Hyperlocal Has To Be Peer Produced

The WSJ has a story today about the Washington Post’s struggles with its effort to build a local internet property called LoudonExtra.com.

I have been interested in "hyperlocal" for years and have blogged about this topic quite a bit. From day one, I’ve been convinced that hyperlocal must be "peer produced". That means we together will document what is going on in our streets, our schools, our churches, our parks, and our communities. No "newsroom centric" model is going to work. That’s how I see it.

And that’s why the one "local" investment we’ve made to date, outside.in, is about aggregation of hyperlocal content, not the creation of hyperlocal content. Outside.in creates an "on the fly" local newspaper for any zip code or neighborhood (currently only in the US).

The outside.in model is difficult too. For many places, there just isn’t enough "peer produced" content yet. But if my vision for social media is correct, there will be. In time. How much time? I don’t know.

Outside.in’s CEO, Mark Josephson, also blogged about the WSJ story today. His take:

We are huge fans of the incredible group of individuals blogging about
their local communities. The quantity and quality of these hyperlocal
bloggers is exploding, and their ability to cover more news and
information at the hyperlocal level far outweighs that of a
hand-picked, full-time “traditional” editorial team. We are tracking
more than 140 discrete hyperlocal content sources in Chicago alone, for
example. (Great examples of hyperlocal news coverage are here and here.)

This local media revolution isn’t going to happen quickly. Which makes an investment in the sector tough. But we are convinced that it will happen and are betting on outside.in to be an important part of the solution.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. efliv

    Agreed that the only way to scale local is with user generated content. There’s simply too much data for a central body to produce.Along the same lines, I’ve always thought that Facebook is really missing the boat here. I use Yelp occasionally and it’s great, but Facebook (for now, at least) owns my social graph and those are the users who will generate the most significant local content/reviews/information for me.We all know Beacon flopped because of privacy issues, but I think it also flopped because Facebook went after brands when they should have attacked local, small businesses. I realize that’s a much more difficult market to corner, but I’d much rather know that a couple of my buddies love a certain Indian joint in the East Village over the fact that they used Blockbuster Video a few times.I’m not really sure if this addresses your point on aggregation vs. production (perhaps it does in that FB’s ownership of the graph could be used to create personalized aggregations of reviews) but it’s a missed opportunity for Facebook that’s been puzzling me for a while.

  2. Joe Lazarus

    “For many places, there just isn’t enough “peer produced” content yet.”Splitting hairs, but I’d argue that the peer produced content is being generated today, but that it’s just not picked up by services like Outside.in. It’s a tagging / metadata collection issue, not a content production problem. For each article / photo / video that’s accurately geo-tagged, there are probably hundreds or thousands more that relate to the same location, but without clear address information. The solution, I imagine, is some technology that makes it easier to geo-tag the local content that people are already producing… things like Fire Eagle, cameras that automatically geo-tag, location-aware iPhone apps, etc.

  3. Don Jones

    To me, there has to be some kind of hook to get people to care about it enough to write about it. For example, in our city, Menlo Park, there is a mother’s group called PAMP (Palo Alto Menlo Park). It is a huge Yahoo Groups list, and all the local kid-oriented happenings are passed around that network every day. When there’s a crime in someone’s area, that is shared, too. So the hook is “kids” and parents sharing around the subject of their kids.So whether its kids/parents or restaurant reviews or whatever, there has to be a hook to get people involved.

  4. khylek

    I was in a Chicago Tribune focus group several years ago about providing local content. At the time there was a former newsman who wouldn’t stop saying “It’ll never work.”I think for some larger, more technology minded areas, the aggregation will work. But as you note, there just aren’t a huge amount of passionate bloggers in every suburban or residential area. Maybe that’ll change. But as an example, when I went to Outside.in, it displayed info for a community thousands of miles away from the zip I typed in.I think many local areas will be left out of the hyperlocal movement.

