Building the ‘Local Internet’ Brick by Brick

The NY Times’ Bob Tedeschi writes about an emerging category of sites forming a kind of “virtual town square,” so-called hyperlocal content sites (awkward term) that focus on particular communities or neighborhoods. The article focuses on three sites in and around New York: American Towns Network’s Pleasantville, NY site, the Barista of Bloomfield Avenue (NJ) and WesportNow (CT).

These sites emphasize different things. But they all share the fact that they provide local content depth and information that typically eludes larger sites – because it is labor intensive and requires deep local knowledge.

Of course there are many more such sites. American Towns has a range of them. So does Backfence. Then there’s the recently launched local blog network Outside.in. In the hospitality segment there’s Discover Our Town, which provides content to Google and Yahoo! And there’s the recently launched Smalltown, as well as numerous others.

There are also many community newspapers running separate local sites, such as the Boulder Daily Camera or the Denver Newspaper Agency’s Your Hub or the newspaper-published Wicked Local. (How far newspapers will go in this direction remains to be seen, as more and more emphasize community.)

Then there are local, vertical sites such as Curbed (a blog about NY real estate) or GoCityKids (recently acquired by Viacom), which has a great calendar of local events for kids and families. And there are many more such sites that are local but have a specific content focus.

Majors are employing different strategies to get some of this content. Google is aggregating it from third parties. Microsoft is trying to get users involved as well as using aggregation. And Yahoo! Local, even more aggressively, is trying to tap the community by expanding the ability for users to annotate local listings. Yelp is another local site that has deep community involvement.

Another new site, Placeblogger.com, could eventually become a kind of portal entry point for all these hundreds – eventually thousands – of hyperlocal blogs and sites. But the current set up of the site doesn’t facilitate that well.

These proliferating hyperlocal sites reflect the double-challenge of local: getting the information in depth and then monetizing that content. Monetization is typically built on large traffic volumes, which is inherently difficult for hyperlocal sites. It can also be built on local sales, which requires outreach to local businesses. Yet, putting aside the monetization issue, the related challenge of gaining exposure on a larger scale is also very difficult. How do these sites cost-effectively build an audience? SEO is one answer, distribution relationships is another. Of course there’s good ol’ fashioned WOM, which is ultimately based on quality.

It may well be, however, that many of these sites end up just being labors of love or a reasonable business for one or two people but not much more. Yet it is precisely these hyperlocal sites – as well as local user-generated content more generally – that are doing the “spade work” and gradually building a kind of “infrastructure” for the local Internet.

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9 Responses to “Building the ‘Local Internet’ Brick by Brick”

  1. earlpearl Says:

    these are fascinating and will continue to be interesting to see how they evolve over time…and if they become reasonably monetized and financially successful. So many towns to try and so many different communities of interest within the people of those towns.

    As a potential advertiser in ones in my area I’m looking for local media that coincides with my audience profile and demographics…and I’m looking for advertising prices and variations that reflect a lower price than high priced traditional media, a price that can be backed up by traffic stats and flexibility to work with a new media piece.

    Good luck to one and all.

  2. Mike Orren Says:

    Don’t think I’ve remarked about this here — Hyperlocal bothers me as a term too.

    We prefer “panlocal”: http://www.pegasusnews.com/blogs/pegasusnewsblog/2007/jan/01/panlocal/

  3. Howell Jones Says:

    Hi Greg,

    Just to update you, we are also supplying MSN with content…and Yes, we are a hospitality oriented site, but we are also are a verticle resource for people looking for local town info when moving. Relocation City, ST example, Relocation Atlanta GA, we have are organically located on the front page of Google for that city and about 1000 of our 2000 cities in our inventory.

    I hope to see some interaction between all these sites that you listed to create a full service competative site that is more of a longtail resource – ubiquity is coming!

  4. Nathaniel Bane Says:

    It is interesting to see how users are adapting to these so-called hyperlocal content sites. Leader Newspapers in Melbourne, Australia has just launched Nook- at http://www.nook.com.au – a site that encourages users to interact on a very local basis – encouraging a suburb by suburb approach. The newspapers’ promotion of the site in-paper has attracted first-time bloggers in their droves, new users who harbour a desire to just talk about where they live and how much they like/dislike it. It seems there is great potential in giving people an online voice about their local area, something that many have feared the seemingly infinite beast that is the WWW can’t offer them.
    Newspapers worldwide have been grappling with surveys and studies showing readership interest is becoming increasingly parochial – which may have just carried over to online readership trends as well….

  5. Outside.in Relaunches with Scale « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] The awkward phrase “hyper-local” is now embedded in the discussion about local search. It’s a phrase, for example, that online newspapers are using to describe their community strategies, and it’s a phrase that I may unwittingly have coined in 2005 (if I did, I apologize) to describe a category of sites that were seeking to penetrate below the metro level to “surface” and generate content at the neighborhood and zip levels. [...]

  6. Serge Says:

    This “trend” is actually nothing new – AOL was toying with the idea over a decade ago and Citysearch has been providing “annotated listings” similar to those Yahoo is doing.

    As somebody who’s actually involved in one of those “hyper-local sites” (http://www.nybits.com/) I can say that the challenge here is that the traditional economics of content stop working here because of much smaller audiences. So, it’s unclear whether the big boys will end up liking this business at all. They’ll surely find that getting good local content is very expensive and no matter how hard they push, there’s only so many people that will be interesting in reading/watching it.

    So, the question is whether it’s even worth for them to get involved in this directly – they might simply try to “aggregate” smaller sites somehow (maybe local editions of search engines and stuff like that)…

  7. Martin Garcia Says:

    One big step toward building the “Local Internet” is separating true “Local Websites” driven by “Small Business Owners” verse mixed “Local Content” like news, blogs, forums, reviews and phone book listings.

  8. Building an Online Community in Your Community -- SEO by the SEA Says:

    [...] EarlPearl, who often comments here and is active on a number of forums, sent me a link earlier today from Greg Sterling written back in January, which is worth considering as well: Building the ‘Local Internet’ Brick by Brick. [...]

  9. Micah Says:

    “Yet it is precisely these hyperlocal sites – as well as local user-generated content more generally – that are doing the “spade work” and gradually building a kind of “infrastructure” for the local Internet.”
    Well said!

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