The Meaning of Hyperlocal


February 24, 2010

Since I co-launched a new
hyperlocal news site
last month, I now spend a lot of time thinking about
hyperlocal business models and their relative merits. And like any trending
buzz word, “hyperlocal” is beginning to take on a lot of different meanings. Here
I hope to tease apart some the mashed up meaning and bring a little clarity to
this little corner of the news media world.

But first a polemic: I am a
strong believer in the long-tail theory. In that vein, I believe Hyperlocal is
yet one more slice of the tail. It will never dominate news, but it will become
a hard to ignore bit player, sort of like 12″ club remix records.

There’s a lot of talk about hyperlocal these days, because people are still assessing its ultimate value and trying to figure
out how it fits in with the rest of the media mix. But in the end, I think the
talk will die down and hyperlocal will become just one more part of everyone’s daily media diet.

It appears that hyperlocal news
is separating itself into three broad implementations I call:

  • Aggregation;
  • Augmentation; and
  • Original Content

Aggregation is the easiest to implement, since it is merely
grouping news stories by town, neighborhood or zip code. It is growing the fastest since a robust aggregation hyperlocal site merely needs a good
news scraper/spider to pull original content from elsewhere. It also provides
the least value. Quite a few Google Ad link farms are aggregation hyperlocal
sites.

Examples: Outside.in, Patch.com

Original Content is on the other side of the extreme, where original
content is generated by some mix of dedicated or freelance on-the-ground
reporters. This is time-consuming and expensive since original reporting
requires lots of legwork. It is also of high value to readers, since the site
is providing content that is otherwise unavailable.

Examples:
CenterSquareLedger.com, MyBallard.com, BaristaNet.com

Augmentation is not exactly a compromise between the two but it
does take from both implementations. As the name suggests, it is always a part of some
already existing news collection enterprise. The hyperlocal content can be
either repurposed news from some existing publication, “directors’ cut”
versions of stories that didn’t make it on TV or in print, a reporters’ blog or other stories that were never intended to go on air or in print.

Examples:
KOMOnews.com/communities, NY Times: The Local, Chicago Now

In my opinion, all of the above
implementations qualify as “hyperlocal” news. There are many who would disagree
with me, probably mostly those who run Original Content sites.

Also, while all of the above implementations
use the name “hyperlocal”, I think it is important to note that they are no more
direct competitors than Digg.com and NYTimes.com are direct competitors.

To illustrate, let me compare
hyperlocal local news to a more common example.

Aggregation
= Aldi

Augmentation
= Basic supermarket

Original
Content = Boutique butcher shop

Aggregation is cheap and gives
you no more value than the basics. Just like Aldi.

Augmentation is meant to be part
of a broad offering of content. There’s lots to choose from, but not all of it
is targeted at your needs. Most of it is produced in a distant factory with
little local flavor.

Original Content is made just
for you, has lots of local flavor and is quirky. It doesn’t always have the
most professional methods, but you tend to look the other way because you feel like you
have a personal relationship with the people making it.

I also believe that each of
these implementations serve different groups of advertisers. Because of the
audiences served by each implementation, it is hard for me to see how
advertisers would benefit by moving between each group.

  • Aggregation is almost a pure
    Google Ad play or for broad national ad campaigns.
  • Augmentation would work well to
    extend national or regional ad campaigns looking to penetrate certain
    geographic areas.
  • Original Content sites are
    mostly for regional or neighborhood-based advertisers.

I believe we should expect all
of these implementations to grow and peacefully co-exist for some years to
come. All are potential money-makers because all of them aim to serve a
different audience and can carry different types of advertisers.