  5. Guest

    For some reason I thought I remembered seeing on here that you had some connection to the Curbed/Eater network of “hyperlocal blogs.” Do you have any thoughts on them/pay attention to them?

    1. fredwilson

      my wife and i are investors in curbed/eater/rackedi think they play a vital role in this stuff toofred

  6. zachlandes

    When people talk about dying local content I think its quite clear that, historically, we are in a trough of local interest. Whether it be because of globalization or enhanced technology, people today care less about what is going on in their locality than people cared 100, 50, even 20 years ago. We see this in the falling number of voters in both national and local elections, the decreased popularity of television news programs since their mid-century heyday, and in the general feeling of apathy that permeates our society. I don’t think that a service can change these aspects of our society. These are broader trends that form the backdrop of any business model predicated on local, or even national, news content. While newspapers serve and foster communities that already exist geographically, the new model of community is around interests and activities, not geography. While some sites may be successful through appealing to activities that require local participation, I think the thing we are overlooking here is that the internet (and earlier technologies to a lesser extent) has changed the practical definition of a community and geographically-local news is largely serving a community whose importance has been replaced with new associations.

    1. fredwilson

      I am not sure that’s true. Certainly its not true in the west village of nyc. Its one of the most vibrant local communities I’ve been part of

      1. zachlandes

        If I had to name a half dozen places of any size that its not true for, the village is one of the first that would pop into my head. And I’m from California. Here in suburbia, I don’t know anyone under 40 who reads or watches the local news. Ever.

        1. fredwilson

          things change a lot when you have kids, join a school community, a church, a little league, etc

  7. Chris Tolles

    Well, providing the right place for people to engage is pretty difficult — but there are many places where local has taken off — Craigslist for classifieds is at 2B pageviews a month, for example.I love the outside.in stuff — although our take on the issue here at Topix is that there isn’t enough local news to aggregate across every zip code, and that you need to get people to start talking directly — — we’re getting 115k comments a day from over 20k cities and towns across the US, and have established a pretty broad footprint for local voice on the web (comScore has us as the #4 newsppaper online, just behind the Washington Post)So, @Zachlandes, I guess I disagree with your pronouncment that the community of interest doesn’t include geography. It’s really hard to get right, but people have shown an interest when presented with the opportunity.Chris TollesCEO, Topix

  8. Jeff Crites

    I just read the Wall St. Journal piece, and am about to post one of my own, then ran across yours. My two cents: the missing piece in hyper local is user/citizen generated ideas and feedback. If hyper local sites would integrate Open Innovation portals (http://www.suggestionbox.com an example), I think you’d see a jump in consumer engagement. Hyper local sites can become ‘idea hubs’ for community improvement, be it political, Green, crime, and so on. We need to stop thinking of news as just the typical events: sports scores, crime, a big box store coming to town, etc. Ask people for their ideas and suggestions, and those ideas will not only have the possibility to generate positive change … they will themselves become ‘news’. Hyper local sites can promote, generate, and celebrate the community-changing ideas and efforts of local citizens.Starbucks launched MyStarbucksIdea.com, and tens of thousands of people swarmed on board to shout their suggestions, and they were offered nothing in return, but the opportunity to help change a place they enjoy and do business with, and a chance to show off some creativity and enjoy community with like-minded people. Do the same, on a more basic, cost-effective level … hyper local … and watch people become engaged with their hometowns again. My two cents, for what it’s worth.

  9. Jeff Crites

    Add to my previous comment … that some of the most interesting peer produced content would be ideas, and the comments and conversations they spark. In my small town, our mayor gained national attention for his Green Initiatives (George Fitch, Warrenton, VA). Yet we are horribly unfriendly for cyclists, and there are unfinished sidewalks everywhere, making it difficult to walk and ride instead of taking the car for a three minute errand. Give me the opportunity to voice my concerns and ideas to change this … at a hyper local site … and I’ll be engaged on a daily basis. Crime is another hot button. I find out about crime, on average, several days after it takes place, via our community paper or the gov’t website’s police page. That’s astounding, in this day and age. We have the ability to gather and deliver important news instantly. If a violent criminal is on the loose nearby (happened three years ago), I’d like to know now, not two days from now. THAT is important news to me. And please text it to my cellphone while you’re at it.

