July 9th, 2007

Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence

by

There’s been a lot of debate about what killed Backfence, the hyperlocal news site. Was it poor design? Lack of incentives for users to generate content? Bad business model? Maybe all of these contributed.

But what really killed Backfence was Google and Web 1.0.

One of the first Backfence localities was Reston, VA. Here’s what you get when you do a Google search for Reston:

google-reston.jpg

The second result is Reston Web — the Reston Virginia Community Website.

restonweb-homepage.jpg

Holy Web 1.0, Batman! What is this thing?

Apparently, it’s a thriving community website, and has been for quite some time (hence the high Google ranking). If you check out the old fashioned bulletin board, you’ll find a thriving community, i.e. all of the people who never discovered — and never needed — Backfence. Sure Backfence had rounded corners and other Web 2.0 spice, but it turns out residents of Reston don’t really care about that stuff — nobody does.

restonweb-forum.jpg

Do a search for Ashburn, another Backfence locality, and you’ll find more ponderously 1.0 sites — this one, Ashburnweb (see the theme here?), dates back to 1996:

ashburnweb.jpg

The Google search results for Backfence localities also includes community centers, home owners associations, and other community hubs that long predate Backfence.

And where is Backfence in Google? It’s there, usually on the second page (where no one could find it), sometimes on the bottom of the first.

But here’s the real indictment of Backfence and all of the current thinking on “hyperlocal.” In the age of Google, you no longer have to guess what’s on people’s minds regarding a particular topic — Google’s database is all-knowing, all-seeing. Here’s what real people have on their minds when they are thinking hyperlocally about Reston (first bar is June search volume and second bar is advertiser competition for that keyword):

reston-google-searches.jpg

Hyperlocal is about “community,” sure, but on the Web it’s more about utility — hyperlocal is where we lead our daily lives and all the things we need to get done. We need to know where to live, where to find the zoo, where to eat out, where to play golf, where the local YMCA is, and where to see a dentist.

The problem with all the thinking on hyperlocal is that it’s focused on what we think people need, i.e. more local news reporting, not what they want, i.e. help getting things done — web publishers figured out 10 years ago how to give people what they want, and then Google stepped in and took care of the rest.

That doesn’t mean that hyperlocal can’t evolve in the 2.0 era — but it needs to do so with a keen understanding of how the Web works, and not a nostalgia for how local newspapers used to work.

(Oh, regarding businesses models…none of the 1.0 sites that rank high in Google, and thus get tons of traffic, appears to be a thriving businesses — something to meditate on.)

Comments (38 Responses so far)

  1. Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence » Publishing 2.0

  2. Backfence died because it was made obsolete by Google’s relevancy algorithms and older local community sites. The commoditization of local data is only going to get worse. iBegin Source allows you to search or browse local business information for free, or buy an

  3. On the heels of hyperlocal pioneer Backfence shutting down, the Washington Post has

  4. Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence

  5. Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence » Publishing 2.0

  6. May I suggest some new Backlink acronyms?, SEO Scoop SEO & Link Building Via Blog Comments, Search Engine Journal Local, Maps & Mobile UK Geocoding Now Available in the Maps API, Google Maps API Blog Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence, Publishing 2.0 New Version of Google Maps for Palm OS Released, Palm Info Center New Seven Wonders of the World in Google Earth, Google Earth Blog Virtual Earth: 26 Terabyte update; includes new 3d and

  7. . Ryan Sholin still believes that newspapers should embrace hyperlocal, and adds to the debate here. UPDATE: Scott Karp at Publishing 20.0 has a different (and, to me, persuasive) perspective today; have a look here. From Sholin: Gather more and produce less … It’s hard for lifelong newsroom types to see layoffs one day and reader participation initiatives the next and not feel a bit slighted. But we’re not just talking about event calendars and little

  8. hyperlocal and the Backfence failure

  9. * Hobby leads to career for tech blogger * Eva Longoria and Tony Parker Marry in a French Church * How Many Europeans Believe in God? (Map) * Florida Soldier To Sue Army to Stop His FIFTH Deployment * Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence

