Rich Skrenta’s The Other Local talk at Web 2.0 Expo highlighted some of his company’s (Topix) experiences building communities around hyper-local content.
- Topix started out aggregating news sites by category or topic. They didn’t try to do local news but that’s where they saw interest and growth.
- Topix has found geo-localizing ads from Google can effectively target advertising with zero cost for sales.
- Google is the largest online ad service with 500k advertisers. But there are 6 million local businesses in the United States.
- The problem Topix ran into was not enough local news to keep people engaged. Total number of stories coming out per day = 22,293. Total number of populated ZIP codes in US = 32,500.
- Topix tried to index blogs to increase their amount of aggregated local content. But mainstream media spends 25% of time on local. Bloggers spend even less (12% on local news). So the blogging community wasn’t able to fill the need for increased local content.
- Mainstream media is slowly going away as it is funded by print advertising. The Web kills revenue for other media but it doesn’t replace it. The local classifieds revenue displaced by a free service like Craiglist remove the money from the marketplace. This is a problem for Topix because it relies on local news to be published.
- To address the problem of not enough local content (from mainstream media & blogs) Topix added discussion forums and used the existing stories as bait. When users switched from read only to discussion as well, session length went up from 2 to 20 page views per user.
- In one use case, a local disaster kicked off a discussion, gossip about the town kept it going, and now the forum has discussions of real civic issues.
- Today, Topix has as much content created in their forums as they aggregate from mainstream media & blogs.