It's All About Us

Amateurs are filling the vacuum created by everything the old media chose to ignore

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ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME BY ARTHUR E. GIRON

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A few months ago, I helped launch a new service called outside.in that filters and organizes conversations happening online about neighborhoods around the country. Outside.in is a classic Web 2.0 company. We couldn't have built it 10 years ago because we are drawing upon the expertise of thousands of amateurs--the "placebloggers" who have emerged in the past few years to write about their neighborhoods and the issues that are most important to the people living in them. They're writing about the mugging last week, the playground that's opening up next week, the overpriced house that finally went off the market, the impact of No Child Left Behind on the local public school. There are thousands of these conversations going on every day on the Web--virtual discussions that are grounded in real places. We've tried to make it easier to find those conversations and add your voice to the mix. But without that extraordinary wave of placeblogging, we'd have nothing to work with. It would be like trying to launch Google back when there were still only a few hundred websites.

What's so interesting about those local conversations is that they involve experiences that the experts in traditional media have largely ignored--for good reason. Those experts realize that they can't compete with the real experts: the people who live in these communities and know all the issues--small and large--that shape their daily lives.

There's some irony in that lack of media coverage because the zone of experience that people care the most passionately about--beyond the intimate zone of family life--is the zone of their local community. Every successful neighborhood has always had its mavens and connectors, the true experts of the sidewalk, the playground and the backyard barbecue. But that local knowledge has been limited historically to the personal contact of word-of-mouth. Now, on the Web, it has a megaphone.

Johnson is the author, most recently, of The Ghost Map

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