  10. [IMG ] O fechamento do Backfence, que oferecia serviços de jornalismo hiperlocal para 13 localidades nos Estados Unidos, continua gerando uma viva polêmica na Blogosfera. Scott Karp postou no Publishing 2.0 um comentário baseado em algumas buscas realizadas por ele no Google. Em primeiro lugar, Karp mostra que usando como palavra-chave “Reston” (o nome da localidade onde está uma das primeiras comunidades do Backfence), a indicação do Backfence não

  11. , kas padara š?dus resursus pievilc?gus – notikumu kalend?rs un restor?nu gids. Negaid?j?t? Bet manupr?t lo?iski – lai cilv?ki izmantotu j?su resursu, tam pirmk?rt ir j?b?t noder?gam, nevis interesantam. Tas pats Karps k?d? cit? sav? bloga ierakst? uzsver – cilv?kiem nevajag Web 2.0. Vi?iem vajag resursus, kas vi?iem pal?dz dz?vot, getting things done. No savas puses varu piebilst – cilv?ku viedokli vissp?c?g?k ietekm? tieši l?dzpilso?u viedoklis, nevis rekl?mas un PR. T?p?c

  12. ultimate list of Facebook Groups for bloggers, entrepreneurs, and facebook marketers The ultimate list of Facebook Groups for bloggers, entrepreneurs, and facebook marketers Nokia Nseries – products,gateway Vancouver event calendar and map events Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence » Publishing 2.0 LoudounExtra.com | Washington Post Google Local Business Center Welcome to the Local Business Center. Here’s where you can create, edit, or suspend your Google Local business listing. Enter your business information below. Your listing will appear

  13. why they should use it? This is one place where incumbent, offline media may have a great advantage, although in many cases it can’t deliver the message to the targets of greatest opportunity (nonconsumers). See also comments from: Peter Krasilovsky Scott Karp Amy Gahran Paul Fahri Terry Heaton Dan Gillmor Steve Outing … and many more

  14. May I suggest some new Backlink acronyms?, SEO Scoop SEO & Link Building Via Blog Comments, Search Engine Journal Local, Maps & Mobile UK Geocoding Now Available in the Maps API, Google Maps API Blog Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence, Publishing 2.0 New Version of Google Maps for Palm OS Released, Palm Info Center New Seven Wonders of the World in Google Earth, Google Earth Blog Virtual Earth: 26 Terabyte update; includes new 3d and

  15. how newspapers can fend off what many regard as the inevitability of online supremacy in hyperlocal?local politicians and “reviews” of local businesses and services too few in number to have any faith in. So Backfence just plain never caught on, and Scott Karp may have it entirely right that established web 1.0 sites were too much competition for this web 2.0 wannabe to disrupt. He notes that a Google search for “Reston” would not necessarily yield Backfence hits even on the first page, which effectively

  16. how newspapers can fend off what many regard as the inevitability of online supremacy in hyperlocal?local politicians and “reviews” of local businesses and services too few in number to have any faith in. So Backfence just plain never caught on, and Scott Karp may have it entirely right that established web 1.0 sites were too much competition for this web 2.0 wannabe to disrupt. He notes that a Google search for “Reston” would not necessarily yield Backfence hits even on the first page, which effectively

  17. May I suggest some new Backlink acronyms?, SEO Scoop SEO & Link Building Via Blog Comments, Search Engine Journal Local, Maps & Mobile UK Geocoding Now Available in the Maps API, Google Maps API Blog Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence, Publishing 2.0 New Version of Google Maps for Palm OS Released, Palm Info Center New Seven Wonders of the World in Google Earth, Google Earth Blog Virtual Earth: 26 Terabyte update; includes new 3d and

  18. Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence » Publishing 2.0

  19. zowie – good work.

    wonder if any of the other fledgling/flailing local content sites will listen.

  20. Great post. Makes me think of the opportunity for local media right now:

    They need to use their established brands and their still-real print power to build their web sites.

    I’ve seen a few college newspaper sites this year start doing really well over the past year or two, and the communities on them have exploded in size.

