Almost three years ago I started publishing hyperlocal news sites that aggregate content from multiple blogs that contain information about inner city Melbourne suburbs, such as restaurant reviews and art exhibition details. I eventually built ten of these sites and they have continued to grow, which is threatening to overwhelm the disk space available in my web hosting package. I consequently have to reconsider their future.
Over this three year period, blogging using sophisticated CMSs like Blogger and WordPress initially grew but more recently it has declined. New bloggers are using simpler platforms like Tumblr that don’t offer RSS feeds for categories or tags, which the local sites use to aggregate content. More people still are using Facebook and Twitter to publish content as individuals instead of publishing a site with its own brand or identity.
I estimate that a majority of the relevant content was never tagged by its publishers in such a way that it could be syndicated in the local news sites. I no longer have the time to administer the sites, which means I am not able to find new content or help new publishers by training them how to better tag their content to produce better SEO for themselves and to participate in the local sites.
I tried to find collaborators who were interested in editing or moderating these sites, but no one was interested. I have therefore made the difficult decision to delete these sites. I’ve already deleted the ones for St Kilda and the inner bayside, Richmond and the inner east, the inner west (Footscray etc), and the inner south east (South Yarra, Windsor etc).
I’d like to thank all the contributors, the publishers of Melbourne blogs who tagged their content by suburb, for making this hyperlocal experiment possible. You may notice that your number of RSS subscribers decreases as the sites are deleted. I apologise for this, but don’t panic – it’s simply the feeds that were used by the local sites not being used anymore.
Within the next month or so I expect to delete the six remaining sites that cover the CBD and inner north areas. If you’re an experienced WordPress user who wants to take over administering any of the local sites, contact me now. Soon they’ll be gone forever.
Content about local communities remains valuable to local audiences, but shaping nebulous content to suit geographically precise audiences remains difficult. The semantic web still does not exist, and appears no closer to becoming a reality.
Tagging content by suburb is a simple and effective, though somewhat labour intensive, means of geographically labelling content and allowing it to be aggregated and syndicated. This method formed the basis of my hyperlocal sites, but it has not been broadly or consistently embraced by amateur publishers, and media corporations that are tagging content by location, like the ABC, continue to do so in an inconsistent manner. I doubt it will ever become standard practice.
Another method that I have also pursued for a number of years is geotagging, where geographical data is embedded in content, which allows content to be mapped and organised in increasingly sophisticated ways. I’ve recently replaced the old, no longer developed, geotagging plugin used in Fitzroyalty with another that remains supported.
Geotagging is more complex than simple text tagging, and requires far more of publishers in terms of technical expertise. It currently remains a niche activity that is too difficult for most bloggers to implement or for most content consumers to engage with.
You can view Fitzroyalty posts in a public Google map, which is very useful on a mobile device. I’d like to be able to display the content of the local news sites in the same manner, but the technology is simply not capable of this yet, at least in a plug and play automated fashion.
The fact that it’s not being widely done in a sophisticated programmatic manner also indicates that the data simply does not exist to support the widespread and consistent geographic organisation of content. And while audiences would surely find this incredibly helpful, there is no business model to support it. Advertising doesn’t work and there’s no other business model capable of enabling the publication of hyperlocal sites.