If you haven’t been able to tell, one of my goals for 2012 is to write more. I had a lot of things on my mind lately, and one of them was the evolution of the kind of work I’m in for the upcoming year. I
Initially when I started college, I had seen myself as a web designer. I was interested in helping to make the web work and contributing to the content on it. But more and more, I’m more fascinated with web communication. I manage the social media presence of my university at my job, which is a big part of that. However, I don’t think the base feature set of Twitter, Facebook, and their variant cousins are the entirety of what we can do with communication on the web. Sometimes the best examples of connecting people are new ideas that spring from their platforms. For example, hashtags are something that the users of Twitter created, not Twitter itself.
One of my favorite examples of how people can become connected on the web is a Facebook page that has become popular in Northwest Alabama over the past year, the Shoals Sale Barn. It’s a very simple idea, it’s just a Facebook forum where people can buy and sell anything and everything. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s unfair to only consider it a Facebook Page at this point, it’s virtually a platform and economy of it’s own.
It also doesn’t exist solely within bits, because it’s connecting people in real life too. Sellers and buyers are meeting one another and becoming friends. You could do this through Craigslist for years, but stripping that anonymity and associating items with photos, names and hometowns is awesome because it curates a sense of community.
The Shoals Sale Barn has started a number of pages for specific types of products as well as its share of copy-cats, and I’ve started to consider testing out a spin-off of my own. Instead of sharing what’s for sale, what if a specific locally serving platform like this shared information? I’ve joked that something like a “Shoals Gossip Barn” would be really popular, but I think something with a better name really would. If as many people were a member of this platform, they could quickly and easily share news and information. For example, a quick check of this page might show that a traffic light is out at a certain intersection. Or perhaps that a public city council meeting has changed times. If it were used just as much as the Sale Barn, this kind of venue could even usurp the local TV news as the best source of local information. I think TV media is aware and scared of this, both WAFF and WHNT in our local market have recently launched community-specific features on their sites.
This type of specific catering is what us web nerds have been referring to as “hyperlocal” for a few years now. It’s supposed to deliver information and the sharing of information to someone on a ridiculously local level, even down to the street level if there are enough people creating content or participating in it. The Shoals Sale Barn is one of the best examples I’ve seen, but there are also great examples to be had at the university I work at. In handling social media, my job is to communicate with as many people as possible. But there are also campus clubs or dorm floors who communicate with a very specific set of people. Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags are useful here too, but I’ve also seen things like Google Groups and uStream videos used well for these purposes too. For example, our Starcraft 2 club on campus streams their meetings online for members who can’t make it. It’s not a stream for thousands of people, it’s just something specific for about twenty at most.
I think content curators are quickly realizing that attempting to reach a mass audience dilutes the message. Leo Laporte has recently said on his TWiT network that he doesn’t want to grow his video business any further, he just wants to cater better to the niche audience he already serves. I think that’s right on the money. This is true too when it comes to all web communication, and is what I’m thinking 2012 will bring us. Existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook will bring us better ways to communicate with our neighbors right down the street instead of some person far away you vaguely care about. Hopefully, new tools will realize this as well and provide even better ways to connect us in local ways we haven’t considered yet.