  10. Ed

    @Jeff Crites:FYI, The MystarbicksIdea site was flooded mostly (~85%) by the employees (Starbuck’s partners). That is a community based on interests, not location.Hyperlocal seems to be tricky, but definitely important. Good point on real-time info being a key component of hyperlocal content.

    1. Jeff Crites

      Ed:I was pretty active on the Starbucks site for the first few weeks, and I agree there were and are a ton of employees there. But I ran into plenty of passionate coffee house fanatics as well, who loved to spill their idea beans to bring back that great coffee house experience. You have a valid point about interests VS location. But one could also argue that people who live in the same community … will have many of the same interests (crime, traffic, zoning issues, taxes … trash pickup … the list is long). The community spotlighted in the Wall St Journal article, Loudon County, finds itself thick in the middle of the housing disaster. Lots of formerly expensive homes in an area that’s known as the DC Metro area’s high tech corridor. I think, as the tech team that built Loudonextra.com admitted, their big mistake was failing to dialogue directly with the people who live there, to find out what they’re really interested in. A failure to communicate, when hyper local should be all about personal communication (hyper serving local consumers).There are software systems that can be implemented, much in the same way that colleges now have emergency alert systems in place, to send text and voice messages to opt-in cell and home numbers. I’d opt in in a second, if I knew I could receive crime and other important news alerts (weather, a really bad traffic accident, fire) minutes after something happens.

  11. wisaac

    I have two pointsFirst, I think sites such as DCist do a great job of feeling in tune to local issues, because they do not merely aggregate news from other sites but rather offer original content incorporated with the vibe of the city. I look at outside.in and I fell overwhelmed by the level of information thrown at me. Even in the era of the blogesphere, I want some level of journalist creditbility in my news. This element will surely be lacking in the early stages of peer-created news. Second, Gridskipper is another great example of peer created local content (though not news related), it gives users a simple and familiar format (google maps) and lets them make contributions to build the site, giving it instant creditability with its users.I do not often agree with Rupert Murdoch, but he realizes that news can either inform or entertain, and many local sites just shoot for informing. That is a problem in the info-glut society we now have today; when are attention is focused higher up on the news hierarchy.One final point, has anyone noticed the correlation between popular local sites, and cities with high intellectual or creative centers (sf, ny, chi, dc)?

  12. Steven Kane

    vision-wise, i tilt your way fred. way your way.but i think the challenge is practical.and the problem isn’t about content aggregation – that happens/has happened easily many times, i think.rather, the problem is efficient/cost effective ad sales.but not getting geo-targeting for national accounts. again, many have/are been there done that.no, the core issue is, will/how will local merchants spend their small-individually-but-large-collectively dollars on the web?and i’m not sure anyone has cracked that case, despite 15 years and huge sums spent trying.of course, it’ll happen.some kid is probably typing away at it right now.(btw, a footnote: i spent quite a few extraordinarily fun and productive and memorable years of my 20s in local content, as one of the editors of the glorious but now defunct free alternative weekly paper, The Los Angeles Reader, home to a ragged but deadline-worshipping crew of burnouts, wackos, drifters and caffeine and controlled-substance-fueled occasional geniuses, some of whom (Matt Groenig) arguably went on to change the world.The best best best thing about creating local content? (And I mean, content. Humor, pathos, substance, life. Not virtual thumbtacks on a map.)People really really care about it.It may not change their lives.But it can make their day.)

    1. fredwilson

      There are companies like reachlocal that are bringing the yellowpageadvertiser to googleOnce they are all on google, I think the monetization problem gets a loteasier to solve

      1. Steven Kane

        Interesting. I will check out reachlocal.If the yellowpages economy comes to the web, that is HUGE.(And hugely painful to a bunch of LBO firms who have repeatedly successfullytraded cash-cow traditional yellowpages companies.)

