Local ain’t easy (cont.)

Catching up on my blog reading this weekend, I see further discussion from the folks at the frontlines of trying to make hyperlocal work. We all believe it will work. It has to. We care about our towns. We write about what we care about. Local advertisers care about us. It has to work. But how? No one has cracked the code yet. Because local ain’t easy.

Jay Rosen asked Liz George, Debbie Galant’s partner at New Jersey’s own Baristanet.com, to review Backfence.com, a funded hyperlocal content company in Virginia. I’m a big fan of Baristanet and I was glad to be around in its delivery room; Debbie has said she was inspired to chuck big media and go hyperlocal at least in part at an NJ.com hyperlocal meetup we held when I was there. I’m also a friend of Mark Potts, who with his partner, Susan DeFife, founded Backfence; Mark learned from a number of other projects, including Northwestern’s GoSkokie.com project, which I worked with while at Advance. So I’m rooting for them all to find the way to make it work. I theorized. They’re doing it. They’re putting their money where my mouth is.

In Liz’s strong review of Backfence, we see a conflict of two models: centralized efforts to encourage hyperlocal citizens’ media (Backfence, Riffs, Judy’s Book) v. decentralized efforts that start up on their own (Baristanet, Gothamist, H2OTown). Decentralized is messier but I believe it is ultimately the way things will work because it is truly about local control: In the decentralized model, people start their efforts because they want to, not because somebody had to convince them to. On the other hand, I learned through Advance and GoSkokie that to make this work, hyperlocal needs TLC in some form: functionality, content, promotion, ad sales, something. What’s the right mix? Haven’t the faintest.

Then Pegasus chimes in, arguing in favor of some form of hybrid, but Pegasus remains an unlaunched unknown there.

The bottom line is that we need more experimentation and study and — I agree with Lockhart Steele — more study to find out what clicks.

Stop be before I call for Hyperlocalcon.