So much of the unique knowledge and experiences we acquire through years of living in a community gets spread only by word of mouth, or worse it just stays “locked up” in our heads. But this is great stuff, valuable expert knowledge that can benefit everyone. After all, when it comes to the communities where we live, we are all experts!

What if everyone could share and collaborate on what they know about their local community? What would local media look like if everyone in the community was creating it?

The LocalWiki project is an ambitious effort to create community-owned, living information repositories that will provide much-needed context behind the people, places, and events that shape our communities. We were awarded a 2010 Knight News Challenge grant to create an entirely new sort of software to make our vision of massively collaborative local media a reality.

Here’s the Knight foundation video about our project:

Knight News Challenge: Local Wiki from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Background

In 2004 we started the Davis Wiki, an experimental project to collect and share interesting information about the town of Davis, California. The site is editable by anyone and it soon became the world’s largest and most vibrant community wiki.

Today the residents of Davis use it for everything from learning about local news and local history, to helping return lost pets to their owners. It’s become the largest, most used media source in the city. On any given week, nearly half of residents use the Davis wiki; Nearly everyone uses it on a monthly basis. And 1 in 7 residents contribute material to the Davis Wiki.

The Davis Wiki is maintained, at almost every level, by the community at large. Here’s a short video clip about the Davis Wiki:

What About Local Blogs?

In 2007, when the Knight News Challenge began, local blogs were the hot new thing. The Knight Foundation was awarding grants to a variety of great local blog projects.

In 2010, blogs are a widespread, tested model for disseminating information about local happenings. A local blog — a time-based series of updates on a particular topic — is in many ways an extension of the time-based model of newspapers. While a local blog may sit on an easily accessible website with lots of comments and frequent updates, it is fundamentally a stream of new facts and new bits of information, day after day.

This bit-by-bit, time-based approach to providing information clearly has its origins in the printing and circulation process of newspapers. And our communities benefit from having strong, thriving local blogs and newspapers. But with the instant, always-on access afforded by the Internet we can build a new form of local media that is constantly updated, provides the full context around local issues, and is maintained by the entire community.

Local Media, By Everyone

Another limitation of blogs is that they are written by at most a handful of people. With a local blog, a few people write and everyone else reads (and maybe leaves comments).

Here’s how that looks:

i-c996a268500b5c9bc0960aa1ee832421-local_blog.png

People can interact and share through comments and Twitter, etc., but this doesn’t allow the community to command the full publishing power of the resource. And as new facts (often provided by commenters or via Twitter) arrive, the editorial team has to update their post (if we’re lucky!) to reflect what’s new. Or perhaps publish another post, leading to more information fragmentation.

With our local wiki projects, the entire community will not only read, but also contribute to and maintain the resource:

i-4efd3e04dd50b96c9ea1b4cefe491941-local_wiki.png

A High-Quality Online Hub For Every Community

How do you find out more information about a particular topic in your community? With only local blogs and newspapers to depend on, you’ll quickly find yourself sorting through a scattered web of posts and news tidbits going back years. Wouldn’t it be great to have an information hub with the full context behind these important local topics?

This is the final recommendation of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy report:

i-ea50396255754d7ddf2b06638138295f-infoneeds1.jpg

It’s also a central objective of the LocalWiki project. We hope that our local wiki projects will offer a workable, sustainable model for building and maintaining amazing local information hubs.

We’re just getting started on the LocalWiki project and we couldn’t be more excited! If you’d like to get more information, or help out with the project, fill out the “Help out & get more info” box at localwiki.org.

We also need your help finding pilot communities for the project! If you know of a great place — or great people! — for us to work with, please fill out the pilot recommendation form.

Related