For the record, I do not count The New York Times ending its New Jersey version of The Local and passing over its readers to Baristanet as a failure. The idea that The Times could have owned and run a blog with a journalist in every town and neighborhood in New York — let alone America — simply didn’t scale. The more important skill for The Times to learn is working with networks of independent entrepreneurs who own and run their own local enterprises. That’s what will scale. So I say this is a step forward. (Disclosures: CUNY, where I teach, is running The Local in Brooklyn.)
Posts about hyperlocal
At the Brite conference, I talked about mobile coming to be synonymous with local. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote on the topic for an essay in a German book about the future of the net:
The biggest battlefield is local and mobile (I combine them because soon, local will mean simply wherever you are now). That’s why Google is in the phone business and the mapping business and why it is working hard to let us search by speaking or even by taking pictures so we don’t have to type while walking or driving.
The winner in local will be the one that knows more about what’s around me right now. Using my smartphone’s GPS and maps—or using Google Googles to simply take a picture of, say, a club on the corner—I can ask the web what it knows about that place. Are any of my friends there now? (Foursquare or Gowalla or soon Facebook and Twitter and Google Buzz could tell me.) Do my friends like the place? (Facebook and Yelp have the answer.) Show me pictures and video from inside (that’s just geo-tagged content from Flickr and YouTube). Show me government data on the place (any health violations or arrests? Everyblock has that). What band is playing there tonight? Let me hear them. Let me buy their music. What’s on the menu? What’s the most popular dish? Give me coupons and bargains. OK, now I’ll tell my friends (on Twitter and Facebook) that I’m there and they’ll follow. This scenario—more than a newspaper story—will define local.
To do all this, Google—or the next Google—needs two things: First, it needs more data; it needs us to annotate the world with information (if Google can’t find this data elsewhere on the web, it will create the means for us to generate it). Second, Google needs to know more about us—it needs more signals such as location, usage history, and social networks—so it can make its services more relevant to us.
Recently, at CUNY, we held a roundtable for ad sales people from hyperlocal blogs to big newspapers to hear what they are hearing from local merchants. We’re wrapping up our research for the New Business Models for News Project — indeed, it was Alberto Ibargüen, head of the Knight Foundation that funded this work, who said he really wanted to hear sales people’s perspective — and beginning research for Carnegie-funded work on new ad models, products, service, and sales methods, working with The New York Times on The Local. Some of what we learned; the first four are the most important to me:
* Most important, I think, is that we won’t be selling media to merchants — banners ‘n’ buttons — so much as we will be selling service: helping them with all their digital needs, including optimizing them in Google and Yelp and social media and mobile. I’ll write a post with more thoughts on this shortly.
* Voice matters. Local bloggers said they are must-reads because of their voice in the community (the human voice of the neighbor over the cold voice of the institution) and that — along with a constant flow of posts and news and the audience and conversation that attracts — makes them must-buys for advertisers. One blogger made the newspapers visibly jealous reporting that advertisers are coming to the blog asking to advertise because they had to be there. Another way to look at this: The service must be part of the community. One of the bloggers covers new businesses in town because that’s news; ads may follow but even if they don’t, the site will cover commerce in the community.
* There is interest in network sales. One newspaper exec in the room said she’s jealous of the new advertisers smaller bloggers get and would be interesting in having those bloggers sell into her site. The blogger is also interested in getting revenue from larger advertisers via the newspaper’s sales. That networked approach is key to the optimization of value we projected in our new business models for the local news ecosystem: the advertiser can be better served by appearing in more services with easier purchase; the large site can get new customers it could not otherwise afford to sell; the small site can get large advertisers it could not otherwise attract; all ships rise on this tide. (However, we must find a new word instead of “network,” as it has low-value cooties associated with it. Alliance? Ecosystem? Suggestions?)
* We at CUNY are going to be investigating the possibilities for citizen sales — new sales forces and new sales businesses that can sprout up alongside and help support the new news businesses. The group saw potential here but also saw the need for training and quality control.
* It’s clear that local merchants still need education. In the early days of the web, we had to sell advertisers not just on the value of our sites but on the value of the internet itself. That effort continues with smaller advertisers. That means that there’s a greater cost of sales. It also means that this is a means of sales — come to our internet seminar (a technique that is working for various of the participants). And I see a role here for organizations such as universities (not to mention chambers of commerce) to help local merchants understand the value of the internet.
* Local ad agencies also need education still.
* There was some debate about the sophistication of local advertisers and their need for data, but it’s clear that in many cases, media have to collect, analyze, and present data on performance and return on investment. One of the more established companies said all that matters to small advertisers is ROI (return on investment: feet to the door and ringing cash registers). One of the newer companies said more data is needed to prove performance and value. In some cases, we will measure will be attention, in others leads produced, in others sales, and in others more intangible measurements about community and relationships. At our conference on new business models for news in the fall, Gannett talked about research it did with Ideo that found that very local merchants need discovery (read: search) but in many cases, their customers already now they’re there; so what they seek is better relationships with their communities; how do we deliver and measure that?
* The simpler the better. Local merchants are not buying CPM-based advertising. They’re buying timed sponsorships. They want to see the ad they bought on the site.
* Google is playing a bigger and bigger role in local (via the web and now mobile). Some local merchants don’t bother having a site; their ads link to their Google place page.
* One old law of sales is still true: get one butcher advertising and that helps force the next one to join in.
* Self-serve platforms for buying advertising are not the answer. Sales is still needed. I’ve heard that in more than one horror story about low revenue from build-it-and-they-will-come efforts. Once an advertiser is sold, I’ve also heard of success in enabling them to update their ads (e.g., providing them with advertiser blogs).