  13. loupaglia

    Fred: USV investment in outside.in makes total sense, as you’ve stated and personally blogged about for some time, the local content play will take hold just like niche content has taken hold in so many different ways. Fitting that you are making an investment in a venture around the topic you’ve been so vocal about for some time.BTW, worked with Mark at About.com, thought it was a perfect fit when I saw the news that he was coming aboard. Bringing in the content background as well as the niche monetization background as well to move the company to the next phase.

  14. Christopher Harley

    Here in Portland, Oregon hyperlocal is an absolute reality. I’m impressed by outside.in but the truth is that we’re pulled in several different directions when providing feedback. Yelp is given a tremendous amount of attention and rightly so, we’re riding high on a wave of new restaurants and bars. But Portlanders generally share their esteem for several distinct neighborhoods and with it their money and focus. Though I’ve lived in the same area of Portland for close to 13 years, as a cab driver, my attention isn’t so narrow as to leave me overly interested in my Mt Tabor neighborhood, even though it’s a long-time favorite for others in the city. Our population density has a lot to do with how freely we pronounce this neighborhood or that as our new favorite. We’re not capricious, just blessed.

  15. zachlandes

    Sites that get at least one element of hyperlocal right:yelpcreativeloafingmeetupbrightkitecraigslistwith the exception of craigslist, these sites are about younger people looking to be active, and all use community well.

  16. Anton

    Clearly, their big mistake was they didn’t introduce themselves to the community ala Yelp. Just building a site means nothing now even if you are the Post. There is demand for local content online but I doubt the solution will come from a newspaper.Trying to aggregate and display in a blog format (OutsideIn) doesn’t fulfill the promise. I live in Venice and the OutsideIn site was just a blog roll and a list of ‘stories’ that didn’t cohere for me. I don’t think that will pull people away from high-end news sites given their superior UI experience (and lets face it, it ain’t that great..LA Times anyone).While I understand the SEO benefit of the blog UI (thanks for that Google), compared to the experience of using an iPhone…well not much more to say.The winner will combine the content and a next gen UI not a blog meets craigslist…or maybe thats what I hope. We’ll see…:PAnton

  17. Rob Long

    Monday night I was part of a panel that spoke to a group of high school students in a small town east of Los Angeles. They’re all part of some larger California-based non-partisan, non-profit that’s aiming to increase the political activity and sophistication of young people. And we were talking about “The Effect of YouTube and the Web on American Politics” — I know, I know, too broad, old news, boring, hey, I didn’t pick the topic — but we quickly started talking about local.Local news, local politics, local blogs.And some kid piped up: “We should have a Yelp for politicians.” And some other kid piped up: “We should have a Yelp for local politics.” And another kid added: “And local neighborhoods.” Another: “And local crime.” And another: “And schools.” And another: “And teachers.” At which point we all laughed and moved on to something else.But think about how much data and how much sheer inputting these kids have already done — and are going to be doing — to the web. And how naturally they assume that everything — everything! — should be, basically, Yelped.So it may not take all that long before the web gets deeply, richly hyperlocal.

    1. Frymaster

      Like Clay Sharky said, “Even a 4 year old knows that a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken.” This generation are producers.

  18. gloriakt

    Have to say that I agree with the post on the most general level – hyperlocal content seems like a logical/natural progression. With the immense amount of content/messages bombarding the Internet – commonalities, whether it be geographical or interest driven – become natural filters. Those who spot this, take advantage of it, and position themselves as a resource in the community may find themselves becoming auhorities in this space.Curious to see how outside.in will evolve. Thanks for sharing!

    1. fredwilson

      I have now. ThanksThis little exchange shows the power of blogging. I might not have seen this but its something I should seeAwesome

  19. lucas20

    I am really struggling to see outside.in as a quality investment. The technology taken to aggregate blogs is incredibly basic and pulling together quality blogs from local areas could be done with a simple technorati search or a day or two of browsing by low skilled workers.

