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Saturday, September 27 • 15:16 - 15:35
"The Blog and the Territory: hyperlocal social media as place-based community"

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“Hyperlocal media” describes the use of online communication platforms to disseminate information of specific relevance to defined geographic locales. When social media are used “hyperlocally” they are often imagined as neighborhood networks of active citizens in direct contact with one another, sharing informational and social capital about issues of local importance and organizing collective action to effect (D. Hill, 2013). Given the widespread fears over the decline of place-based community in the modern city (ie Putnam, 2000), the notion that social media could support a re-emergence of local community, and the associated civic benefits, has been met with excitement.

In this paper we interrogate the notion of hyperlocal social media as a localised community and subsequently its relevance as a platform for urban civic life, drawing results from a two year cross-disciplinary study into the users and local community associated with one of the UK’s most successful hyperlocal blogs, Brockley Central.

The research borrows methods from anthropology, human geography and network science. Initially we map the social networks of Brockley Central both topologically and geographically, using Twitter’s API to database its followers and their connections, and GIS software to geo-locate accounts. We construct a social network graph with followers of @brockleycentral as nodes, and following-relationships between accounts as edges. Through graph analysis we identify the key actors, their geographical locations and identify modularity classes that can be seen as communities within this social network. We build on this data with qualitative results drawn from interviews with users of Brockley Central.

 Geographically, the network extends way beyond the Brockley neighbourhood, across the wider region of South-East London in an uneven distribution that appears to be shaped by physical barriers in the built environment. When Brockley Central itself is taken as a base node what emerges is a sparsely-connected network looking more like a vertical “one-to-many” structure, for the broadcast of information, than it does a laterally-distributed “community”. However a second layer of well-connected accounts –entities with privileged communication positions such as local politicians, businesses and other hyperlocal media – form the focal points for sub-networks with particular socio-geographical characteristics. Neither fully-distributed or fully-vertical, a “tree-like” structure emerges. Some of the “branches” formed consist of clusters with a high degree of spatial proximity while others are formed around the homophily of shared social categories such as professional interests, and are more grouped geographically. As shown elsewhere (Loureiro-Koechlin & Butcher, 2013), online community is neither placeless nor entirely local but converges where social and geographical labels overlap.

Users reported little social contact directly through Twitter, rarely contributing their own information or participating in debate. Instead the traditional notion of community is supported indirectly. Being better informed about local development supports an abstract “sense” of belonging and better promotion of local groups and events leads to social ties being formed in person in these settings.

It is argued that hyperlocal social media does not tend to act as a community in itself. Our findings support the notion that it enriches an ecology of events, spaces and technologies that together characterize the communication practices of the modern urban community (Broad et al., 2013).

Broad, G. M., Ball-Rokeach, S. J., Ognyanova, K., Stokes, B., Picasso, T., & Villanueva, G. (2013). Understanding Communication Ecologies to Bridge Communication Research and Community Action. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(4), 325–345

Hill, D. (2013). On the smart city; A call for smart citizens instead. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2013/02/on-the-smart-city-a-call-for-smart-citizens-instead.html

Loureiro-Koechlin, C., & Butcher, T. (2013). The Emergence of Converging Communities via Twitter. The Journal of Community Informatics, 9(3)

Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone. New York & London: Simon and Schuster.

avatar for John Bingham-Hall

John Bingham-Hall

PhD, UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies
Interests: | cities | urban society | communication | media | art | communities | public space

Saturday September 27, 2014 15:16 - 15:35
TRS 1-149 Ted Rogers School of Management

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