// what do you think?


The Problem with Hyperlocal is Local. We Don’t Really Care About Our Neighbors.

I’ve been a very outspoken critic of hyperlocal journalism as a scalable business model. One of my top 10 predictions for 2010 was that hyperlocal journalism wouldn’t catch on. In 2009 I even went as far as comparing the quest for the hyperlocal journalism business model to cold fusion. Sure it sounds good in theory but it just doesn’t work.

I Don’t Believe in Cold Fusion or Hyperlocal

Call me a skeptic but I’m just not sold on the whole hyperlocal thing. When I was on the VC side of things I got to look pretty close at a few companies both on the news and the ad side of  hyperlocal. It’s a really tough sell. The problem for me is scale. It’s just not there. I’m not saying you can’t have hyper local journalism. I just don’t think you can build a scalable business off of it.

Then I read Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post, Hyperlocal Heartbreak:

Neighborhood news aggregator Outside.in has been acquired by AOL, according to multiple reports this morning. Apparently it’s being bought for less than the big pile of money that high-profile investors put into it, back when hopes were high. It’s sad, really: the ambitious hyper-local news technology services of the last few years don’t seem to be working out very well.

Outside.in, EveryBlock and Fwix are the three sites best known for building out automated collection and analysis of news about particular neighborhoods of cities around the United States. There is huge, exciting potential there - but it takes resources to develop technology and media sites like this. Maybe a shortage of resources is why none of these sites are the thriving hub of activity that many people hoped they would be.

Back in 2009 when I posted about my hyperlocal skepticism, my then colleague, @foleymo and a few others quickly pointed out to me the one and only counter point to my argument - the award winning West Seattle Blog. To call the West Seattle Blog a thriving business would be to call your local family run restaurant a thriving business. Sure it looks good on the outside and everyone seems happy but they’re making razor thin margins at best. The West Seattle Blog is a family business that manages to get by on equal parts donations and ads that used to take donations but doesn’t anymore.

@corybe @tacanderson I just saw the post 'cause of Cory's tweet. Dear Tac person, WE GET NO DONATIONS WHATSOEVER. ZERO ZIP. CORRECT, PLEASE.
West Seattle Blog

Before you jump in to the comments and thrash me, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. It’s just not a business that VC’s and other big business types should hope to make killer returns on (again this isn’t a bad thing). It’s the kind of business that a family of journalists should run, make enough to support themselves on and be happy with.

But I digress from the point I wanted to make.

Distributed Communities

I think besides the problem of scale most people don’t really care about their neighbors anymore. I don’t. Not that I don’t like them or that I wish them ill. I like them fine, and I’ll lend them eggs and say hi as we walk past each other but that’s about it. I care about my friends and and family and my community but that isn’t necessarily the people I share a zip code with.

My community is a community of interest. I care about the people I know and interact with on Twitter and may have never met more than I care about the family I live next door to and don’t even know their names. My community is a global community and the people I live around are practically strangers. We all behave well because that’s best for all of us.

Every week the local paper for Issaquah is thrown on my driveway. It’s free, I don’t ask for it but I get it. And I usually throw it straight in the recycle bin or the compost bin if it got rained on and I left it out for several days, like I usually do.

I’m Not Heartless

I do care what happens in my neighborhood, because it will likely impact me. And I do know many of my neighbors but not that well and I can only remember a few of their names. The idea of hyperlocal sounds good but most of the stuff hyperlocal news sites write about I don’t care enough to read. I don’t care about what restaurants have the best wine (I don’t drink). My wife doesn’t eat seafood so seafood restaurants reviews are no good. My kids don’t play school sports so I don’t care about that. I hate politics so there’s very little I care about to read there. All the good events (concerts) I want to go to usually happen in Seattle and I can read music blogs like SEA live MUSIC. Maybe I’m just an exception but given that hyperlocal hasn’t caught on yet tells me that I’m not alone.

I’d be happy to be wrong (no skin off my nose). And @foleymo could be the one to prove me wrong. He’s no longer my colleague, he went to work for AOL’s Patch, the one organization that seems to be making headway in the hyperlocal news market.

