My first interest in social technology came from seeing in the mid 1990s the Freenets and community networks developed in North America, and for a few years it seemed that "getting local communities online" through a mix of access provision, training, support and portals might take off. There are still good example around of these projects, but a couple of years ago it became evident that the growing use of personal media and social networking was taking us in a different direction.
I was reminded of this the other day by a comment from Ingrid Koehler, responding to an item about blog communities. She wrote:
I think there's at least one other kind of blog community...and it's geographical - based around a city or a state, with people who really act as a community - sometimes meeting up, sometimes not. I don't think I've seen this in the UK (yet) but I've certainly seen it in the US. Sometimes these were started around an influential individual - but have carried on.
Here is the summary of what got my eye:-
Robin Hamman, senior community producer for BBC English Regions New Media, explained the initiative in an interview with paidContent.org: “We aren’t sure if it’s aggregator, a citizen journalism project or a media literacy campaign - it probably cuts across all three.”
This is a three-month trial launched last week by BBC New Media Central and BBC Manchester:
* Between 10 and 20 volunteers are being recruited across the city.
* Through workshops, participants will be guided through the BBC’s editorial guidelines and production values and then referred to commercial blogging platforms to start their own sites.
* The BBC will monitor RSS feeds from these blogs and highlight the best content.
* Pre-existing local bloggers/Flickr contributors are also invited to submit work or tag content “bbcmanchesterblog” so it can be picked up.
…As for the workload, Hamman optimistically envisages this as a one or two hour job each day for BBC staff — skimming the RSS feeds and wrapping editorial around the best. The rest of the task is to promote the blog to BBC journalists as an efficient source of content about Manchester.
So after the Tube bombing there were 7,000 emails and pictures coming over the transom into the news room at the BBC. After the Fuel Depot explosion there were 25,000 by noon! There was a staff of 7 who were overwhelmed by this.
The infinite scale and the infinite Noise created by having an open door was becoming apparent to the Innocents who then asked - how much will this cost to keep this type of interaction going? Can we in reality sift through all the noise to find the diamonds? Is this really participation? How could we find the quality as the noise builds?
These were the questions that Robin's team asked when they asked for permission to try a different track. By asking this type of question - they got the green light. They had exposed the unsustainable nature of and open door and no filters in a world where content was going to reach for infinite.
So what are they doing? They are creating a Space where they will have a Host.
The Host will select what goes into the space. Really a new kind of editor - see the link to the old?
So who are the contributors? They have gone into the local community (This is regional BBC) and found the best bloggers. They have met with them several times. Beer has been drunk. They have an offer for them. If they want to be picked up in this space by the host, they have access to a wide range of training - first of all about what is the BBC way for journalism ethics etc and secondly they offer all sorts of technical training. If you want to make a better video - we will help you etc.
All keep their own blogs but offer an RSS feed. There is a static hosted BBC site that filters this content. When the host is running with a story, the Host will not run a full story from any source but will use a number of excerpts as most bloggers do now. So the etiquette of the 'sphere applies and the work of finding material mainly defaults mainly to the aggregator. The material includes of course, text, stills, video and music. The offer includes help in all areas. So not only does this build community but also competency.
This experiment seems to me highly significant because it is exploring several issues:
- The changing role of big media (BBC) in relation to small media (digital citizens) ... in this case actually amplifying and empowering them. Would it were always so.
- Creating a community space by aggregating individual spaces (the blogs)
- The relationship between physicially-defined community (Manchester) and its online citizens
- The new facilitator-editor roles this demands.
I think there are some issues in common with the development of blog-based communities in relation to face-to-face events that I raised earlier. I'll be watching Robin's blog to see if he offers us more.
Then I wonder - why do I need to pick up news of what's happening in Manchester from Robert blogging from Prince Edward Island, Canada. But then, why not. And why not post something about this in the discussion about Nancy White's(Seattle) paper on blog communities, hosted in Australia. What's local, what's global these days?