Will microlocal work?

The default local community bulletin board of Web 1.0 was Craigslist. The second generation, including Topix and Outside.In (now a part of AOL), pioneered hyperlocal news aggregation to construct a feed-based local newspaper — but these companies’ main challenge has been to nurture local conversations around news. Topix in particular has been able to develop active forums at a citywide level. The next question is whether microlocal news and forums — down to the block level — will work.

EveryBlock, now a part of msnbc.com, was the first to develop a microlocal news source, aggregating publicly available neighborhood data like police blotter reports, graffiti complaints and Yelp reviews down to a block level. The array of aggregated data include 1) Neighbor contributions 2) Public records and 3) Web based reviews and listings.

Pulling public records and web based feeds is easy, Everyblock’s challenge is in attracting “neighbor” generated content. Even in a hyper-wired San Francisco, a good place to judge first-mover traction, the city message board is fairly sparse. Yesterday, Everyblock announced the addition of their new Events page with the intent to aggregate neighborhood events from the siloes of park and rec departments and newspaper things to do columns into one place.
Nextdoor

Nextdoor.com is a new social “bulletin board” startup that attempts to jumpstart membership traction by setting a minimum of ten confirmed residents to establish a neighborhood. Once set up, the community bulletin boards provide typical utility, allowing neighbors to message each other, post events and classifieds, and make recommendations.

Is Facebook the solution?
Everyblock and Nextdoor are separate destinations that users normally don’t visit daily like Facebook. And they won’t visit them daily unless their neighbors are actively contributing new content. And when users do contribute content, like posting a neighborhood event or classified, they will generally gravitate to well trafficked sites like local media publishers (including Patch), or Craigslist for wider distribution. Communities need leaders: are there enough of them in smaller block-level areas to create traction?

Everyblock and Nextdoor may need to go where the local conversational action is, Facebook. For example, microlocals could partner with Facebook and allow their subscribers to create a Facebook group for their neighborhood with all the bells and whistles (classifieds, recommendations, events listings) associated with their web application. It would much easier to create “turnkey” neighborhoods by leveraging existing Facebook networks because it’s the simple Facebook login we’re all used to.

The obvious tradeoffs for this are 1) microlocals will lose direct visitors to their websites, and thus the necessary traffic needed to sell advertising, and 2) they get into bed with an elephant partner in Facebook that can change the rules  of the game easily. One possible business model would be to charge merchants for advertising across its own platform as well as through their associated Facebook group.

About Pat Kitano

Patrick Kitano works with brands in developing hyperlocal engagement solutions and is administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of The Local Network on Street Fight, and is reachable via Twitter @pkitano and email pkitano@gmail.com.