New Directions for The New Hyperlocal: Mobile, Big Data Opens Up The Doors

Hyperlocal has been widely seen as a failure in the wake of AOL’s huge loss from its investment in Patch. But new life has been breathed into hyperlocal via mobile-based geotargeting and the contemporary grab bag of Big Data resources.

NextDoorEveryblock, and LocalBlox are among the leaders of a new generation of mobile-oriented hyperlocal sites. Each vies to provide block-by-block, hyperlocal information for consumers and businesses, which can include crime blotters, local government data, maps, business recommendations, entertainment calendars, traffic reports and even baby-sitting services.

Other sites, such as Intersection in New York, are providing hyperlocal advertising based on WiFi access. Townsquared, similarly, is providing hyperlocal services, but with a B2B focus.

Some of the data for these sites comes from open data portals, which are increasingly available for the largest cities. Other data is syndicated from sites like Yelp and The Weather Channel. Other information is organic and comes straight from consumers – arguably, the hardest part of the equation, although new tools make it easier to contribute and gather.

NextDoor is the furthest along in gathering consumers, with one million posts a day coming from users in 53,000 “micro-communities.” The site has focused on gaining users, and just recently announced that it will take sponsored ads from businesses, accompanied by business directories carved from neighbor recommendations.

At this point, NextDoor has received more than 800,000 cites of specific businesses. While the site needs to go gingerly towards commercialization, the site is well-funded for a site that heretofore lacked a revenue stream, with $210 million raised.

EveryBlock, meanwhile, is Comcast’s resurrection of Adrian Holovaty’s original data/journalism site. The site was inherited by Comcast via its purchase of NBC, which closed down the money- losing venture in early 2013 after it had been operating for five years.

The site – which carries a subtag of “be a better neighbor” — is now operating in a number of key Comcast markets (Chicago, Fresno, Hialeah, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston, Denver, Medford,MA and Nashville.) EveryBlock has also positioned itself as a hyperlocal platform for other sites. The neighborhood pages for Philadelphia’s BillyPenn news site, for instance, uses Everyblock’s API.

One shortcut it is using to “scale” is centralizing most of its employees at Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters. That’s a tough dance to pull off for a site that really wants to be local. There have been some suggestions that Comcast is using EveryBlock as a substitute for supporting public access TV, which is much more expensive to run (and really hasn’t hit a chord with audiences).

But the team behind EveryBlock appears determined to serve as many aspects of the community as possible, and with significantly better posting than when originally launched in 2008, including content saving tools like RSS, and targeting tools. They may also look for synergies with NextDoor — Comcast Ventures is a major investor in the site.

Seattle-based LocalBlox, meanwhile, concentrates on the big data aspect of hyperlocal, breaking down key databases by zipcode and now covering 112,000 neighborhoods. LocalBlox is especially useful for travelers and business investors.

At this point, we are just getting used to the new goalposts set for hyperlocal. To be sure, the goals of these sites are very different than Patch and others, which vied to be true community voices and directories and marketplaces. These mostly vie to be information resources.

But we’ll see how they develop. Ultimately, they can serve a larger purpose for a giant conglomerate, such as Comcast, or serve as a valuable prize for companies like Google or Yelp, which can use them to fill in some blanks.