Unconferencing & Hyperlocal Blogging. My personal journey

This weekend was the 5th Talk About Local UnConference TAL13 for hyperlocal / community bloggers. I went along and it was while I was there it was I realised the TAL unconconfernce could be used to benchmark my very  personal “hyperlocal”  journey.

2009 – Stoke on Trent

Back in 2009 at TAL09  I was new to the Hyperlocal Scene. James and I had been running Wv11 for a very short period of time and  went along out of curiosity more than anything else. We set up the site not even knowing “hyperlocal” was a word let alone that there was an entire network of people running “hyperlocal” sites like ours across the country so it was to find out more about the people behind the sites and what motivated them to run them.

It was my first experience of the unconference format and I loved it even if I can’t even remember what sessions I attended but I remember the people.

I remember meeting Dan Slee for the first time in person – the only council press officer in a room full of council press officer bashing bloggers. I met for the first time my (now) boss Nick Booth,  who inspired me and reassured me that with  WV11 we were doing the right thing aiming to be community building news, not a council bashing / political news site in a room full of people who at the time it seemed were way more interested in politics and councils.   And Simon and Sally Perry from the then named Ventnor Blog – who had traveled to Stoke on Trent from the Isle of Wight to take part in the proceedings and countless other people from across the country who I stay in touch with via social media.

I also remember feeling out of my depth – I didn’t know yet who or what WV11 was – although I knew what I wanted it to be, I couldn’t hold my own in conversations about councils and policies and politics when I had no opinion and no experience to base them on. The thought of pitching and running a session terrified me . Despite this James and I did end up kind of running a conversation when the person who had pitched an idea didn’t turn up  and we had a group of people to talk to – I remember just asking a question about / giving an opinion on community engagement, comment moderation etc and ending up in a conversation about whether we were journalists or community volunteers.

I argued for the latter – but probably quite defensively as I quite keenly remember feeling my lack of experience against the big boys of Ed Walker from Blog Preston and Mike Rawlins from  (the now on a permanent break? ) Pits and Pots  among others.

In 2009 my Talk About Local unconference – was my trial by fire – BUT  I enjoyed every minute of it – and it started me on a journey to other events such Local Gov Camps and other unconfernces to continue my learning .  Although I didn’t get chance to attend another Talk About Local unconference until  2012.

2012 – Birmingham

2012 was a good year again for learning again. And despite at this point having won the Pride of Wolverhampton award for the work we’ve done with site  I still didn’t pitch for a session. For all the experience / success we’d had locally  I was still at the stage where I thought others had much more to share, so I went along  because I wanted to reconnect with other bloggers and also talk about our experiences running a hyperlocal site during the summer riots. Our readership had exploded – we’d jumped from a few hundred to a few thousand people connecting with us and I wanted more advice from the “Big boys”.

I found it easier this time to ask the questions I wanted answers to – because I knew what I wanted to learn and to take part in conversations and share stories. We’d worked on the site building an audience, developing our skills finding our identity as a community site. I had experiences to talk about.

At the same time I’d not long started working with Podnosh so I was just finding my feet there and I felt like I had a duel identity at this event – I wasn’t sure if I was wearing my Wv11 or work hat as the cross over between what I do for a living and the volunteering I do is vast at times and that left me unsure of where and when to express an opinion  – or maybe give advice  and so I felt my contributions were disjointed.

2013 – Middlesbrough

Fast forward to this years conference what a different experience.

5 years of running Wv11, countless encounters with bloggers  and  nearly 2 years into my job working at Podnosh, working with community groups, volunteers and local government helping them to get to grips with digital, social media and Hyperlocal and being forced (not literally) into public speaking. Talking to my peers and developing my skills – I went along feeling I had much much more to contribute and with a clear vision of what I wanted from the day and more importantly where I, and WV11 stand in the Hyperlocal landscape.

I had the confidence to go and get what I wanted from the groups – I had conversations with other hyperlocal bloggers and felt on par with them – had the confidence to go and get what I wanted from the groups –  I feel more secure knowing where the line is between work and WV11  and I had opinions and knowledge born from experience in both my voluntary and work roles that I could share and I felt I could contribute.

I pitched and facilitated 2 sessions – one around hyperlocal and OTHER social media – looking at the tools we use away from our main sites and one about Hyperlocal and running / helping with consultations focusing on a public art consultation we were involved in – I’m going to write about these separately. But the fact I had pitched for sessions rather than just sitting back and slotting myself into others spoke volumes.

I feel TAL 2013  is the year I realised I’ve found my feet as  hyperlocal blogger & in the hyperlocal community. Having these conferences as a benchmark to look back on how the both site and my confidence, in and out of the hyperlocal world has grown is a lovely thing.

I started WV11 with a clear idea of why I was doing it,  but with no idea of where it would take me both personally and professionally.  I have had so many wonderful unexpected experiences , made so many friends both online and off  through running the site – it even got me my job

I can’t wait until my next TAL so I can look back again and see where the next part of my journey takes me.

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