NESTA Destination Local – initial reaction to funded projects

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network about Destination Local in which I outlined my view that the hyperlocal sector would be better helped by small amounts of money, with less stringent criteria, aimed directly at independent hyperlocals rather than any tom, dick or harry with the skills to write a business plan (something few hyperlocals have).

A simple example would be a few hundred quid directed at a site that clearly has the potential to generate significant ad sales revenue but none of the sales skills. That tiny amount of money could pay for training that turns that site into a sustainable operation and maybe even pays part time some wages.

Another complaint I outlined was that the criteria for Destination Local focused too heavily on technology (the one part that hyperlocals generally don’t struggle with). NESTA, whilst recognising the shift from desktop to mobile, has failed to account for the shift in development methods. Instead of developing a website and then 2 or more mobile apps (i.e. a costly way to reach multiple platforms), there’s a shift towards HTML5 responsive web apps (i.e. a single website that gives a great experience independent of the platform).

Take a look at FixMyStreet.com and RateMyPlace.org.uk on your PC and then a smartphone – both of these sites deliver a good experience from the same place, no special mobile website or app required, and they pick up your location regardless of what platform you’re on. Both of these were built by very small teams at massively less cost than building (and maintaining) additional mobile apps.

My worry was that this programme will produce a bunch of ‘same old’ mobile apps that do nothing to help the sector as a whole. So… what have NESTA decided to fund?

MyTown – this sounds like a project to build a network of top-down hyperlocal sites and give each one a mobile app (detail is scarce). It doesn’t sound particularly ground-breaking and I’m wondering how this will help other, independent, hyperlocal sites.

Local Edge – although an app, this is a fantastic idea and something that can’t be done in HTML5 as yet. It’s brilliance is that it represents a bit of diversification into the high street retail business, which should help to sustain the hyperlocal sites and help relationships between local businesses, their customers and the hyperlocal sites.

LocalSay – Augmented reality app, as lovely an idea as it is (I’m as geeky as the next person and love the idea of augmented reality) who really holds their phone up in front of their face while walking down the street? It’s a nice idea and might gain some traction if Project Glass goes mainstream but that’s a way off yet and I struggle to see the impact this will have on the hyperlocal sector as a whole.

LOL! Leeds Online – Nothing spectacular again and another generic mobile app (from the description and video). No other hyperlocal will be able to repeat this without the same level of funding so unless NESTA are going to do the programme again, I can’t envisage how the wider sector benefits.

Papur Dre – Getting the local college involved to turn a local paper into an interactive online TV station of sorts is great. Big downside with this is that it’s an app – massively more costly than a HTML5 responsive website deliver HTML5 video, but interesting nonetheless.

OurTown – Another app that seeks simply to deliver news content via a mobile app. Nothing spectacular (from the description and video) and a disappointing focus again on expensive mobile app development.

#21VC – Finally something that isn’t about creating a mobile app! Another example of diversifying, this project plans to make a hyperlocal site the gateway site to a WiFi portal. Anyone who’s logged onto public WiFi like those at Wetherspoons pubs will know that you quickly get rid of the portal page which raises the question of whether this will be successful. However, the key difference is that most WiFi portals deliver something generic and largely irrelevant like MSN whereas this portal will give you a hyperlocal site about the very area you are in at the time. This could obviously be replicated in villages across the country, if it works.

URTV – A plan for a HTML5 web app, this is music to my ears and a great example of what the future of local TV will look like while DCMS obsesses over transmitters. There is a mobile app in here, too, that complements the HTML5 web app in providing users the opportunity to take and upload videos of their own.

Kentish Towner – HTML5 again and another brilliant idea of how to tie local businesses into the hyperlocal experience in a way that creates a level of interdependence and not just another method of delivery for generic content.

Locali – This one perplexes me a little. Some of it’s benefits are already delivered by FixMyStreet and it’s plan to sell the system to councils looks to me like undermining hyperlocal sites rather than helping them. Why bother going to a hyperlocal when all the info you need is delivered by a Locali-powered app from the local council? Presumably councils will use the app for their entire area, too, which will be district or county-wide (I can’t see any Parish councils buying this) which, by definition, isn’t a hyperlocal audience – it’s regional.

Some really interesting applications and I’ll be keeping an eye on Local Edge, #21VC, URTV and Kentish Towner in particular. As for the rest it appears that a few are, on the surface, just a mobile app to deliver existing content to a mobile device. Something that is easy to achieve in a very short space of time with tools like WordPress at virtually no cost. Mostly, it’s disappointing that nothing leaps out as something that could make a huge impact on the whole hyperlocal sector. A couple of new businesses might be created but beyond that I can’t (yet) see where the impact is.

2 thoughts on “NESTA Destination Local – initial reaction to funded projects”

  1. In many ways I agree with you Phillip. Media Trust is helping to support the NESTA projects, but there were only a handful of hyperlocals in the winners group. I’m sure many of these technologies will be helpful to hyperlocals in adding value and buy in so I think there’s huge value in Destination Local. Having said that, I suppose newsnet is trying to be a space where hyperlocals can say what they need. We’re planning online sessions in community management and legal support, perhaps we can do a session on Business plans and ad revenues. While we’re not offering cash, we are offering a really open platform where people can ask for support and we’ll try and offer it…I’m sure you’ve had a look at newsnet, but perhaps we can talk about your thoughts…
    Cheers,
    Alex
    Community outreach for media Trust’s newsnet

    1. Hi Alex, thanks for your comment.

      I know a lot of hyperlocals are wary of Newsnet. Given the many examples of ‘difficult’ relationships with larger media orgs, the Newsnet affiliation with them is something that does put site owners off.

      I have a couple of very simple solutions to the most basic challenges facing hyperlocals that require just a few hundred pounds to set up. Although you can’t offer cash, perhaps you might have expertise or can gather expertise to help? Feel free to e-mail me on phil@philipjohn.blog and we can discuss that further.

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