Goodbye Backfence

So, you might have heard — Backfence.com is shutting its doors. As expected, the industry insiders (Greg Sterling, Peter Krasilovsky, etc.) have commented most eloquently. However, Perry Evans has posted my favorite analysis of the dilemma that was the ultimate demise of Backfence. He gives the best “when the rubber meets the road” commentary on why hyper-local may or may not work.

In reference to whether or not hyper-local destination sites can be created and survive, Evans states the following:

“I am constantly pleased by the insight I read from newspaper new media executives. Nothing I am saying hasn’t been said, debated and documented in the newspaper industry. Having said that, the gap between understanding and execution is one perplexing motherload of a gap.”

Additionally, American Journalism Review (AJR) takes quite a long look at the Backfence situation. Here’s my favorite part:

“What we’re struggling with, and every major paper is struggling with, is how to reach our audience on a granular level, in a way we’ve never reached them before.” — Jonathan Krim, WPNI.

So, nobody has figured out hyper-local yet. Everybody says it’s doomed and can’t be done. yet more and more companies keep trying. I love that the AJR article recognizes the Lawrence Journal-World as one of the few innovators that have been successful. The LJW was my news source for many a year when I was in school at Kansas University. The town of Lawrence is truly a remarkable anomaly in the middle of nowhere midwestern U.S.A.

Well folks, those of us here in Kansas must be on to something, because eNeighbors will do exactly what all the experts say can’t be done, and we aren’t doing it in San Fran or Philly or DC or Chicago.

First, we’ll build the online network that residents in the community will actually visit and populate with relevant “backyard” content. Next, we’ll build the ad network that will allow those residents to access local business and service provider information. Finally, the entire platform will give way to highly targeted, community-driven citizen journalism, political activism and the ultimate “grail” of all — offline human interaction.

Join us in our vision, and get your neighborhood online today.

Dove: The Social Ad (r)Evolution

Dove’s “Evolution” video wins the top prize at Cannes Lions Ad Festival this year. This viral video was created as part of Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and promotes Dove’s self-esteem charity efforts.

Why is this important?

The social movement on the internet (i.e. web 2.0) has allowed this ad to be viewed and dicussed at unprecedented levels. This ad campaign was fueled by the masses. Five (heck, even three) years ago, this type of awareness and communication simply did not exist.

Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Buzz Metrics has a great post that details out the specifics of Dove’s marketing success.

This just proves that the social web matters in the “real world” and can be used for more things than the MySpace crowd’s party shout outs and obsessive niche markets like twitter and Google Earth. When companies start talking to us about stuff that matters, we get engaged and become part of the community.

Welcome to the (r)evolution.

Can Online Advertising Be Useful?

The Future of Online Advertising (FOOA) conference wrapped a couple weeks back, and I’ve been reading a lot of summaries and commentary about the different sessions and the overall direction of online advertising.

Not surprisingly, the topic of video was very hot. YouTube and Google made sure of that. And of course, the traditional TV networks are in full support of a medium that they are at least somewhat familiar with, but the trend that I thought was more relevant to us here at eNeighbors was the demand that online direct marketing be even more measured and tracked than it already is, and secondly, that the media and channels provide accountability.

With so many different online channels (e.g., blogs, videos, social networks, etc.) to use for your ad campaign, picking the right ones are going to be determined by how measureable and accountable a particular channel is willing to be.

Additionally, the content aggregators that are stripping content from their source only complicates the measurability situation. So, I think the question for how to determine effectiveness will ultimately end up with figuring out where and how people want to receive their content. And if (and that’s a big “if”) when they do receive that content in their personalized fashion, they are willing to put up with advertising.

The key is relevance. If I’m looking for a new grass treatment company for my lawn, then I’ll welcome all the ads I can get for lawn companies. But the icing on the cake will be whether I can quantify those ads in regards to value.

So, what we need is useful aggregator of content that is personal and relevant. And when I need it, provides me with a useful way to find and assess a service provider for whatever my need might be.

Good luck.

eNeighbors: High Relevancy

Transparent Real Estate has a good post on hyperlocal websites as it relates to the real estate industry.

To sum it up, eNeighbors has the most highly relevant user-base to which a realtor can advertise.

Let me stress that eNeighbors is not a tool for realtors. Our customers are neighborhoods and their residents. Of course, that’s what makes us such a desirable target for realtors.

I’ve had several realtors ask me if they can pay for their neighborhood to get an eNeighbors website and my answer is always no. In order for a neighborhood website to be of value, we must establish a relationship with the board of directors or other neighborhood leadership.