    1. gregorylent

      it will fly when it starts to embrace local conversations around local issues, my two rupees worth

    2. fredwilson

      If so, you should do that and show the world how it’s doneThe outside.in team clearly thinks its not that easyfred

      1. Steve

        I agree, the barrier to entry for what outside.in is actually so incredibly low that as a business model, i can’t say i’d invest long term. early vc’s will probably make their money, but i’d be looking for my exit on this one

  20. gregorylent

    yes, i love that. me sitting in bangalore reading something that someone in silicon valley is writing that i know a guy in new york can use… too too sweet … outside.in will get it i am sure

  21. Frymaster

    This conversation shows how perception is based on perspective – it’s hyperlocal. Where I am, greater Providence, RI, there’s all kinds of different local-ist flare-ups. Part of my work is with the ‘place-making’ style of planning and econ dev, and that community is all about the local flavor. I’m one of those urbanist/bicycle rider types, so that community is wikkit local. We use UrbanPlanet. A lot.Then there’s the city where I am, Pawtucket – it’s Providence’s no-good little brother. Artists and entrepreneurs are flocking (trickling) here as Prov gets more expensive, and we’re creating a unique, hyperlocal culture with major freakonomic impact. If you’ve heard the uber-cool Battles, you’ve heard content produced in nasty ol Pawtucket.I think the deciding factor is the “place-iness” of the place. And right now, lots and lots of small cities are developing very strong local cultures. Fred, you may remember that very small papers have been a hot commodity. Here’s my coverage of my local fishwrap’s sale to the freakin’ Radlers!Thanks for the tip to outside.in – I’m in the process of adding geo-tags to my blog. Fun.

  22. ryankuder

    Fred, I watched the news on Outside.in closely as it’s related to what I’m working on. I think it’s a great investment. I think where hyperlocal breaks down currently is at the social level. We all know that recommendations and reviews are most trusted when they come from people we know, but I think for most people Yelp and Craigslist are filled with strangers. There are a lot of local content aggregation plays (Topix, Outside.in, Everyblock), but I think they miss the concept of a neighborhood. You mentioned your West Village neighborhood. What makes it vibrant is the people–not the content about the people. I believe that the winners in this space will discover how to get neighbors interacting with neighbors. It’s already happening that people are creating this content (Don Jones mentions PAMP, and there are tons of other Y! Groups for ‘hoods), but it’s all unstructured. How do we structure the hyperlocal social content and pull it together with the right set of features that help neighbors be neighbors? This is the problem that my company is working on solving.

  23. Todd Zeigler

    While I agree about the importance of peer-produced content, I also think this experiment may have been doomed to fail due to the choice of Loudoun County as the test case. Loudoun County is an extremely wealthy, sprawling suburb out by Dulles Airport. I live in DC proper and am by no means an expert on these NOVA suburbs, but my sense of them is that the residents are disconnected from each other. They have connections to DC itself, other states, their work life, etc. Loudoun County is just where they live. There may not be enough of a tight knit community in place there to hold something like LoudounExtra together.

  24. David Adewumi

    With a property like outside.in, is that where exactly are they grabbing peer-produced content,f from?The problem, Fred, is the definition of “news.” What if I told a story on My Facebook, or myspace account (I actually don’t have one) that was a blog post about my experiences surrounding a news event, say, an NBA finals game. A first-hand account.That is peer-produced “news” so to speak, such as we’ve seen with Twitter, where people are essentially making micro-blog posts firing off news faster than the major mainstream media players.How does Outside.in organize said social content, and integreate (and filter) that for it’s hyper-local news. If it doesn’t, it fails to account for peer-produced news as it is already happening — on our social networks and blogs ( and micro-blogs) where this content is already being created.

  25. Hargin

    another one you might want to look into is http://www.metroseeq.com, they seem to get what the consumer and advertise want – free advertising