It seems everybody’s going local these days. The latest entries from Web publishers, including Weblogs and BackFence, indicate it’s all experimentation at this stage in the game.
“This is a speculative space and no one has made it work yet. So there is a lot of work to do,” observed Jason Calacanis, CEO of AOL’s Weblogs, a blog publisher that just launched an Ohio-centric blog. “Frankly, I’m not sure how many of these we’ll do… We’re going to see how this one goes and grow from there,” he continued in an email interview with ClickZ News, the dialog of which he posted yesterday to his own site in true blogger fashion.
“We’ve got some advertisers lined up already, and I’m sure we’ll have more in the future,” commented Calacanis, indicating he thinks both local Ohio-based companies and national advertisers aiming to target Ohio consumers will be interested in the new site.
Weblogs, purchased by AOL in October 2005, is a growing network of blogs including the well-trafficked tech-centric Engadget and a host of others about subjects as diverse as cancer and food. Thus far, Blogging Ohio features posts on a variety of topics from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to a dive bar in Akron and a small bookshop in Medina. The question is, is such content relevant to a reader living up to 100 miles south in Columbus? This is one issue such sites are up against.
Backfence, a company building a network of user-generated, regional sites hopes its “hyper local” approach is the answer. As part of its effort to branch out in the San Francisco Bay Area, the firm just acquired Bayosphere, a citizen journalism site co-founded by online media guru Dan Gillmor. “What we’ll do is put the hyper local model on top of [Bayosphere],” explained Backfence CEO, Susan DeFife.
Until now, Backfence has homed in on the D.C.-metro area through sites dedicated to Arlington, McLean and Reston, VA and Bethesda, MD. The sites are comprised only of user-generated content and allow readers to promote events, rate and review local businesses, create photo galleries and post free classifieds listings.
“Advertisers are clamoring for the most local customers, particularly the small and medium sized businesses,” suggests DeFife. “They’re looking for the best way to target that local customer.” According to DeFife, Backfence will begin a direct appeal to local advertisers such as small retailers or restaurants in the next 30 days. Once Backfence launches 4 or 5 sites in one particular region, the company will go after real estate firms that typically deal in relatively broader markets. Backfence currently offers display ads, enhanced yellow pages listings and classifieds.
The company will launch the first of five Bay Area sites, one focused on Palo Alto, next month. The Bayosphere site is now branded as a Backfence site, and Gillmor’s popular Bayosphere blog on technology and media will now reside in the Backfence domain. The publisher is eyeing other major metro markets such as Seattle, Chicago and New York for future sites. DeFife mentioned more acquisitions to enable entry into other markets are possible.
The key to attracting ad dollars to local sites, according to Calacanis and DeFife is building critical mass; a big enough readership or community. In regards to Blogging Ohio and future local efforts, Calacanis noted, “My guess is these blogs will lose money for at least a year before they hit profitability.”
In the hopes of achieving an audience large enough to allow for a cost-efficient means of serving local advertisers, Advance Internet has launched a series of blogs focusing on locales affiliated with the company’s regional newspaper sites including NJ.com’s Southwest Journal and Cleveland.com’s Lakewood Life.
The Washington Post Company is set to launch its own hyper local site serving D.C.-based readers of its free daily, Express. About.com also has nearly 40 local sites presented in blog format in its Cities and Towns section. Gothamist is another well-known blog focusing on New York City.
“I’m really excited to see all this experimenting in the space,” declared DeFife, adding, “There will be several companies that will ultimately emerge in this space.”