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.