Over the past several years, I have been intrigued by efforts to develop hyperlocal web based media. The most famous of these efforts was “Patch”, developed through AOL. It was a sad tale. After burning through half a billion dollars, Path was shuttered. Patch didn’t work and it is not alone. Lots of attempts to build hyperlocal networks have gone belly up. So what is the problem?
As Matt Ingram points out, hyperlocal does work sometimes — in single locations where talented and passionate folks drive the project. In other words, it can work as an “artisan” project. A one off that does not scale very well. This makes sense, as localities, or as we used to call them, communities, need information too. And they need a “hub” where folks can gather round. That may be the corner tavern or coffee shop or barber shop where a personable host or hostess holds court. That still works today, and hub services can be enhanced via the web. So you take those personable traits, move them online and you are a hyperlocal hero, right?
In my view, trying to scale this bumps into a rather simple problem. When your personable content generator physically leaves the community, he or she or it loses contact with what makes him or her or it fun and personable. The farther away they get, the more the content that these folks generate gets homogenized. This is a problem for news platforms but not only news platforms. It is a general social networking problem. Let’s be honest here, Facebook is boring. Fred Wilson thinks that Twitter is more interesting, but my experience with it has not been that great. It is largely composed of rather naked self-marketing. I am not opposed to that, but I am not that interested in it either.
How do we get beyond that? Or will the web of the future look more and more like a series of digital MacDonalds or Home Depot or Staples meta sites? Or even worse, are we already there as meta sites like Facebook suck the air out of this space? My own view is that we won’t get beyond it without better content generation tools. These are tools that help us all be more creative in how we communicate. If we have these tools, we can make the web more social and more exciting from the bottom up. Without them, the social web aint going to be all that social.
The question is how to deliver better content generation tools? How to help Tom, Dick and Harry and Jane and Sue all become media geniuses? Tumblr and some other platforms have gone part way. WordPress is trying too. These platforms “set you up”. But they don’t help level you up yet. Too bad. If there were more talented and passionate folks around like the ones who make hyperlocal media projects work, the web would be a lot more fun. Perhaps we will go in that direction. Let’s see.
But what are we looking for? You may have already guessed the answer. I would argue that we are looking for platforms that reward folks for doing local stuff at a high level. Why? Because this gives us something to talk about. And I think this is a big value added of the “sharing web”. So Airbnb, for example, gets folks to upgrade how they manage their homes (so they can rent them out). That is sort of hyperlcoal, right? Ditto for meal sharing. If I am going to ask for money to feed visitors, I will have to upgrade how I produce meals. Ditto for being a Vayable tour guide. If I am going charge folks for walking them through my neighborhood to get them an “insider’s view”, I will upgrade my knowledge of the neighborhood. And in all of the above settings, I have an incentive to upgrade how I communicate about my upgraded stuff. It will help my investment pay off.
In other words, hyperlocal works when we upgrade local activities and talk about them.Things get boring when we jabber on about scaling stuff that isn’t that interesting in the first place. I am reminded here of content about using kitchen knives, watering flowers, sharpening lawn mower blades and so on. Or about the street repairs next week on 42nd street. These are only engaging or gist for the social mill in context. Ditto for the social web in general.