I think the hyperlocal nut is really hard to crack. I found this article by one of the founders of Backfence, an early attempt to build hyperlocal sites. There was also a follow saying how Backfence was beaten by the existing ad-hoc forums that had been around for years before Backfence tried to make a community site for cities and neighborhoods.


Nextdoor is doing a really interesting job of cracking the hyperlocal nut, by making online communities small and with real identities, so people feel free to share their information on there. Sadly, it seems like the nextdoor experiment might be swaying to being a ‘security-social-network’, where people just post their concerns about strange cars in the neighborhood, or updates from the police. (This is is all anecdotal, from following their blog, since I can’t access any of the nextdoor neighborhoods for obvious reasons).


I think the city-reddits are a really great example of what a hyperlocal community could look like. I think if you combined something like this with the localwiki effort, you’d have a pretty neat little bit of technology. The problem I see, is that it looks like if you worked with the city reddit mods and asked them what you could build to make their life easier, you could eventually come up with a feature set that was superior to the city-reddit experience, but how on earth would you cold-start the communities. You’d have to build something that people can’t do anywhere else on the internet, some unique feature that people would invite their friends to use the site.

Unique Feature

For Facebook it was the ability to upload information about yourself so that people could find you (remember this was back in 2004, and that was a unique proposition). Instagram has filters. The cold start problem really if the hard part. I think a lot of people can imagine how a good local social network would work, but getting it started is the hard part. I’m in a pretty unique position, in that I could create a pretty good city-based local network for Wellington, Dunedin, Auckland and Christchurch, using Zoomin, but I don’t know what I would need to add to get the community that lives at /r/wellington, to move over to zoomin and add their uniqueness to my site.

Zoomin as a model

If I could work out how to make a great hyperlocal site, I could hack it into ZoomIn, advertise to the all the users that hit it each day (about 10,000 a day across New Zealand), and show how a hyperlocal site would work. But there are so many apps doing so many different takes on the hyperlocal scene, so many sites that have tried and failed at building local communities.

One thing that I keep coming back to is to make a sort of ‘search engine’ for local data, where you suck in data feeds from Facebook, Twitter, all over the web and put it on one map so that people can see what’s going on nearby. I really thought that would work, but Spindle did a really good job of that, and they never got traction.

You might think that just letting people add their thoughts to the map would create a community, but Findery is doing that, and they have the best community-development team in the world, and they’re still not taking off. Maybe you should create a local-Q and A site, but Localuncle and Localmind tried that, creating really nice iphone apps, and there is no community there.

The davis wiki is a great example of what a community-based local site can be, with masses of content for a small college town in the US. So the localwiki project was created, and they’ve created amazing wiki software with a wysiwyg editor, and the ability to tag pages with location information so you can see maps of all the pages in your city, and it has shown pretty good growth, but when you look at some of the bigger wikis, like the sfwiki, they’re still not the heaving communities that the Davis Wiki was. I’m not sure what is missing, maybe the Davis Wiki had a unique opportunity because it was created before there were a lot of other places to forment local community on the web.

I guess that leaves yelp, google maps and foursquare, which are pumping, but are they the Facebooks for cities? I think the closest to what I envisage would be the yelp forum pages. Mmmm, anyway, time to think on.