There has never been a better time to be a digitally savvy journalist.
Can a new publishing platform revolutionise the hyperlocal sector?
By Matt Abbott | 1st Feb 2017
The hyperlocal sector is a melting pot, a disordered yet harmonious entity of independent elements ‘melting together’ and bound by a common culture.
It could be seen another way, as an archipelago of isolated islands – the solitary existence of which remains largely hand to mouth.
Either way, it can’t be argued that the sector is as varied in quality as it is in depth.
This is the view held by Neal Robbins, CEO of localsecrets solutions, Ltd, whose goal is to reconcile the sector under one roof.
Neal is set to roll-out a new platform that he says could create a new era of hyperlocal publishing: ‘hyperlocal 2.0 – the collaborative future.’
The offer on sale here is a template website, ‘hosted’ on the localsecrets.com platform where publishers will be able to ‘publish, online and to mobile, exclusively to their own territory and to broader local, regional or national UK audiences.’
According to Neal: ‘The platform aims to lower the entry barriers to local publication, increasing the number of entrants as it fosters a high level of editorial and commercial collaboration and cooperation, raising the quality of hyperlocal publication and its profitability.
‘It will allow hyperlocal publishers around the country to set themselves up and get publishing without upfront costs and overheads, just by paying a low monthly fee.’
The cost of using the localsecrets platform is estimated at around £20 per month, with additional per-use charges for certain services and upgrades.
Each publication will be differentiated by branding and content, and publishers existing URLs will point to the localsecrets page.
Neal says: ‘A lone hyperlocal using an off-the-shelf website cannot hope to incorporate sophisticated features that are needed to efficiently publish in multiple dimensions.
‘The heart of the system, built in 2014, created a national website capable of ‘geolocating’ every bit of content to any part of the UK, small or large.
‘That is to say, an article, ad or offer, can be exposed to the public via a footprint made up of any of 33,000 geographic areas – villages, towns, neighbourhoods or whole cities and regions — according to the editor’s view of its interest to readers.
‘Hyperlocal publishers would independently publish to their own territory, while localsecrets editors would curate content across the publishers, re-editing, re-distributing and adding content created in parallel from a more regional perspective.’
On top of a subscription to PA’s local listings, Neal Robbins says the localsecrets system allows publishers to export their online content in a for-print PDF format.
He says: ‘They can also sell subscriptions online, and offer their business clients both display ads and sophisticated e-voucher marketing services, to generate income.’
‘We are about to open trials of the platform which will take place in the coming months with widespread availability of the platform expected by late spring 2017.’
At last count, there were over 400 individual community news publications in the UK. The vast majority of which are hosted on the free-to-use WordPress or Blogger platforms.
The localsecrets platform will no doubt appeal to newcomers, but persuading seasoned publishers to leave their tried-and-tested sites, that in most cases they have built from the ground up, will be a challenge for Neal.
Also, the lack of news on the current Cambridge-based site (which appears to be the flagship site), may not appeal to some hyperlocals.
But Neal is convinced that as capacity grows the visual and content variation among hyperlocals will grow too.
Neal says: ‘The main provider of content is at present Cambridge, which happens to have a more news feature focus. But the structure of the site is designed to be equally strong for a hard news approach or any mix.’
Local news is born out of local need, and hyperlocals have a tendency to reflect their communities as they grow, not only through the content they produce but by the look and feel of the space.
It will be interesting to see how localsecrets responds to these challenges during the open trials.
C4CJ will be watching closely.
If you’re interested in taking part or learning more about the platform, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org / tel: 03300177880 / @localsecretsUK
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