Going hyperlocal

30 year-old journalist Amy Fallon from London eventually meets her tweeting neighbours.

It started on a dark, rainy February day as I was crossing the pedestrian not far from my home in West Hampstead, north London, and spotted a girl wearing a pair of stockings with different coloured legs.

I thought she was pretty trendy so later that night Tweeted about it. “Trend of wearing different coloured items of clothing, a la Helena Bonham Carter, really taking off in W Hampstead”, wrote @amyfallon.

I was now “off Facebook”, despite my “friends” telling me that they “missed my status updates” and “hearing about my exciting life”. They only told me this online and never to my face, because I now only ever saw most of them online. When did friendships become so superficial? That was the whole point of my latest Facebook sabbatical – to force myself to actually speak to people over the phone, via email or – shock horror – even in person.

After the Helena Bonham-Carter-girl incident I noticed that another Tweeter @WHampstead, aka a “hyperlocal” blogger, had retweeted my mention of the girl with the hip stockings.

We "saw" each other online after that every now and then. One day @WHampstead Tweeted me “are you going to the #Whampgather?” I was curious about this event, supposedly a hyperlocal “Tweet-up” with residents and others, so headed off to the pub a few nights later.

When I arrived to a room full of more than 60 strangers alone I was terrified. I felt like I was on a blind date with my whole neighbourhood. “Are you here for the gather?” I asked the first guy I saw. “No,” he said, as if I was trying to chat him up.

Luckily I located @WHampstead, aka Jonathan, who had been holding regular #Whampgathers since 2009. “What is tonight? What do you call it?” asked a friendly fellow called Stu (@stubishop), the next person I met.

London, despite being a city of nearly eight million people can be extremely lonely at times. I had friends scattered all over the place, but no-one in my own area who I could ring up on the spur of the moment for a drink. Despite living with three lovely other people, our house was apparently too busy to find the time to simply have a meal together. So I liked the idea of #Whampgather – but was it just an excuse to get drunk? Everyone certainly seemed to be having a great time.

When I arrived to a room full of more than 60 strangers alone I was terrified. I felt like I was on a blind date with my whole neighbourhood.

@Accordingtoria was in her mid-20s and lived a stone’s throw away from me. @Moyasarner, a fellow hack like myself, was with her mum. At the end of the night I said goodbye to my new “friends” and promised to keep in touch. Would I see any of them ever again though?

The next day the news about the event had gone trans Atlantic in the Twittersphere. “Reading lots of positive #Whampgather tweets here in NY!" wrote @StyleOnTheCouch. A week later, surprisingly, I heard from @AccordingtoRia. We then met up for breakfast.

A few weeks later @POWHampstead, aka Abi, who I’d met online (she hadn’t attended the gather) suggested a drink with @Ghoul_of_London and @offpistecook.

This was the final nail in the coffin for Facebook. The ultimate proof that via Twitter you could meet new people AND see them in real life, not just ‘poke’ them. I’ve seen both Ria and Abi several times in person now.

Living in the virtual 'hyperlocal' Twitter community has other benefits. One day recently I was having a nightmare with a work task that involved scanning. After complaining to to my followers @SunilRadia got in touch. I knew he lived in my area, but had no idea he owned the local newsagency.

Thanks to Twitter I now know so many more people and have discovered so many more places right in my own backyard that I now spend too much time in my own area!

Only recently did @POWHampstead and I met up for a drink and joke that we should organize a #Wham tweet-up in … West Ham. #onlyjoking #Whampforever

Do you agree with Amy? Share your views on her column in the comments below.