The Local Web is the Future of the Web

It’s a funny coincidence. I was speaking with someone at a cafe the other day and I was amp’d up on caffeine. I mean, really amp’d up on caffeine. You know, like so amp’d up that I’m not really seeing what’s right before my eyes because the sun is bouncing around my enlarged pupils and distorting color and light? Right… that kind of amp’d up on caffeine. The conversation we were having was about what this ‘local’ thing is really all about, and why I, as he put it, as “founder and visionary for Citysquares.com,” seem so compelled and dedicated to it. I very enthusiastically explained that this ‘local’ thing is more than just an untapped market with big money potential. He rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was just another capitalistic entrepreneur trying to rationalize my true ambitions. I didn’t mind actually, because I will readily admit to anyone that yes, of course Citysquares is a business – not a charity. But if I may, I like to think that it’s a socially responsible business, one that’s focused on actually doing something good for our communities, one that has a real mission (not the corporate charter type either), for local business, for consumerism, for the citizens, for everyone – for, if I may, all the stakeholders. I reminded him of the story behind Citysquares, why I started it in the first place.

It’s also about the future. By that I mean that it’s about the future of our communities, my children’s future, the future of local commerce, of America, and the future of the Internet. That’s right – the Internet, that big monstrosity that’s you can’t touch, you can’t totally make sense of, that is so full of opportunity and promise that the opportunity for danger and destruction is just as frightening. The future of the Internet is about what’s right across the street from you. What’s local to you? Well, that’s the future of the Internet.

Humans need humans. Humans need interaction with each other. It’s not good enough to blog, to instant message, to SMS, to send pictures, share documents, post videos on YouTube, add another widget to your Myspace page, fly through the sky in Second Life. We, like much of the animal kingdom, are hardwired to need each other in an offline forum. The Internet, for the most part, does not help us feel more connected – it largely makes us feel more isolated. Call it existentialism, call it what you will. But these are my theories and these are my beliefs. The Internet is a great way to supplant the connections we lack in today’s society – a bandage, not a cure. We’re seeking something, as people, a greater understanding, enlightenment, a higher power maybe, human interaction, so many things. The Internet is a result of this, and will become more of an instrument for these puzzles just as much as praying is to some people, or just as the Hubble telescope or SETI is to other people.

I’ll stop myself there before I get too philosophical and ultimately keep myself awake tonight wondering if I articulated myself properly.

The funny coincidence is within a blog post that I stumbled upon yesterday. Here’s a small taste for you:

“Key to the development of a local online ad market is the identification of the local web, and this offers a remarkable opportunity for those willing to explore this territory today. In the not-too-distant future, everyone will have access to the local web, but this access is unavailable today, because the database hasn’t been created. It exists in bits and pieces, but no technology can replace the human research necessary to build the initial database. This is a task that will pay huge dividends to the one who creates it, market-by-market, and there’s no reason this can’t be done by a local media company.”

and

“The local web is where the web itself will find its real value propositions, and that’s enough to make a guy want to stick around for awhile.”

That’s enough for me. It does a great job of making the case better than I could’ve even after 5 more cups of coffee.

If you’re interested in local, community, the Internet, the future, advertising, all or one of the above, than I highly recommend you read this.

Hyper-Local Going Mainstream

I’m a loyal New York Times reader, both online but also their Sunday paper. It shows up on my doorstep every Sunday morning and I often look forward to sitting in the kitchen and reading the paper, while my wife makes our Sunday breakfast. Long after we’ve eaten I’m still sitting at the kitchen island sipping a mug of cooling coffee (freshly pressed) and reading the Times.

The NY Times had a notable little piece in their Sunday edition this weekend (12/31/06), titled Seeking to Cash In On the ‘Hyperlocal’. While Manly refers to “Hyperlocal” as all news things that are hyperlocal, I can’t help but smile knowing that the term is getting more mainstream attention. Lorne Manly refers to the Rob Curley breed of hyperlocal: news oriented hyperlocal content (whether user generated or editorial). This model of hyperlocal, as the article points out, is what Backfence is doing. Another example of this is what Mike Orren is doing at Pegasus News in Texas. All of these are hyperlocal news based sites. Rob Curley’s done a heck of job in some of his markets (notably, Naples and Bonita Daily News, and the Lawrence Journal before he went to the Washington Post), and in doing so helping to shape what has has become “hyperlocal.” I look forward to a fusion of hyperlocal journalism and local search in the coming months and years.

Local and Hyper-Local

Local is, of course relative. But as it pertains to the Internet, local can really only mean one thing – what’s close to me. OK, OK, “close to me” is also relative, but still, all things pertaining ‘local’ herein refer to local Internet search and resources. Boston.com could be considered in the ‘local space’ as could the other countless local newspapers. Craigslist could also be considered considered local. There are some fine lines that distinguish a local site, from a non local site, and I have to say that one of the most critical defining characteristics is the site’s audience. I think that’s probably the simplest way to put it.

The Kelsey Group is perhaps the foremost expert in ‘local’. In fact, Citysquares’ business plan and investor presentations are jam packed with goodie-stats from Kelsey. Ultimately, they’ve got their fingers directly on the aorta of all this local-ness.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Krasilovsky. As it turns out, Peter and I share a few contacts. Peter is sort of a guru of the local space (Today I referred to Peter as the ‘Peter Gammons’ of local). We had a very interesting dialogue about the players out there, who’s hurting, who’s doing well, and generally his take on Citysquares.com. His feedback was immensely valuable, but what struck me more was his generosity to donate his time to me. He was in no rush to get off the phone (even though my VOIP phone was acting up), and offered up his brain power anytime. Peter has a blog called The Local Onliner. He’s respected enough that The Kelsey Group pulls his blog feed into their site. (If that’s not a thumbs-up, I don’t know what is.) He doesn’t write about local startups often, if at all, but he just posted a little piece about Citysquares.com.

What strikes me about his brief assessment is his use of the term “hyper-local.” I definitely used the term on our call, and surely he saw it on Citysquares.com, but he didn’t put quotes around it. Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but this is a fairly contentious term, because hyper-local typically refers to news – news in your neighborhood, your ward, your precinct. News from your precinct is pretty darn local. Any more local and you’re hanging out at Bingo night with the local grapevine. But hyper-local is a term that Citysquares has embraced, not because it’s sticky, but because it’s what we are. Citysquares.com can be the embodiment of your precinct, your neighborhood, on the internet. LOCAL. HYPER-LOCAL.

One of the pioneers of hyper-local is Rob Curley, whose seemingly accidental fall into hyper-local was a very lucky fall indeed. There was a great article about Rob in Fast Company last month. The title of the article? “Hyper-Local Hero.” Nice huh?

Now I don’t know if Rob’s version of hyper-local is more authentic than Citysquares’ version, or the other way around, or if we’re both hyper-local in our distinct ways. But if Peter Krasilovsky can use the term “hyper local” and “Citysquares.com” in the sentence (without saying “Citysquares.com is NOT hyper local”) than I just received confirmation. It’s sort of like Peter Gammons saying that David Ortiz is a DH – it’s just not true until The Commissioner says so.

Look at Craigslist. There is a reality out there, that CL is hurting local papers. I don’t know what the facts and figures are, but if you’ve paid attention to the local newspaper space, something is killing ’em – that’s undeniable. Rob Curley seems to have a fix.

Know of any other hyper-local services out there in cyber-space?