Hyperlocal: More Than News

Back in December I posted a piece up here about what hyper-local is (hyperlocal, hyper-local?). I just reread it and I giggled a couple times, because my perspective on hyperlocal has evolved greatly.

With the recent news about Backfence shutting down, there’s been an awful lot of chatter in the blogosphere about this “hyperlocal” space. The single least common denominator I’m seeing among these many blogs is the characterization of hyperlocal as being about news, with perhaps the exception of Peter Krasilovsky’s recent post.

It seems that while Backfence was the poster child for “hyperlocal” they were perhaps to hyperlocal what O’Douls is to beer. By that what I mean is, hyperlocal is not just about news, or “citizen journalism” – its so much more than that! My pal Mike Orren, at Pegasus News, refuses to be called hyperlocal, instead opting for his own term “pan local” because it’s a hybrid of hyperlocal and regional. I dig that, and I get it. I think Mike is smart enough to know that building a business around truly neighborhood-centric (and therefore hyperlocal) news is essentially what Backfence was, and as many people would seem to agree (based on the recent blog posts I’ve read) it’s also inherently flawed.

In my opinion, hyperlocal news (be it in the form of citizen journalism or some taking on a more editorial and/or traditional-journalism-like form) is only one of the many faces of hyperlocal…

Hyperlocal news:

  1. It can take on the form of citizen journalism, where individuals within that hyper-locality (i.e., Harvard Square vs. Cambridge) are contributing news. Citizen journalism is, in my opinion, oftentimes what people mean when they refer to hyperlocal. Citizen journalism can be virtually anybody and everybody in that hyper-locality contributing content, which is a dangerous thing. This type of “news” is generally not news, but instead it’s rumor reporting. There is no fact-checking, and if there is it’s very biased, and there is no real credibility or legitimacy to what’s being reported. It’s scary stuff. The phrase Citizen journalism itself is, to me anyway, an oxymoron. It’s something that we, at Citysquares, have been adamant about staying away from.
  2. Hyperlocal news can also take on a different form though, one that leads to much more legitimacy and credibility for its readers. This is the real journalistic form, if you will. This is hyperlocal news that is being reported by, well, reporters of a sort. They report the news in fact form, and they check their facts before reporting it to you, typically from a variety of sources. This true, and understated, form of journalism is inherently trustworthy and something you can depend on. It’s not rumor reporting, it’s not opinions. While a hyperlocal news site can certainly have opinion columns and editorials, it’s more than that – it’s good news relevant to your hyper-locality.There are probably hybrid forms of the above two, too.

Hyperlocal Search:

That’s what we do at Citysquares.com. We’re certainly not the biggest and best at it (yet) but that’s our thing. Hyperlocal search is, at it’s core, about finding local businesses. It’s not about doing a search online for “bars in central square ma” and ending up receiving ads or results for, a bar in downtown Boston, or Harvard Square. Ok maybe not the best example. It’s not about doing an online search for “north end barber” and seeing ads or results for SuperCuts in Everett, which is, unfortunately, the way local search typically works. If you do those searches, by clicking the links, you’ll see that there are high ranking results that link to Citysquares.com. And the results on Citysquares.com are pretty darn relevant to, if not exactly, what you’re looking for. Nobody has ever been able to do this, at the neighborhood level, well, at all. Hyperlocal search is exciting, and it’s also more than just business listings, although that’s where the money is and that’s the core of our business model. But hyperlocal search is also about other aspects of one’s hyper-locality. For example, my neighborhood of Davis Square is where I live and mostly play. But I work in the South End. My needs in both communities are different, and so is my role. I’m not necessarily looking for the same things in the South End as I’m looking for in Davis Square – my needs are very different. In fact, I might be more inclined to participate in more community events and activities in Davis Square; much more inclined than in the South End. I might be much more inclined to care about the hyperlocal news of Davis Square, than in the South End. But my life still bleeds into the South End, so I still have needs there. Ultimately, hyperlocal search can mean much more than commerce and consumerism. It can be about the library and its hours and librarians, and the church or synagogue or mosque and its community, the public school and its teachers and students, the local little league team and its players and coaches, the artists of the community, etc. There’s much more to hyperlocal search than commerce and news. That’s where we’d like to come in. That’s what we’re carefully working on as we start to build the new site and platform. Most of this stuff is additive to the business-and-consumer-centric hyperlocal search stuff, which, again, is our core focus.

There is now even geographic social networks. I just read about TOWNKINGS today. This is yet another social network focused around another niche, and it happens to be geography. Citysquares would like to incorporate some social-networking-like elements into our new site. We don’t plan on being a social networking platform but there will most definitely be social elements – there has to be.

So, I’m not sure if I’ve missed other forms of hyperlocal, and if I have I hope you’ll enlighten me! I’m intentionally staying away from craigslist here, because I don’t believe it’s hyperlocal. Craigslist is local, if not regional, but it’s certainly not hyperlocal.

I’m hoping that we can eventually, perhaps today, stop confusing hyperlocal with what Backfence was doing. I hope we can start to use the word hyperlocal (let’s even pretend it’s a real word) as if it encompasses other things. The very nature of the word itself, hyper and local, should imply so much more than …. news?

Let’s agree that hyperlocal is this: all things pertaining your geographic community (i.e., your neighborhood, or as in other parts of the country, your county, but still, your hyper locality), be it news, be it classifieds, be it search, be it social networking. Hyper-local is all things pertaining your hyper-locality.

Webcast: Localized Search

I am a guest speaker in an Editor & Publisher webcast on May 22. If you can make the time, please join in. Details are as follows…

Stop the Presses! Localized Search is Changing the Newspaper Business

Discover How Your Company Can Take Advantage of This Evolving Model

for this FREE live Web broadcast.

Date: Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Time: 2:00 PM EST / 11:00 AM PST

Join Editor & Publisher for this FAST-sponsored Web Seminar and hear from industry experts how your newspaper operation can break into the localized search market. Attend this online-only event and learn how to overcome the obstacles and how progressive newspapers have already integrated localized search into their business models and have grown their audience and advertising base and how you can do the same.

Whatever the formula for local search inclusion may be, the newspaper industry and news industry in general are looking to get their piece of the pie. But how do newspaper companies tap into the growing local search market? What technology is needed? Is there a chance of cannibalizing the existing print base?

In this session, the following issues will be explored:

Market Size

Trends and Technology

Geotargeted Display Ads

E-mail Campaigns


Local Paid Search

Local Video