One of the themes I picked up on at this year’s Opentech conference was that of local social media. More and more people are using open source tools to build local online communities and this movement seems likely to grow. I was particularly impressed with the work that Will Perrin and friends are doing over at TalkAboutLocal. I confess that Lloyd had mentioned the project to me some months ago, but I had forgotten about it until I saw Will speak at Opentech.
I’ve written about my interest in local sites before. You might remember me introducing Planet Balham and Balham Twits. I still think that both of those sites are useful, but they aren’t very interactive. What I wanted was something that the local community would find more useful. I spent a few hours playing with Drupal. I think that Drupal would be a great tool, for building local sites, but I didn’t have the time to spare learning how to get the best out of it, so in the end I went back to an earlier experiment.
A couple of years ago, I used Ning to build a simple social networking site for Balham. At the time I didn’t have many local contacts so the site atrophied through lack of use. But this lunchtime I went back to have another look at the project.
And after only twenty minutes or so of fiddling, SW12.org was ready to go. The great thing about Ning is that it has all of the standard social networking features already available as modules that you can just drop into the site. As a start, I’ve picked a pretty standard-looking set of features (user profiles, blogs, disscussion forums, photos and videos) and have seeded the site with a few entries of my own. I’m sure things will grow and change if the site becomes popular.
Through my other web experiments (particulalry through Balham Twits) I’ve made contact with some Balham-based internet users, so hopefully this time the site will get a little more use. I’m planning to put in some work to promote it locally as well. Even if it means dropping leaflets through every door in Balham (ok, perhaps I won’t go quite that far!)
It looks to me as though Ning is a great way to get a social network site up and running really quickly. I expect I’ll be using it again for other similar sites in the future. If you’re thinking of doing something similar then I recommend talking a look at it.
And if you’re in or around Balham, please join up to the site.