Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Local Online: Monolithic vs. Decentralized

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 by 2 comments

Kirby Winfield offers a good post today, for as far as it goes, about helping people connect to their local communities through the internet…

It’s been said that individuals today are increasingly disconnected from their communities. They are “bowling alone”; i.e., although the number of people who bowl has increased in the last 20 years, the number of people that bowl in leagues has decreased. Since people bowl alone they do not participate in social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment.

The Internet has been criticized for its isolating impact on society. In many cases increased engagement in online activities results in exacerbation of the “bowling alone” phenomenon.

There is a huge market void in local online media. With the exception of business search/reviews, no one has solved for community connection and conversation at the neighborhood or town level at scale. This brings me to the opportunity of “digitizing local.”

Some of the most passionate and well informed citizens in the country still communicate about their communities through print newsletters, in person meetings, and other offline means. These people thrive on being active locally. If you can somehow harness their knowledge, energy, and networks, you can create a vast forum of local influencers and relevant evergreen local content…

This, of course, is exactly what Front Porch Forum is all about in the 19 Vermont towns that comprise greater Burlington.

He goes one to say that no one has cracked this mystery at scale.  Perhaps that’s the wrong way to look at it.  Kind of like saying that none of the big box retailers have yet to really feel like a valuable local business.  It could be that, when it comes to local, the internet will deliver on its promise of decentralization and small scale and we’ll see thousands of super-valuable local sites rising up, each unique to their own special community… not the one-size-fits-all big box approach emanating from Silicon Valley.  Kind of like 100 years ago when every town had its own stand-alone, locally owned, daily newspaper.

Of course, the chains came along and gobbled up those papers eventually and left us with the USAToday model.

Maybe the internet will help usher back true local flavor and thousands of successful local media companies that enliven and enrich their home towns in ways that no clever distant mashup could ever achieve.

Posted in: Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, Social Media, Social Networking


  1. Definitely good points, I should always be more careful using absolutes online, there’s always someone out there doing exactly what one posits as “undone”…

    On the subject of national/megalith versus local media: My question is more towards whether a national megalith can provide incentive and platform for vibrant local media that still feels local, and not like a local version of USA Today with “your weather” in the upper corner and that’s about it…

    Even local newspaper blogs haven’t cracked that code yet. A recent study we conducted internally here told us a certain major market local paper see a post rate of less than 2 per week on their “neighborhood blogs” and less than 2 comments per post.

    The top line from participant bloggers:
    –40/60 split between those also participating in other blogging and those blogging for first time.
    –The top line from readers and other Seattle bloggers: Stale environment (old contributor bios, un-updated blogs), low readership, low engagement (comments are rare), and generally low interest content that tends to be boosterish.

    So I guess hyper local media doesn’t necessarily win just because it isn’t national – much as a crummy local electronics shop won’t beat out a big box retailer without being better for the fact of being local.

  2. Michael says:

    Good points Kirby. I’m hard on Silicon Valley’s version of local online because it seems that (1) every start-up has to have YouTube-type potential, and (2) most efforts are aimed at the same demographic that’s creating them… tech savvy, not wedded to place, wanting to live a large chunk of life online, etc.

    In our first year of Front Porch Forum, more than 25% of the city has subscribed. In on neighborhood we surveyed where 90% are on board, 50% had posted in the past six months. Take a look at our member testimonials to get a sense of things…

    Cheers! -Michael

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