  21. Excellent points, but I also think that in the future when hyperlocal sites actually provide decent news of people’s local communities, it will crush Web 1.0 content. Topix has learned that there’s just not very much good hyperlocal news content out there yet. The day is coming for this type of news, but we may have to wait until the Internet-convergence-driven collapse of metro-area news outlets and the subsequent flood of advertiser dollars to hyperlocal sites. (Steve Boriss, TheFutureOfNews.com)

  22. [...] Publishing 2.0: Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence Scott Karp: “[W]hat really killed Backfence was Google and Web 1.0.” … “Hyperlocal is about “community,” sure, but on the Web it’s more about utility”. (tags: backfence hyperlocal journalism) [...]

  23. Excellent analysis. It connects with my personal experience. I live in a tiny village that has a web site/community, a lot of issues to do with fighting developers and that is what matters to the locals. If I forget the URL I just Google the name of the village. Local is Local – duh! For outsiders looking at the area it is about travel/lodging/restaurants/entertainment and those are pretty well coverred.

  24. [...] Scott Karp explains why “hyperlocal” web content is failing to catch on: [...]

  25. Scott,
    Further to your point, USENET actually still is a thriving platform. It’s very unsexy, very un-Web 2.0, but very relevant.
    – Max

  26. Max,

    Imagine USNET with rounded corners — now there’s a killer app!

  27. [...] 07/09/07] Scott Karp points to an active local community site where the news is delivered and discussed on community [...]

  28. [...] Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence [...]

  29. [...] Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence That doesn’t mean that hyperlocal can’t evolve in the 2.0 era — but it needs to do so with a keen understanding of how the Web works, and not a nostalgia for how local newspapers used to work. (tags: local web news newspaper) [...]

  30. [...] at Publishing 2.0 Scott Karp has done some revealing research on what drives online behavior in local communities and [...]

  31. [...] Local (and, “hyperlocal”) company Backfence is shutting down it’s 13 community news sites in a few days. Check out the comprehensive write-up at Screenwerk, Terry Heaton has a great “lessons learned” post, and Scott Karp writes Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence. [...]

  32. I agree that Backfence had a tough row to hoe because of RestonWeb (etc.), but what about this factor: Reston is served remarkably well by three weekly newspapers. Not bad for a population somewhat north of 56k that isn’t even a town. Can the demise of Backfence also or actually be a case of an entrenched non-digital media slaying a newcomer?

  33. [...] Wrong On Hyperlocal: Google And Web 1.0 Killed Backfence » Publishing 2.0 “The problem with all the thinking on hyperlocal is that it’s focused on what we think people need, i.e. more local news reporting, not what they want, i.e. help getting things done” (tags: internet socialmedia community participatory journalism hyperlocal citizenmedia backfence deadpool) [...]

  34. [...] Scott Karp argues that there were already other, better sites out there which made Backfence irrelevant. [...]

  35. I’ve done a lot of reading on hyper-local since the Backfence announcement, and I have to give it to you. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head on this subject better than anyone I’ve read so far.

    I especially like your phrase, “The problem with all the thinking on hyperlocal is that it’s focused on what we think people need, i.e. more local news reporting, not what they want.”

    Some good old-fashioned commonsense at work there.

  36. The idea behind Backfence, that people have more in common with locals and enjoy discussing local matters, is the problem. Most people online would rather discuss their favourite topic with someone in Russia than the mayor’s re-election campaign with their closest neighbour. That’s one reason why they go online: to find people who are interested in what they enjoy.

    It was a flawed idea from the start.

  37. [...] the heels of hyperlocal pioneer Backfence shutting down, the Washington Post has launched its own hyperlocal experiment — LoudounExtra.com, a site [...]

  38. [...] angeblich so hyperlokalen Bürgerjournalismus-Portals Backfence geprägte) Gedanke, dass eigentlich derzeit nur Google wirklich hyperlocal ist, weil Google über die Suchanfragen weiß, was ein Nutzer sucht. Dabei sollte es doch [...]

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