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Weblog Entry

The Local Web

October 17, 2005

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of localized web sites, or sites restricted to a smaller audience by either content matter or technological barriers. Having a global audience is great for meeting new people and being exposed to ideas and mindsets one may not have been aware of, but sometimes that’s too much exposure.

For example, as more members of my family slowly become wired, the idea of having a common, family-only place for us all to go and talk and post pictures seems like the next logical step beyond email. I’d actually prefer that to email, given shared common archives and search options, but it might be a barrier for other members of the family who aren’t as comfortable with technology.

So it’s been interesting watching details emerge about Project Comet, a new product from Six Apart. It’s looking as if it might just be exactly what I think our family needs, with features like photo sharing, media lists, and private weblogs. What I’m really interested in seeing is the content creation interface, and how they plan on making it accessible and user-friendly to people who aren’t technically proficient.

Also picking up in my neck of the woods are community-oriented sites and weblogs. Locally focused sites with content only relevant to people within a certain geographic region are a niche that hasn’t traditionally been done well on the internet. It seems to me that when you have a company driving the local content creation, there has to be a return in order to justify the resources, so you end up with company directory after company directory, maybe some events listings, a bit of weather, and not much else. Craigslist is a notable exception which has been expanding like crazy, but unless you live in one of the earlier cities it added, it’s not quite there yet. (Although it was good enough to find us a new place to live last time around, replacing the for-pay listing service I’d used prior.)

But in the hands of passionate individuals who simply want to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for the place they live, it’s a totally different experience. I’ve enjoyed watching new local content launch at an increasing pace, mostly in the form of weblogs thus far.

Long-running local favourite VanEats is written by enthusiastic technologist and food critique Roland Tanglao, a name some might recognize from the Bryght team. Also run by the same folks is UrbanVancouver, a sort of local news aggregator pulling from numerous sources around town. (Disclosure: I had a hand in the design a few years back.) Local duo Ianiv and Arieanna run Vancouver Coffee, a subject close to my heart. Neighbourhood-specific blogs kitsilano.ca and Beyond Robson just kicked off this spring, and even the local businesses are getting into the spirit: check out the amount of detail and obvious love for the location that has gone into this site for a relatively small commercial corner of the city at Macdonald and Fourth. The streetscape photo tours are similar to a feature amazon.com launched a while ago, but never found its way north of the border; I wish all commercial streets up here had online tours like these.


October 17, 02h

I saw Backfence.com the other day that is right now limited to only a few communities, but it’s along the same lines of community specific websites.

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praetorian says:
October 17, 02h

“Braining weblogging into the mainstream.” It isn’t already?

October 17, 02h

Hmmmm, the local Web. That would make for a cool Web 2.0 mash-up. Use Google Maps to index community focused Web sites, add a dash of folksonomy and you could overlay an information terrain over a physical space. It would be an interesting exercise to organize these sites into islands of information - especially, once they get the kinks out, if you add wireless devises to the mix.

lalitree says:
October 17, 03h

You’ve described a big part of why LiveJournal is so popular. Users can set a post to be visible to only to friends, or even sub-sets of friends (a ‘family’ set, for example). Add to that a simple aggregator (the LJ friends list) and it’s a very simple, useful thing. I hope they incorporated something like into Project Comet.

Dave S. says:
October 17, 03h

“especially, once they get the kinks out, if you add wireless devises to the mix”

Oh yeah. I’ve been saying for a while I’d drop a good bundle on any wireless device that lets me use Google Maps the same as I do in a desktop browser. When I’m street-level, I really wish look up what’s around the corner.

And you’re thinking along the right lines about extending it toward community-focused web sites. How great would it be to have a wiki layer on Google Maps? (Assuming it’s done right, and there’s continual editing effort… might be better to just start geotagging Wikipedia articles and not duplicate that effort.)

6
Chris ZS says:
October 17, 03h

“How great would it be to have a wiki layer on Google Maps?”

I am so stealing that idea.

October 17, 03h

Funny you mention the family bit. I just got back from a family wedding and it occurred to me that there is no place online for all the folks in the Mendoza family to all hook up. In that case I felt responsible to give us an online presense and quickly buy our family name before it gets snatched up in the future.

Thanks for the tip on sixApart, I didn’t realize they were starting up something just like it with their project comet. I’ll have to check it out since the last thing I’d want to do is put a lot of time and effort into something that only the family is going to see.

