When citizens have the opportunity to do a bit of storytelling about their community, they gain a sense of connection and pride, and may even feel motivated to become more involved and take ownership of its idiosyncrasies and challenges. This is the impression that those involved with hyper-local wiki projects are noticing as their projects evolve.
The forerunner of such a site comes to us from Davis, California in the form of the DavisWiki, a web site updated by its citizens— and as of late that type of platform is expanding around the world.
Since its launch almost ten years ago, DavisWiki has become a vital source of news and information about the city. According to a feature article appearing in Fast Company, the site is at once a historical repository but also a live ticker of today's community news.
Currently, DavisWiki is the largest media source in the city. In fact, one in six people there visit it every day. With over 18,000 pages it seems like “it’s the most comprehensive, hyperlocal thing ever,” says Philip Neustrom, who helped create the site as a student at UC Davis. He launched the site before most people knew what a wiki was, when Wikipedia itself had yet to gain credibility. They recognized that in college towns across the country such as Davis “every year one-fourth of the community sheds away and all their knowledge leaves,” as Neustrom reflected. A wiki site would be a way for anyone to unload all the fun facts about the place in which they lived -- and it caught on like crazy. Soon Davis residents were relishing an opportunity to contribute their knowledge on anything and everything from where to find all-you-can-eat buffets or how to survive a zombie attack in Davis.
Neustrom went on to become the executive director of its universal version 2.0, LocalWiki, a project devoted to sharing the world’s local knowledge. Communities can download their free, open-source software that serves as a content management platform to include wiki pages, images, and maps. Supported by the Knight Foundation, LocalWiki, after just one year, has had over 180 independent communities install its software.
As Engaging Cities reportedlast April, the Triangle Region of the area around Raleigh, North Carolina was LocalWiki’s second focus community, and is now brimming with local history, media, opinions, and interesting characters of Raleigh-Durham.
What drew Triangle Wiki founder Reid Serzoi to LocalWiki’s platform was the permanence of the idea. New people come in with new perspectives on communities, “But what happens if they get hit by a bus, or they lose their job, or they move to San Francisco?” Serozi asked himself. “Is there a guarantee they’re going to archive that blog for the rest of their life?” With a LocalWiki, he says, there’s an expectation the content will be there forever -- “you’re recording history," he said, "in the local version of it at least.”
New localwikis include Oakland, California, which is currently highlighting events for Black History Month such has their downtown walking tours and African American celebrations around town. They’ve also hosted their first major effort toward incorporating local historical content onto Oakland Wiki with a Local History Editathon. Another wiki for Ann Arbor, Michigan has a great example of the local sense of humor, as reflected in this post on what constitutes “real” donutsaround town. What’s more, a LocalWiki project is actually headed to Antarctica! It will aim to initially document the two-mile region surrounding the Palmer Station U.S. base on the Antarctic Peninsula.
With one spot where they can collect and capture the spirit of a thriving area, citizens have the opportunity to easily become involved with their neighbors, or with programs they didn’t realize existed. At this same time, they just may increase collaboration and knowledge dissemination from the South Pole on up.