Hyper(local) ventilating

Some notes from the hyperlocal front:

* This week marked the debut of the highly-touted hyperlocal site TBD.com in Washington. Although the site does not seem that far different from other hyperlocals that have cropped up, what’s behind the home page is far more unique.

First, the developers of TBD, for the most part, have a background in Washington-area journalism, many coming from the Washington Post and its website. So there is a sense of institutional knowledge that sites like Patch lack. Second, the site is partners with a local ABC-TV affiliate, so the traditional synergies are coming from the broadcast side of the fence, instead of the print. That may actually provide an advantage in writing bright and tight — as well as more compelling multimedia — to the site.

TBD also has developed ‘relationships’ with a network of local bloggers to help the editorial staff of about 12 develop local content for the site. Though they’ve been very shy of giving out details of this blogger ‘relationship,’ it is assumed that they are compensated in some way.

In a recent blog chat with the Poynter Institute, TBD’s Steve Buttry stressed the key to the site’s success is developing community engagement.  Buttry’s cry is no different from other ventures, but if TBD’s blogger ‘relationship’ gives the front-line writers feeling of empowerment and buy-in (such as the relationship Examiner.com enjoys with its blogger network), then they may actually have success. 

TBD will be the one to watch over the next year.

* AOL’s Patch hyperlocal network continues to grow. This week they opened their 100th site in New Jersey, and are targeting 500 sites by year’s end. Locally, two sites have opened in suburban Chicago, with Patch’s home page promising 9 more sites soon. Their recruiting efforts locally have targeted more than 50 communities.

(Disclosure: My wife has done contract work for Patch, and I was recruited for a position.)

Patch’s aggressiveness to build a nationwide network of laser-local sites is certainly attractive to the national advertisers AOL is trying to woo with the promise of getting a national brand to Main Street level. However, in a market where there is plenty of competition and a decent showing from the Tribune Co.-owned Triblocal sites, it remains an uphill battle to sell Patch and AOL to people who do not have a ‘local’ impression on the brand.

Plus, it’s cookie-cutter design may help keep Patch’s costs down (and low-to-no overhead is a key in its operation), but provides as much local “feel” as McDonald’s. By itself it looks fine, but as you go from town to town, you realize they are all alike. 

Selling Patch’s as “local” — especially in markets where hyperlocals already exist — will be a tough row to hoe.

Right now, my money’s on TBD.

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