What is this Inter Net ?
December 3, 2010 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How should I go about creating an online social community for the city I live in? I have some questions and am wondering if it's feasible to have a successful one in a place that doesn't seem to have a lot of internet goin' on.

I moved to a small city and there is not much internet presence.
Because I am from larger cities, I'm used to being able to read reviews and have discussions on Yelp, belong to multiple LiveJournal communities, post on several forums and blogs, etc.

I miss asking/answering questions about local events/news/stores/sales, meeting new people and just having
general discussions with people that are located near where I live.
I have met most of my friends through local forums.

So I have a couple of questions in which I need opinions:

-Are some cities just void of a large internet presence? Why? How could that change? Is it useless to try and set up a forum or multi-blog site if, currently, the ones out there have only been used sporadically? Are people just using Facebook to communicate nowadays?
-If I were to set up a forum, how would I get traffic?
-What's the best way to set up something similiar to a LiveJournal Community? I have noticed a steady decline in members posting (myself including) on LJ, but is there something similiar I could use? Basically something like AskMiFi - where multiple people can make posts and answer.

Which one of these would be better to set up?
-personal (or a few members added) blog with posts related to the city I live in (there currently aren't that many)
-multi-user blog thing (what's the proper name for this??)

Also.... I'm not sure about members. What I mean is, judging by the local online newspapers (where I see most of online presence), commentors are very right-wing. Also, people are VERY open about being Christian here and I'm not sure if I want a social forum/blog to be taken over by a lot of religious posts.
I'm not sure if I just want a free-for-all or if I should try to make it
kind of alternative/young/indie (lack of better terms.)

posted by KogeLiz to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
AskMeFi, not ask AskMiFi!
posted by KogeLiz at 11:34 AM on December 3, 2010

I live in a place where somebody did just this. I learned about the forum because business cards for the website were left in a local coffee shop. It became pretty popular.

As for discussion topics, since it would be your forum, you're free to say in the forum rules that it's meant as a place to talk about the community as opposed to religious arguments and general political discussions, and then enforce these rules.
posted by wondermouse at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2010

Not an answer to your questions, but for an example of a town that has done a remarkable job at what you are attempting to do, see Lawrence.com.

I don't quite understand, however, if you're asking about a full-time, fully-funded professional effort (like the site I linked to) or something that you could manage in your free time.
posted by halogen at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2010

You need to do this through somewhere Your People congregate: a bar, a music venue, a coffee shop like wondermouse suggests. Somewhere the young alternative people go to get away from the Christian right-wingers.

Also, prepare to have this thing inadvertently skew way, way younger than you intend. When people who disagree with that sort of town's morals get out of their teens, they tend to hightail it right the hell out. You may have your reasons for being there but the chances that people like you making their home there is ... not great.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2010

I asked a related question a while back - you might find some of the answers useful once you get brainstorming.
posted by wackybrit at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2010

I work in a city of 50K people. Just through word of mouth, I found a social network for young professionals. It does all the things you are looking for. People post events (concerts, happy hour, kayaking, rock climbing etc), organize groups (skiers, snowboarders etc). One could also post discussion topics but that happens rarely on our site.
So far the participating in that site has been worth the effort for me. I've met dozens of people outside of my normal social circles. Tonight I am going to a concert with someone I met through there.

The woman who set the whole thing up did so by getting an account on Ning (I have no affiliation with them). For the first year or so she had to tell everyone she knew and also advertised on Facebook and craigslist. Now there is a steady stream of events and new members find the site by word of mouth. However, since you are in a place without much internet presence, you might want to raise interest the old fashioned way using flyers at coffee shops and bookstores.

But do keep in mind that this isn't something you can just set up and people will just show. You have to be very proactive and organize events, moderate discussions and actively seek productive members.
posted by special-k at 3:06 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look into LocalWiki.org. They started the Davis Wiki here in Davis, a college town of 65,000, and it's basically an interactive encyclopedia of Davis. I don't know if the Local Wiki is up and running yet, but I think they're still looking for pilot towns, and there's also wikispot, which is basically the predecessor to localwiki, if it isn't up and ready yet. Anyway, the Local Wiki is/will be designed to fulfill exactly the need you're asking about.

Full disclosure: I donated during their fundraiser.
posted by aniola at 4:02 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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