Firstly a note of gratitude to the Hampton Social Club, whose annual quiz night raises funds which help contribute to the HPN site's running costs. Many thanks to Steve Morley and everyone at the club for their support. The site's Ning subscription has been renewed and is funded to run to July 2019.
I thought that with the site's operating costs secure for another year this would be a good juncture to open a discussion among members about its rationale and future. The below offers some observations on how the site is used and operated, and I'd invite your comments.
The number of visits to the site have been in general decline since a peak in 2011-13, with a more significant and pronounced drop recently (see chart below). The general decline correlates roughly to the broad uptake of social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.), and the more recent fall to the UK launch of NextDoor (and purchase of StreetLife). This isn't to suggest these factors are complete explanations, but they possibly reflect trends in the gateways people use to access the internet, and also how they find local information / interact with their neighbours (more on this below).
The Ning platform
These trends do however lead to a fundamental problem with the Ning platform: it doesn't have an app. Over most of the site's history a significant majority of HPN visitors have accessed the site via a browser on their desktop PC, but in recent times, the split between desktop and mobile devices (phone & tablet) has closed to roughly similar as overall numbers have declined. This shift aligns with the increased use of mobile devices and apps more generally: for an increasing number of people their mobile device is their chief method of accessing the internet. But for a site built on a desktop browser platform (like HPN) this poses a problem. Ning has a 'mobile' format for phone/tablet browsers, but this has nothing like the functionality and interactivity of a dedicated app. So if your internet universe is any combination of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, BBC, Angry Birds etc. etc., each accessed by its own dedicated app on your phone, your appetite to crank open your browser to scroll through Ning's mobile 'app' may well be limited.
While we're talking apps, a note on NextDoor. I'm not proposing to litigate NextDoor's well-known issues with privacy, racism and general curtain-twitching, but I will remark on the effects of its introduction on HPN. Firstly, local authorities (e.g. LBRuT council, local police and PCSOs) now actively and routinely use NextDoor as a platform to publicise local issues and announcements. There are HPN member accounts registered with @richmond.gov.uk email addresses, but most of these have fallen into disuse. Secondly, having joined NextDoor myself, I can see some HPN members have also signed up and are active users. That's in no way to criticise - there's any number of reasons why they may have done that - but to note that, given the option, they have made that choice. Which lends support to the argument that there is something offered by NextDoor (e.g. an app, more content/engagement, I don't know) that Ning doesn't.
The Ning plan on which HPN operates allows for up to 1,000 registered users, and, as has been noted in the past
, this base is regularly purged of disused, unused and spam accounts to keep under that number. That said, 900 of those accounts have not been accessed this year (i.e. in 2018), and three-quarters haven't been used since end-2015 or earlier. The current active user base of registered members - i.e. people logging in on a regular or semi-regular basis - is about 30 people, maybe 50 at a stretch. (So if you're reading this - Hi!) Note that these numbers don't account for visits to the site by non-members, via search engines, or members who don't log in.
i.e. me. It would be remiss for any discussion of the potential failings of the HPN site not to take account of how the site is administered and run, and ultimately I am responsible for the site's success or failure. So a couple of thoughts:
- I don't want the site to be "The Matt Show". I chiefly post these days to keep the Events column populated, but I feel there's a limit to what I should be posting to leave space for others. It's not for me to monopolise discussion or content, which is a threshold I could cross quite easily.
- I'm reticent to try and boost readership and participation by more regular emails to the registered user base. I view this as verging on tantamount to spam, and the site should be sustaining itself through participation.
This might be a roundabout way of saying that I've always aspired for HPN to be a site driven by member participation (rather than me supplying content), but that depends on members wanting to actually participate.
I haven't spoken about the design
of the site or the usage of different areas, as these are mostly a function of the Ning platform and I want to leave that open for people to comment. I also haven't mentioned the Twitter account, but I'll note it's a good way of keeping the homepage updated with new content, as well as a means of interacting with Twitter users in its own right.
So to that end, I throw open the floor to anyone who would like to comment on any of the issues raised above (or something completely different). I'd stress that the above is not necessarily an argument for this to be the last year of HPN, but I would say that if we are a community with a common interest (and I'm speaking here of the regular HPN users) then maybe the question is whether Ning is the best platform for us to come together (or indeed whether there are better or more deserving causes for which the Social Club can hold a quiz night). But the fundamental question is general: what do you want, hope for, like, dislike or generally feel about HPN and its future?
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts.
p.s. I won't link to this post from the Twitter account or a mail-out for a little while, to give regular visitors first opportunity to respond.