locally produced).
For example, it used to be people walked down the road, probably Main Street, and engaged in a series of conversations both collecting and dispensing juicy bits of local gossip. From the pettiest occurrence to the most serious of incidents word spread like wildfire and the phrase "there are no secrets in a small town" was lived. If we compare small town gossip with modern day social networking theories this was an early form of what’s come to be known as "the wisdom of crowds". Incomplete information, both communicated and received with bias, pieced together to form a comprehensive picture more accurate than any singular story.
The news industry to the rescue. Fact-checking professionals dedicated to imparting an un-biased summary account of what’s happened in the world today. Everything you need to know in about an hour. Slowly but surely interests shifted away from the petty local rumor mill to state, national, and international events as they stream directly into our home, car, and office in, in many cases, real-time yielding the ironic feeling of connectedness as we become more and more separated from the world right outside our door.
… and then I got an iPhone. Twitter, facebook, sms, unlimited bandwidth. If I want to know what’s happening in the world around me, I have my choice of: cnn streaming video, NYTimes, WSJ, USA Today, NPR, and several more. There really is an app for that. If I want to be more local I’ve got: twitter, facebook, skype, linkedin, AIM, ping!, and a whole lot more. I can find a friend or they can find me with google latitude. We can plan an event collaboratively with google wave, sync my online shared calendar, send & receive emails and e-vites, and shop for party supplies. While together I can research conversation topics on google or wikipedia while we debate, blog what’s happening directly to wordpress, or share photos of the event — all in real-time. And I can do all this from the comfort of absolutely anywhere.
New technologies are no longer trapping people in their home, breaking up communities as we once thought. Instead, in today’s economic times consisting of long commutes, long hours, working families, and people on the go new media is facilitating us being closer together when we have to be physically apart. My friends and I, for instance, hold virtual conversations throughout the week with several participants coming and going, each of us participating via our media of choice. We both contribute and keep up to date according to our own schedule. Come Friday evening we make the seamless transition from online to off as we converge on the local restaurant of choice. The rest of the weekend is a mix of online and off as we call, message, and mail our virtual social lives to facilitate our physical ones.
Mobile devices and social networking have combined to connect people both globally and locally independent of physical location. This amalgamation of new technology with old interests and preferences has shifted the news dissemination balance of power back to the masses. Local awareness is climbing again as people use new online media to facilitate an offline social life. The result: we no longer have to choose between global and local news. We can have both. We no longer have to choose between walking down Main Street and seeing a newscast. We can do both. We’re no longer trapped in our car or tied to our homes as slaves to the media which supplies the information we crave. We’re on the go, phasing in and out of the virtual world as we merge it with and use it to expand our physical social networks, and it’s your job, as a marketer, to join the conversation and keep up.