Even though the world is getting smaller, due to easy global connectivity, people still feel alone if not well-connected locally. There is also more going on in every location, so this personal need and super sensitivity to the local community has spawned a new breed of Internet startups, called “hyperlocal.” The term first appeared five years ago, but the model is now very common.
At first this was limited to news sites that concentrated on a segment of a community, like West Seattle, but the concept is now being applied to advertising and promotion sites, blogging sites, and even legal services sites. These hyperlocal sites don’t have to compete with global sites, and always have unique content, community advertising, and local issues.
Foursquare is good example of a modern hyperlocal site, which describes itself as “50% friend-finder, 30% social city guide, 20% nightlife game.” It also shows how such a website can scale by adding new cities. When you enter one of these cities, you simply check-in to tell the service where you are, and you begin to earn points and unlock badges for discovering new things.
Much of this is still evolving, but I think it has great potential. Here are some of the dimensions of hyperlocal, summarized by Alex Gamela in an interview with Adrian Holovaty of EveryBlock:
- Geographic granularity. Give people a way to follow news around a particular block. This is the main focus of EveryBlock, where they give each city block its own Web page, its own RSS feed and its own e-mail alerts.
- Geographic customization. Give people a way to draw custom geographic boundaries to specify their area of interest. Their “custom locations” feature lets you draw an arbitrary area in your neighborhood that selects the streets you’re interested in following.
- Geographic messaging. Give people a way to post news to specific geographic areas. Their “Notify your neighbors” feature lets people post messages (news reports, classifieds, etc.) to their blocks, with a sophisticated level of targeting.
- Subject matter granularity. Give people information that’s “too small” or otherwise not important enough for mainstream news sites, such as restaurant inspections, building permits, and fire department dispatches.
- Topic customization. Give people ways to control which types of information they get and how often they get it. For example, EveryBlock lets you choose which types of information you want to get daily, weekly or “as it happens”.
When you extend this to include social media marketing, you can imagine that startups and small businesses are in fact at an advantage over their less flexible big brothers. They can offer real-time feedback and immediate rewards for hyperlocal activity, by members of that community, for members of the community.
Hyperlocal blogs like My Ballard can find unique content that doesn’t compete with major players and newspapers for attention. They are free to write about neighborhood events, charities, schools, and local causes. The big news outlets don’t have the staff or resources to chase these types of stories.
I predict that hyperlocal services sites will continue to emerge and flourish. Many years ago, a community law firm could have a rewarding law practice, financially and personally fulfilling, by becoming a part of the community. In the new digital age, it’s possible again, even easier and faster.
With the advent of the iPhone and Blackberry, location-based apps are becoming commonplace. Especially in local communities, people want to know where the sales are, and who is hanging out where. This is not just a fad.
Hyperlocal can be the “beginning” for your startup, allowing you to test your business model and your marketing plan before you scale. Or it can be the final destination, if you are looking for a fun family business in the new world. Just like Mister Rogers neighborhood, I recommend it as a familiar place for your startup to “learn the ropes” before you take on the whole world.