Fizz fizzy orange bubbles

The platform aims to create a 'fizz online' around hyperlocal news

Credit: By Amanda on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
A hyperlocal platform which aims to be "the best 'out of the box' local website ever conceived" has been awarded funding worth £800,000 "to demonstrate a new approach to the hyperlocal sector".

TownFizz is one of four projects awarded funding from Nesta and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) after winning a competition for Destination Local Demonstrators.

Currently undergoing development, TownFizz aims to pull in "high-quality geotagged content" from a variety of local sources, including journalists, local businesses and the artistic community, John Martineau, managing director of TownFizz, told Journalism.co.uk.

Although TownFizz already has an existing platform developed several years ago – which is not yet in public use – the funding from Nesta will enable LocaFizz, the owner company, to update it for mobile with HMTL5 and CS3.

Martineau argued that other platforms in the market "are not really addressing enough customer segments, and they tend to have a legacy media approach".

TownFizz, which is being developed with input from publishers, journalists, developers, manufacturers and academics, hopes to address this by offering a wide range of content and functions with which to attract an audience.

Although the platform will feature local news, this content will not be its prime focus.

Martineau, whose background is in book publishing, was reluctant to reveal at this stage what other content TownFizz might offer. However, he said the platform would have a strong focus on engaging "professional creatives", with areas where local artists and writers will be able to market and sell their work.

Two other features will include event listings and classified ads.

After holding a series of focus groups to help shape the platform's development, Martineau is confident that TownFizz will be able to meet the needs of local communities in order to engage an audience large enough to sustain a new hyperlocal site.

"We sat down and ran through all the features that people in the community might use, we held some meetings in Glastonbury, where the company is based at the moment, and invited people to come along and say what their ideal town website would be able to do," he said.

"And we just said yes to every one of their requests.

"We really are trying to build a completely quantitatively different type of town website than anyone's tried to do before."

He explained that the team behind TownFizz have identified "around 20 different income streams" for the platform to generate revenue, including sponsored content and partnerships with local manufacturers.

However, the platform is steering away from prominent display advertising, with just a single rotating banner ad per site.

"We know how hard it's going to be [to generate revenue]," said Martineau, "but we think if we get the community using these sites then it's not going to be hard to get very small, cheap advertisements on them."

The idea is for TownFizz to be launched as a franchise managed by paid, part-time editors.

Initially, however, the platform will be tested by editors in four different locations, which are yet to be decided, while academics assess how it is used and the impact it has.

Martineau estimated that the project will cost £1.3 million to complete, and the next stage for LocaFizz is to launch a crowfunding campaign to match the funding from Nesta and the TSB.

If the crowdfunding is successful, he hopes to be able to launch the TownFizz platform on July 1 and have the first test sites up and running in March 2015.

Nesta and the TSB awarded a total of £2.4 million to four projects in total – the others being Near You Now, Media Mill and Community Channel South West.

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