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Matt Bailey

Born in London, moved to Chicago in 2007, fell in love with Wrigley Field. Doesn't that make me a Chicagoan?

LoveClapham.com is an attractive hyperlocal website. Its design and very name belie a true affection for the area of South London that it reports on. The URL and heart logo for the site with its hot pink background are demonstrative of the website's purpose.

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see what i mean

Creator Jack Wallington has lived in the neighborhood for over 7 years and explains his motivations for starting this blog on the "About Us" page. One of his big goals is to "generate a sense of community that was fun and reflective of the Clapham population."

LoveClapham is along the lines of what, I believe, ChicagoNow is trying to do with its neighborhood blogs. Drawing together local news, guides, listings and other things in one place, it attempts to put meat on the bones that make a neighborhood online, primarily for its neighbors, but also for the world to see. 

The purposeful navbar at the top breaks the website into digestible categories for visitors who may or may not be savvy in the computer world.

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they really don't like junk mail

The "Home" section contains the hyperlocal news. There are quite a few stories about the proliferation of junk mail, menus, and free newspapers being delivered to residents outside of the publications relevance.

LoveClapham has started its own campaign, because "I do not want publications or any junk mail I haven't asked for forced into my property. It's an abuse of my home," the blog states.

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the "No Junk Mail" campaign sticker

I'm sure this kind of content can be found on hyperlocal websites (western) world-wide. In 2007, Chicago's illustrious City Council passed a "handbill ordinance" to prevent just this type of thing. This entry, however, is specific to the part of Clapham he lives in because its focus is on the delivery of the Wandsworth Guardian, a London borough, which much of Clapham is not part of.

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Lambeth Mayor Christopher Wellbelove with Jack Wallington

There are political stories, which focus on the various happenings of the Lambeth council (the London borough, in which most of Clapham exists). This is a typical sample of LoveClapham's hyperlocal coverage: "Lambeth's larger than life Mayor, Christopher Wellbelove, will be celebrating the year's Mayoralty at the Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common on Sunday 14th February at 2.50 - 4.00pm. It is open to all and followed by refreshments."

While, it's hardly Woodward and Bernstein, it gives local information/local news for Clapham's people. Isn't that the whole point of hyperlocal? I like the fact that the Mayor is, early on, described as "larger than life," showing that the author favors him. The writer isn't subtle (devious?) about his views on this particular politician.

The blog covers crime occurrences by aggregating from other sources. One entry from July 2009 reports the shooting of two men from The London Paper and it links back to their story. This type of content is, obviously, not original reporting but this proliferation of aggregation is occurring all over the place. Chicago Breaking News does this, despite being Chicago Tribune run. You have to be first if you want to be reputable these days.

The "Guide" section on the navbar has some facts and figures about Clapham. It seeks to be THE authority on all things Clapham and it may well come close. The guide section, "aims to offer everything you need to know about Clapham in one place from outdoor activities, shopping and living areas and more." 

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Users can find bus and tube (subway) routes, the population (65,513 at the 2001 census) and various links to stories about "best boozer" (bar), "sexiest bar staff" etc.

All the links direct the user to another section of the website, smart SEO right there. If you were looking for something like "best breakfast" spot or an explanation about the areas Council Tax (City-tax) policy you'd be wise to consult this section of the website.

The "Directory" part is just that; a section listing bars, pubs and clubs, sports clubs, food shops and markets, restaurants and cafes and organizations. In the same way that the guide is useful, this section simply lists what's out there for residents and visitors to see. The directory links users straight to, "the pulse of Clapham's buzzing community spirit." It seems to lack content currently.

I am not particularly fond of the "Pictures" section of the website. I find it to be rather cumbersome and when one clicks on a photo it takes you to a slideshow gallery. The pictures take too long to load (probably about 3 seconds. Wow! I'm impatient) and do not necessarily bare any significance to the proceeding picture.

I feel that pictures are best when they tell a story. LoveClapham has opted to allow anyone to email pictures to them and "the best" will be included. As a matter of personal preference I would like the pictures to be somehow categorized, rather than this anarchic mish-mash of shots, but it is, of course, simply a matter of preference. A picture, on its own, can't really be used as an "alternative" way to tell a story. It needs words and it needs context to be effective.

The "About Us" section is a well-written and subtle diatribe, by Jack Wallington "Clapham Resident," about why he wants to "offer another voice as a resident of this part of London." It's a mission statement, more than anything else, about why he loves Clapham, why you should too and why his website is necessary.

 

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Clapham's only cinema?

The "Cinema" section only talks about one actual cinema; the Clapham Picture House and in the description says it's, "one of Clapham's only entertainment venues."

Am I to assume that there is more than one cinema in the neighborhood, which is what "one of" implies?

If there are more they are not mentioned, which leads me to feel having "cinema" on the navbar is a bit redundant. The cynic in me tells me they're in cahoots with the website, which is fine, but why hide it?

In the "Events" section there's an easy to decipher calendar that chronologically lists what's coming up. Interestingly, users can add their own events to the calendar, after being a registered member of the website. I feel this is a good idea that involves the community. You don't have to be a blogger or great with computers but as a member of the community LoveClapham entitles you to promote your event on their Ning.com page.

The last part of the navbar is the "Forum," which is a true democratic expression. Many of the posts are PR for people offering their expertise at "wedding photography" or promoting their restaurant. However, there are also "lost dog" and "housemate (roommate) wanted" posts, which can be of a real use to forging a group of people into a community.

Overall, LoveClapham's content is deep into Clapham. If you live in this particular London 'hood the blog is relevant to your day-to-day life.It campaigns for and covers, extensively, events, local politics and crime. If you're a "Clapper" this website and its sections should enrich your life. 

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twitter@LoveClapham

To market itself LoveClapham's Twitter page has 727 followers, while its Facebook fan page has 368 fans. The bio line on both of these read, "A blog deserving of the amazingness [Sic] of Clapham." Evidently social networking is used to enable and bring audience engagement to the site.

However, since LoveClapham has a forum and allows people to leave comments (to talk-back) on its posts, the site has the capacity to do social networking on its own terms. It seems that LoveClapham places a greater emphasis on things like its No Junk Mail campaign to engage the audience. Creator, Jack Wallington says the site does not make much money currently but is optimistic that with continuous growth it may one day.

It's clear that a lot of work has gone into this site both from a development and maintenance stand-point. LoveClapham is straightforward, effective and constructive. It has oodles of information mixed with opinions. LoveClapham is a glorious bastard of news and views, which is clearly dearly loved.  

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