October 17, 03h

It conceivable that we wouldn’t even need to add geo information maunally to a wiki or site. It wouldn’t be that hard for Google to index a blog’s location by it’s content. If it’s community based, a site’s content will be riddled with location based information - addresses, landmark & business names, events, etc. Using this information Google should be able to use its mapping technology to triangulate, map and record the radius of the content’s physical reach. It would allow you to see how concentrated or diluted a blog’s community based content really is, or how wide or small it’s physical scope is. This would be really great for indexing - and imagine if you could compare different communities using this information - excellent for planning vacations and family moves.

Tamara says:
October 17, 04h

The web has always held the promise of bringing us closer… and I think it’s finally starting to work. I use flickr (www.flickr.com) to post personal photos and comments back and forth with my family. It does more for us than email ever has. Some people are good with words and writing, but everyone understands a photo.

BTW, Thanks for mentioning the site I work on (MacFourth.com) with such a nice description. I’m glad that my enthusiasm for the area comes across.

quinn says:
October 17, 04h

Thank you for showing us nice local web sites in Vancouver area. I would love to move to the city if I get the chance to do so.

October 17, 08h

I live in Vancouver and have never known any of these sites. Thanks for the information.

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Andy says:
October 17, 08h

I have been thinking about something similar, but from the other direction; i.e. I have assumed that family content is inevitable and considered the effect that has on the ever decreasing pool of domain names.

I am by no means an expert on this; however, I am sure at some point there will be a need for more than one www.smith.family, or family.singh.london, or any other method of addressing.

If this kind of family / community centric site is to really take off there needs to be a substantial change in the way sites are addressed and I don’t see adding more subdomains or sub directories as the answer.

Tom says:
October 18, 05h

Project Comet is a very funky idea to get non-bloggers into the whole online thing, I’ll be very interested to see how the interface works.

October 18, 06h

I’m just going to throw out a link that I think is a great example of a local, community-based site that works very well.

http://daviswiki.org/

It’s run entirely by volunteers in the community, and it provides a lot of valuable information. However, Davis is a college town and I doubt it would work as well in a different type of community.

October 18, 09h

I am interested in what you are saying here, but I wonder what happens when you create a slightly different border, bringing people together of different geographical backgrounds or locations and setting them in a conceptual geography of say, art. I am experimenting with a community portfolio for folks who can’t afford to create their own, with the crucial additioin of a community blog (appropriately called critique) that will be a place for artists (or what I prefer to simply call workers) can share their ideas, concepts, writing, craft in a way for many to see, some to participate. A slight diversion from your comment about your family blog idea? Anyhow, hmm. Interesting thoughts. Interactivity seems to add some kind of redemption to a medium that seems usually ucerpted by the technology savvy or the product hungry.

Cheers for the article,

Matthew Smith

Arieanna says:
October 18, 10h

Thanks for the link to Vancouver Coffee. I think coffee plays a large part to our city - and blogging about it has added a richness to my online experience. Plus, I get to drink great coffee every day!

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m says:
October 19, 03h

There is no way to ensure the validity of information shared and edited among strangers; ethical standards relating to personal safety and basic human rights cannot be upheld.

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DaveMo says:
October 20, 08h

For the last several years I’ve been having the same thoughts about a personal/family website-cum-network project. It seems ironic on the face of it that I’m not applying to my personal and family life what I know and do on a daily basis here at work. I guess I’ve just been trying to figure out what to do that isn’t another lame website that even my family wouldn’t bother with.

I’m also the driver of a van pool, and I have been pondering the creation of a website that my riders could access and would be useful to them as well – helping them to schedule their rides and disseminate other info among them. This would have both private and public access sections ideally, with the public access part helping to promote and encourage van pooling and car pooling. Again I’ve been trying to figure out how I would do that and what would be the best technology and format for both.

And now I’m becoming involved with the union here at work, (I work for the State of Oregon and am represented by SEIU-OPEU.) and have been tapped to be part of a communications committee. I’m looking at blogging software to help produce a very localized “newsletter” to help promote communications and member recruitment in our agency and beyond hopefully. However, the union is concerned with limiting access to keep the discussion and dialog positive, productive and in bounds and avoid trolling and unnecessary rants and flames.

I think as I learn and develop the union project, the other two will fall in place, and some of the resources being shared here will definitely come in handy.

Thanks!

J. J. says:
October 31, 10h

I am surprised no one has mentioned http://www.placeopedia.com/ yet. It is basically a Google Map where users can pinpoint Wikipedia articles. There is not much else that the site does, but it is decently implemented at least!