There are some fascinating lessons to be learned from the closure of BackFence.com in the US. I think the most salient come in the comments to this story, namely that:
• “Hyper-local is about utility and networks of people, not citizen journalism”
• “they approached the problem from the top down rather than working to organize and shape existing natural local networks and chatter”
• “See the existing 72,000+ public ‘neighborhood’ Yahoo Groups (and who knows how many private groups) and the fast growing Facebook Regional networks as proof points of scalable hyper-local models…and the focus of these services isn’t even hyper-local!”
It’s clear to me, having watched the debates about citizen journalism (effectively ordinary people acting like reporters) on the one hand and social media (like MySpace, Facebook, even YahooGroups) on the other, that in every scenario social media wins. Why? Because of time. The simple fact is most people don’t have time to create content around their local area. Believe me, I’ve done it (professionally as a local newspaper journalist, and privately as a local activist). It’s a pain!
The only thing that makes it easier is being able to do it in “gulps” as in “Here’s the local phone number for this service” or “here’s where you sign up for this”. That’s it. Most people can’t do much more and those that could don’t have the time. Microblogging and Facebook status updates are literally a gift from heaven in this scenario.
That’s why social networks which give local people the tools to connect and create knowledge selfish/selflessley will win in this game. That’s also why local newspapers are potentially screwed.