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Hype Or Hyper-Local

by Nheeda Enriquez

September 8,2009

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. These websites-turned-verbs can hardly be avoided nowadays. Now that social media has made a claim on our consciousness, does it go beyond reporting the minutiae of what your college classmate ate for dinner on Tuesday?

The quick answer is yes, especially if it was a tasty meal at Customshop. A friend recently “tweeted” about a positive experience at this Charlotte restaurant, nurturing a cultural relationship with her “followers.” This was newsworthy in a hyper-local sense, since those in the area might take advantage of this authentic recommendation. Incidentally, the restaurant manager tweeted a note of thanks back to her, further deepening relationships between a local business owner and his or her patrons.

The concept of hyper-localism take root in journalism, where local papers have historically served as stewards of information to a community’s residents. But since social media makes authors out of anyone with a mobile phone or laptop, we can now provide hyper-local content to each other. And we can do it in real time and in a degree of detail that could ultimately influence our daily choices and behaviors. It’s even more useful for those who are within a local geographic connection.

One nifty instance of this is a start-up called Clever Commute, where New Jersey resident Joshua Crandall built a business by relaying text messages about delays and service interruptions on his train commute. The reason? The information is provided by fellow riders along different stops on the same route. As a result, his solution reports faster than the official NJ Transit system does. He’s since expanded the free service to other rail and bus lines in other cities.

Imagine all the ways we might build a hyper-local resource of information out of (and for) our neighbors. Beyond a referral for a good restaurant or pet sitter in the area, we might share timely news about fresh baked goodies that are only a few minutes out of the oven at Amelie’s. Or which parking lots near the Panthers Stadium still have spots left. We could report a relevant City Council vote on our homeowners’ association as it happened and mobilize each other accordingly. What about emergency situations? Perhaps an astute citizen can capture and upload important evidence if they’re standing near the scene of a crime.

Let’s take it down to a smaller order of magnitude, where we track the hyper-local news of our own households. If you know your husband happens to be driving home from work, you might be able to suggest a stop at Harris Teeter to pick up the critical missing ingredient for dinner. Taking a cue from the Clever Commute example, you could relay the status of the neighborhood school bus to fellow parents.

While a specific tool such as Facebook may seem to be the “app” of the day that will be replaced by the next trendy one, social media as a whole is here to stay, particularly since it offers powerful levels of convenience that we’ve never seen before. As technology gets cheaper, faster, and even more automated, we simply have to figure out how the distribution of such hyper-local information best fits in our lives and how these tools might make our individual lives easier.

There are potential negative implications to all of this, of course. While we might eventually enjoy the benefits of knowing just about everything at the right time (like which vendor at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market has the ripest tomatoes this week), it’s still up to us to make sure the findings are valid. As information grows more abundant, there is still the challenge of identifying which pieces are more relevant to us. Finally, there is the danger of being too narrow in our interests, thereby missing the serendipitous discovery of something on our own, whether that is a new restaurant or a new route to work.

Nevertheless, as the role of social media evolves in our community, the value will be hard to dispute. After the novelty wears off, we’ll be able to see how we collectively shared individual experiences in ways that were not only hyper-local, but actually useful.

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