Photo credit By Dunechaser


Similar Posts:

Share This Post
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Diigo
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://twitter.com/westseattleblog West Seattle Blog

    CORRECTION, PLEASE. We get *******zero******* donations, and we do not request or solicit them. No donations, no grants, nothing at all is given to us. No subscriptions, no merchandise, no events, no paid consulting, no free anything (for Christ’s sake, we don’t even take free food and drink when we are out covering fundraisers and restaurant openings). Every cent we have comes from advertising. The last time we had a donation was the first time we had a donation - before taking out our business license in fall 2007, we had a one-day pledge drive that netted about $2,000. One day, one time, end of story. We still have the donation button on the bottom of the sidebar but never mention it and nobody clicks it.

    Last year was our second year of six-figure revenue and this will be our third. You’re right, we’re not making money hand over fist - but that’s because instead of being stingy about it, we choose to plow it back into the site - paying for reporting, photography, administrative, developer help, upgrading our servers, getting redundant service so we have the smallest chance possible of ever finding ourselves unconnected, etc. etc. etc.

    All that said - yes, I agree with your premise, as I said in one of the comment threads earlier today. Community news DOES NOT “SCALE” AS A COMMODITIZED, TEMPLATIZED PRODUCT. And that’s a DAMNED good thing. It shouldn’t be. And the people who are thinking it will be - like AOL and D*tasphere - should stop wasting their money.

  • http://blogs.softartisans.com Claire Willett

    Did you watch the livestream of Paid Content 2011? One of the panels was on hyperlocal journalism, with the founders of Patch, Mainstreet Connect, Bay Citizen and JRC all weighing in. All seemed optimistic about the future of hyperlocal, but not necessarily about the economic vitality of it. I think that hyperlocal news is here to stay, but from where? If there is a way to get and sustain good, engaging professional reporting, then maybe orgs like Patch will retain their foothold. But-and this is a big but-right now, I’d much rather read about what’s going on in my hometown from the unedited perspective of a resident.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks for the comment. I was going off of a statement that was a few years old from your website and I see that you have changed that page. I’m very glad to hear about your guys’ success. Keep up the good work.

  • http://twitter.com/EricBurgess Eric Burgess

    Whoa Tac! Now we really need to hook up and talk about stuff!

    “I think besides the problem of scale most people don’t really care about their neighbors anymore. I don’t.”

    That is the most gnarliest statement I’ve ever heard you say. I don’t think that’s fair or accurate. Most people do. In fact, I would say most homeowners do. To go further, most homeowners who don’t live on the Eastside. And further, most homeowners who don’t live in the Issaquah Highlands.

    That’s just it. Hyperlocal news is very important to people who live in neighborhoods in progressive big cities. Period. So, it makes sense for you not to be interested in it given your geo-location.

    That said, that’s the only thing I am in disagreement about. I too believe there is no money in hyperlocal journalism – and there likely never will be. It’s a grassroots thing, it always will be. Look at the Bergmans and Next Door Media. Cory works at MSN, has a day job and just does Next Door Media on the side. They don’t need much help with what they’re doing because it’s not really scalable. A while back I even met with him and his wife and professed my admiration for what they were doing and offered to help for free. There just wasn’t anything to help with though. That’s because it’s a grassroots, non-scalable business.

    So, while I believe you are correct in the overall theme of this post, I think you should take back what you said about not caring about your neighbors anymore. If you don’t I’m going to go egg your house.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    I’m obviously overstating to be provocative but I really don’t think I’m that far off. I’ve lived in cities before, I’ve owned homes in cities before and I actually know more of my neighbors in the Highlands than I ever have.

    How many of the people on your street do you know? How many of them do you talk to regularly. I’m happy to be wrong but I’m not alone in my assertions. Check out: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam http://amzn.to/eUMeCm

  • http://twitter.com/EricBurgess Eric Burgess

    Man, when my wife and I moved into our house, our neighbor across the street dropped off orange juice and french toast on our first morning there. It’s that kind of a neighborhood. Everyone has kids running around, we have block parties and we let each other know when we’re going out of town for long periods of time so we can keep a look out.

    That’s the way it should be. Maybe I’m just an old schooler? I hope not. That’s the kind of neighborhood I grew up.

    How can you say “I actually know more of my neighbors in the Highlands than I ever have,” while at the same time you say that “most people don’t really care about their neighbors anymore.”?

blog comments powered by Disqus

Don’t Miss A Single Post. Subscribe to New Comm Biz

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via Email