It gives ordinary people like you and me a capacity to share our ideas without needing to get editorial approval or wait for paper-based publication. Thus, I welcome the latest initiative by the partners in the IC. They have put forward a proposal for a new INTERREG project based on the idea of using social media as a way of branding the Baltic Sea Region. One idea that the project might take up is the use of hyperlocal blogs. These are a way of getting to know the feelings that people have for the place where they live.
The Delhi Walla
The Delhi Walla www.thedelhiwalla.com is an example of a hyperlocal blog. It was begun five years ago by Mayank Austen Soofi, who had moved into the city and worked as a waiter in a hotel. In his local library he began writing accounts about his journeys around this Indian city. It was a way to help him understand the place. From these origins there has developed the web site which has been described as a “one-man encyclopaedia of Delhi”. The postings there feature culture, food and people and a multiplicity of random places and activities that make up this huge city.
For example, there is one blog on a piece of graffiti - and another on a cat. There are many photographs. For example, the section on “Style” has snaps that include one of an elderly woman with a walking stick standing on the edge of a busy road. The text says “The Delhi Walla saw this woman one rush hour morning at a bus stop in Aurobindo Marg. She was in a white sari; her hair too was white. A gold bracelet was on her right arm; a black bag on her left shoulder. She had brown sandals. Her face had deep lines. Her back was straight. There was no one dressed like her.”
The blog about her then continues with a reference to a US publication grading 221 cities around the world, in which “Delhi ranks 141. Smog. Traffic jams. Road rage. Tyranny of the VIPs. Harassment of women. Etcetera. A Delhiwalla often becomes a caricature of the hardened city he battles every day. But this fragile woman has retained her gentleness.”
There are also accounts of local landmarks in the city. However, they are not confined to the kind of places that would feature in a conventional tourist guidebook. For example, there is an account of a “a colonial-era commercial district that is getting colonized by multiplex chains and fast food joints”, but “has no McDonald’s, no Café Coffee Day and no multiplex.” It sounds a mundane kind of place. Of the 126 shops we are told that 80 are tailors and draperies, while most of the rest are travel agencies. Then you read:
“Young shoeshiners sit at the entrance. A weighing machine is installed beside the iron grills. Dogs snooze on the stairs. In afternoons, the shopkeepers take siestas. A few garment shops are only partially stocked. There seems to be more cleaning staff in maroon-coloured uniforms than shoppers.”
These short lines let you feel the stuffy heat: you immediately feel you are walking into the place, and can sense its essence.
On the other side of the world, in Canada, another hyperlocal blog celebrates the city of Ottawa. Hello Ottawa helloottawa.ca features interviews with local residents that explore their lives and relation with the city. As it says on the site, “Participants are photographed somewhere meaningful to or representative of their life in Ottawa, and the interviews follow on that theme.”
The selection of participants seems rather skewed towards the “creative class”. For example, there is an interview with Nicolas-Henri, a Lebanese hip-hop artist who is studying Interactive Multi-Media Design at a local university. His dream career is to be a Video Game Director. Meanwhile he raps, writes, sings and dances under his artist name SORU which he tells us stands for “Someone of Real Ulteriority.” I am not making this up, I promise you!
Asked about living in Ottawa, SORU says “You’re always a product of your environment, right? Without a doubt it has influenced me. Every city you visit, every country, no matter where you are, will have its own style, its own flavour. Ottawa has its own thing, for sure, but it’s hard to put a label on it, especially since we’re so influenced by everything around us.” However, he goes on to declare that it is a friendly place, adding “I see passionate, creative people and I want to be a part of it. It’s an exciting time for this city.”
How might hyperlocal blogs help create an ambient brand?
The idea of ambient branding is at the heart of the new project being advanced by IC members. In essence it is about creating a sense of values and qualities through listening to what people cherish, and then associating your product with that “brand”.
It could be possible to get people to blog or be interviewed or take photos of what the Baltic Sea Region and the place where they live mean to them. The project could publish these online. Then pull together the words and images, so that strong themes are drawn out and woven into a story or set of stories about what makes the region and its places special. It could be a very innovative exercise. Let’s hope that the grant application is successful.
Foto © www.helloottawa.ca