* Replicating print ads online doesn’t work for advertisers or readers. No surprise there; the only surprise is that publications and merchants still try.
* There are other products besides advertising to sell: email, events, coupons (which work well for many local sites). There was some debate in the group about the value of video as a vehicle for advertising and as a form of advertising itself. More experimentation is needed.
At CUNY, our next step will be performing research with local advertisers/merchants. Then we’ll work on R&D on new ad forms. Then we’ll try to train citizen sales forces. This is the next step in our work on new business models and sustainability for news. Stay tuned.
: LATER: In the comments, Dave Chase of SunValleyOnline adds great notes:
Great observations and consistent with what I have heard/seen from working with lots of local advertisers at SunValleyOnline which is one of the sites talked about in the CUNY “census” you guys did that has managed to build a reasonable (and profitable business). I generally agree with what you’ve laid out but will amplify or differ with a few items.
1. Education: Hands down the biggest need I’ve seen. Sales people need it. Merchants need it. Local agencies/marketing consultants need it. Citizen ad sales will really need it. It’s the reason I collaborated with a former colleague to create a how-to resource for local merchants on marketing in the digital age that I’m making available to the ventures I’m involved with. I believe there’s scalable ways for local sites to tap into this without having to do all the training themselves that can also serve as lead generation.
2. Tools for advertisers to manage their own ads: Despite having two tools (Impact Engine and Mixpo) that have very easy interfaces and through much encouragement, virtually no advertiser is taking advantage of it. They simply want us to take care of it. The advertisers I’ve worked with aren’t sophisticated at all from a marketing perspective.
3. VideoAds: This is primarily a function of the size of advertiser you are going after and where they’ve advertised. Generally, it’s the bigger advertiser who has run TV ads before that will be candidates to move $$. Turns out one of the categories where $$ are finally starting to move is political ads. The recent Supreme Court decision will accelerate that. Dynamically built videoads is a particularly promising area and is something that took place in the recent Massachusetts Senate race (on the winning side). There’s some powerful tools that allow A-B testing, message optimization, etc. that are accessible even to the smallest advertiser.
: And Max Kalehoff says it well in the comments: “Sell the outcome.”
On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.
I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).
Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:
* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.
* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.
* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.
Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).
* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.
* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).
* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.
* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.
* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.
That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:
* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.
Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.
* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.
I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.
* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.
* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.
Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.
But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.
* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.
* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.
* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.
Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.
I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.
: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.
: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.
TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.
Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”
Now that The New York Times Company has decided not to sell the Boston Globe, DailyDeal.com wonders whether the company should convert Boston to a hyperlocal-based business.
Well, our Knight Foundation-funded New Business Models for News can be a roadmap. Indeed, the 5-million-person hypothetical market we worked on looks an awful lot like Boston (because, truth be told, it is Boston).
We suggest that a new news organization working collaboratively with a large base of independent sites and companies can establish itself at low cost and risk because much of the news is produced by people other than employees. The company would be much smaller but it would be profitable, potentially at impressive margins. Getting smaller would be painful, of course, but if the Globe doesn’t do it, some kid in a Harvard dorm room could.
I’m putting out a call for local bloggers within traveling distance from New York – and for journalists who’ve left their jobs or are thinking about leaving to start local news blogs – to attend a series of workshops at CUNY on Nov. 11.
The first half of the day, we’ll be presenting and discussing the New Business Models for News Project projections for the local news ecosystem (earlier presented at a Knight Foundation-sponsored event at the Aspen Institute). In the second half of the day, we will have workshops and discussions aimed at improving local sites’ businesses: setting up; serving ads; selling ads; marketing; managing communities; and more – plus presentations by companies working to help these sites, including Outside.in Growthspur, Prism, Google, Addify, PaperG, Spot.us, and others. We will have a mix of bloggers, editors, publishers, entrepreneurs, investors, and companies working in the new local news ecosystem. Gannett New Jersey and The New York Times are contributing to the effort.
Space is limited so right now we’re just putting out the call for bloggers and journalists who have or plan to have local sites to give them priority. A preemptive apology to those for whom we don’t have room; we’ll do our best to accommodate everyone we can. Know also that we’ll be streaming the day. If you’d like an invite, please email David Cohn (email@example.com), who’s kind enough to help organize this, our third CUNY conference on the topic, and who’s a helluva lot better organized than I am. Please make sure to give us a link to your site.
Twitter announced a geolocation API today and it set my mind to spinning with implications that I tweeted like a Gatling gun:
* For news, it would be possible to verify that witnesses reporting what they see are where they say they are. Twitpics can be geotagged.
* Local news organizations should build apps to track surges of activity around any address. Could be a news event. Could be hipsters congregating (telling one where hippness happens).
* News orgs could also use it as a reporting tool: the fabled pothole report via Twitter.
* A hyperlocal blog could set up a feed of your neighbors’ tweets all around town.
* Over time, the geoTwitter enables what I’ve been thinking of as the annotation layer atop the real world: diners create simple reviews of a restaurant simply around location, anyone annotating any location.
* I wonder about the commercial applications: subscribing to tweet ads near me.
The live web, the social web, and the geo web come together.
Now there are caveats aplenty. Foursquare is similar and hasn’t yet burned up the world and neither has Google Latitude. Laptops need geolocation. There are privacy concerns that may stop people from switching on geolocation (the default is off). There are dangers; geolocation could have made tweets from Iran more credible but also more perilous for the authors. I wonder why Twitter is choosing to erase geo data after time; this diminishes the value of the annotation layer.
But still, a simple API like this can make the mind spin. Now combine geoTwitter with my recent obsession, Google Wave, and imagine how live and collaborative content can be enhanced with geography. Or add geography to Marissa Mayer’s vision of the hyperpersonal news stream. The possibilities are endless.