Reading Fred Wilson on the hyperlocal

by Yule Heibel on April 19, 2008

I started reading Fred Wilson back in January when one of’s blog posts referenced Wilson’s entry, Rethinking The Local Paper. Wilson is a NYC-based venture capitalist/ investor who funds start-ups related to new media, social networking, online technologies, …that sort of thing. He’s also quite brilliant, blogs (A VC – Musings of a VC in NYC) regularly, and has all the relevant “social media” accounts (and uses them to learn things).

In his January post on Rethinking The Local Paper, he wrote about his passion for the hyperlocal, which immediately hooked me. My interests in urbanism, architecture, mobile media, locative media, social media — all that stuff — collide at the local level. I love how these things are creating whole ecosystems, webs of interrelated dependencies: economies. In that entry he wrote:

In fact, the first thing we all need to understand about “hyperlocal” is that this is going to be a long slog. It’s simple enough to put up a search field and ask for a neighborhood name or zip code and return a result. has been doing that for over a year now. (…) …the results are not that compelling. YET.

The thing that has to happen and will happen, I just don’t know when, is that we are going to program our community newspapers ourselves. (…)

But there just aren’t that many people producing hyperlocal content in a form that is organizable into a new version of a community newspaper. Sure there are many people posting photos and more and more of them will get a geotag as we get gps cameras and better web/camera integration. (…) [but:] Where is the relevance?

The people who need to produce the content are the ones who care about the content (the local events), but how do you make that production compelling to them? As Wilson wrote, “there isn’t enough of an incentive to produce hyperlocal content.”

What could help push an incentive along is …well, money. He gets into some detail in the rest of that entry (so click through to read). It could happen, basically, if the local producer could make some revenue from producing (tall order), but the way he describes it, it’s not impossible. His bet is on the local papers, provided they embrace the idea that they can be platforms for local content:

…this is a collaborative effort. We need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen. We need every newspaper in the country to embrace platforms like and everyblock and showcase their content on the newspaper’s pages. We need to find these local voices and amplify them. And we need to attract more of them. And we need to monetize them for their efforts.

I’m not holding my breath on the local papers here, and would like to pursue some other ideas myself. But that’s all cool, because as Wilson says, it’s going to be a multi-pronged and collaborative effort and “we need everyone and everything we can throw at this problem to make this happen.”

The other day he posted another fascinating idea I’d like to see explored here in a hyperlocal way.  This one involves Twitter. Like about a bazillion other people, I have a Twitter account (I actually opened it just a couple of days before “discovering” Fred Wilson back in January) — but then I let it sit there, “following” no one and being “followed” by none and tweeting nary a note. Frankly, having a Twitter account felt like having some weird virtual Tamagotchi pest, er, I mean pet, that required my ministrations. And I was unwilling to give them. Twittering seemed like a really stupid idea, so I let the account sit idle.

However, after DemoCamp Victoria01, I saw that “tweets” could be interesting from a local perspective, in terms of strengthening connections (and conversations) with other people here. So I tentatively began “following” some Victoria-based folks, which soon expanded to some regional friends, and then naturally had to include a few far-flung geniuses I can’t resist.

But note: for now I’m still keeping my “following” list really really tiny — trying to resist the lure of reading an endless stream of conversation between and with people I feel I have something in common with.  Naturally [sic!], this pristine state won’t last. Promiscuity, linky love, and webbiness is all part and parcel of development online, including of course the development of co-developments, characterized by connections, and things differentiating out from previous …well, differentiations.

Which brings me back to Fred Wilson, who twitters here. (And no, I’m not following him yet, but who am I kidding? The seduction has already started anyway: He’s in my feed reader, so I may as well follow his tweets.) The other day he wrote an entry about Meetups:

I’ve gotten a bit tired of going to events populated by all the usual suspects. I am meeting lots of new people through this blog, tumblr, twitter, etc but I have not been able to say the same thing about the real world events I’ve been attending.

So I’ve decided to do something about that.

One of the things he did (and you’ll just have to click through to read about the other thing, because my blog entry is already too long) is to open a Twitter account for a place, which anyone can “follow” and to which anyone can tweet to say, “hey, I’m going there right now, meet up with me if you’re available.” The place in question is the Shake Shack, and it already has over 100 followers, all of whom will see updates to ShakeShack’s tweets in their Twitter accounts. So, if I were in NYC tomorrow, I could “follow” ShakeShack, send it an @ message that I’m going there for lunch, and then see if any of the other 100+ ShakeShack followers show up — maybe Fred Wilson himself would come!

Of course my question is, what could be the Shake Shack for Victoria? If we ever, ever see nice weather again, I suppose we could create a Twitter account for Red Fish Blue Fish? (Flash mob on the dock!)  Or Sticky Wicket? Or Cook Street Village? (One could easily detail in the @ message which of the 6 coffee shops you’re going to.)

In actual fact, it’s possible to create many places — not even necessarily attached to a specific venue. One could create a “Fort+Douglas” Twitter account, and then specify any favourite watering hole or coffee shop within a 2-3 block radius of that intersection. Or create “CookStreetVillage”; “Old Town”; “Harbour”; “VicWest” (that’d be a good one, with Abebooks and other tech-related companies clustering in the new developments there).

In other words, it’s quite easy to use “frivolous” platforms (which aren’t frivolous at all, really) to knit together actual places and actual people. For my money, that’s a fascinating and valuable thing.

On a related note, read The new oases; Nomadism changes buildings, cities and traffic, in the April 10, 2008 online edition of The Economist.

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