HyperLocal Websites: Impressive But Still Lacking a Sense of “Place”

I am playing with some local news websites, which focus on aggregating government statistics, user-generated content, and news from a variety of sources. While these site don’t feel whole yet, they offer some very compelling glimpses into how local news can be covered in the future. Here is a taste of a few of the sites:

ChicagoCrime.orgIt is a little frightening to visualize how much crime occurs each day by seeing a map of it.

The website is essentially a mashup of Google Maps and data from The Chicago Police Department. There are 10 ways to sort the data, including by ward, crime type, date, etc.

Since the site is automated, it is amazing to realize the wealth of data that can be displayed without a team culling through it. Of course, greater detail on the crimes would be helpful (the site is actively pursuing this), and links to “reporting” on higher profile crimes would make the site more compelling.

Like many local sites, Outside.in is sparse when you aren’t looking at a major metropolitan area. Even in highly populated suburbs outside New York City, there is very little content, and certainly no compelling reason to frequent the site with any consistency.

If I search on the Manhattan neighborhood with zip code 10010, I get a list of stories/reviews that center on restaurants. The list is organized by date, and is an aggregation of content from other websites.

To me, my experience on the site lacked a sense of “place.” This is where aggregation fails… when the sum of its parts do not create something unique or compelling. (For aggregation that works, see a site like Hype Machine.

YourStreet.comThis site is another aggregator, but their map is pretty cool. It shows three elements:

  • News – an aggregation from a variety of news sources.
  • Conversations – people can start conversations based on a location, such as a restaurant.
  • Neighbors – people can create profiles, based on their home or business location.

Still sparse on content, but I like how it blends these three elements together.

This site just launched, and is another take on aggregating government & city data, with user-generated content from other sites such as Flickr photos, and news aggregation.

It is a compelling data set to link together, but the interface will need to evolve. Worth watching though.

Overall, Fred Wilson looks to the road ahead for hyperlocal websites:

“Techcrunch calls outside.in a competitor of EveryBlock. I think collaborator is more like it. It’s going to take more than one company to rebuild the local newspaper from the ground up.”

“The thing that has to happen and will happen, I just don’t know when, is that we are going to program our community newspapers ourselves.”

There are plenty of other hyperlocal websites out there, I just profiled a few that TechCrunch linked to.

What is most fascinating is how these sites, and even newspaper websites, are partnering with each other in order to create a complete picture of the community, and offer a wider range of services. However local newspapers evolve as they move to the web, they will not own all of their content as they once did in print. I think this will better serve the community, in the long run… it’s a fascinating process to watch, and eventually, be a part of!

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