However, if you’re a realtor and you want to get your neighborhood online. I would suggest that you email the board president and let them know about eNeighbors. Ask them to consider it at their next board meeting and forward them the eNeighbors website address – www.eNeighbors.com for more information.

Once the neighborhood is online, you can advertise for free in the classified section if you’re a resident. You can also sponsor the website to maximize your exposure whether you’re a resident or not.

Neighborhood Search from Google

Last Friday, Google posted on its Lat Long Blog that Google Maps now has neighborhood search capability. To any but the most savvy users, this could be very misleading. Here’s the part that intrigues me:

Recently Google Maps introduced the ability to perform searches by neighborhoods. Neighborhoods tend to be somewhat informally defined but well recognized in certain cities. Neighborhood search is now available in fifty US cities, with more to follow.

The part about “informally defined” seems to be loophole to me. And then there’s the caveat of “only available in 50 US cities” which is the misleading part (since the title of the blog post doesn’t specificy “which” neighborhoods).

All this aside, I played along to see what the results would look like in Kansas City. Granted, KC is not the biggest metro in the country, but it’s respectable. My first search for art galleries on the Plaza gave me only one gallery that was actually on the Plaza (I know of at least 10 more). The other two results were in Kansas as far south as Leawood since Google didn’t know the difference between the Plaza and Hawthorne Plaza out south.

Second, I thought I’d try it on an actual neighborhood. I picked Mission Hills since it’s probably the premiere neighborhood in KC with the likes of Henry Block, George Brett, The Halls family, and The Russell Stover’s mansion being just a few of the well known residents. Looking for coffee around the Mission Hills neighborhood was a little better but not much. Only one of the results would I actually classify as being in Mission Hills.

My point in all this is that true neighborhood search still does not exist. It’s not even close. Google is still simply matching keywords to business listings. An actual framework of neighborhoods just doesn’t exist. Yelp comes close, and Urban Mapping has made some headway, but there still isn’t a true neighborhood level index to search from or serve content to.

Bottom line, it takes a lot of good old fashioned hard work, unique local knowledge, and lot of time to build such a network; and it’s just not economically viable for the large search companies to go down that road.

Social Networks & Advertising

Some good info on ad placement in social networks over on eMarketer today. MySpace and YouTube top the list (not surprising). Driving traffic and brand awareness are the top reasons for the placements. One of the questions posed is how do people use search when they are interacting within these social networks?

Interesting to see Craigslist in the #5 spot for the most ad spend. Good sign that local ad spending and hyper-local audiences are being considered across the board.

The Local Rant

Ahmed Farooq has a great rant on his blog, tech soapbox, about paid reviews and how useless and ineffective they’ve become. But the thing that grabbed my attention was buried in the middle — Ahmed provides some outstanding insight to the difficulty of understanding and utilizing local data.

(The following is in reference to their product iBegin Source)

“I’ll admit people have a hard time understanding the significance – local data is expensive, and that is why we keep seeing the same re-hashed sites. Plus – local data is inaccurate. Horribly so.”

Bottom line is, guys like Ahmed have been working on the data trying to figure out a way to make it relevant. To make it contextual. To make it usable. While other sites (like us here at eNeighbors) are trying to gather the users in one place. A place where local data is again — relevant.

So how do we bring this local data together and give it to the users?

Once again, I think the reason this is so hard is because when you go to Google, Yahoo or MSN, you start at the top. Then you work your way down to the city level. Then if your lucky, you can get to your community level (this is where Ahmed’s comment about the horrible inaccuracies kicks in).

It just makes sense to approach the users from the bottom up. I understand the cost issues associated with keeping a presence in every community in the country — it can’t be done. That’s why you let the residents do it.

But the problem is, they have to care enough to do their share of the work. Why should they care? No one has made it apparent as to how they will benefit. It’s not clear how their input will make their lives better. We need a way for residents to engage in conversation with other residents and in turn provide that missing link of local information that they seek, but don’t fully understand.

Ta da! It’s here. eNeighbors provides this exact sort of communciation platform, and in turn also allows the hyper-local presence that is a perfect match for local data on small businesses at the community level.

 Learn more about eNeighbors

Direct mail is doomed

If you didn’t get your Mother’s Day card out on time this year, it may cost you. Yes, it’s true, stamp prices are up to 41 cents effective on Monday. I know what you’re thinking. Who cares? It’s only a 2 cent increase.

You and I might not care when it comes to sending important mail. You can be sure that 2 cents isn’t going to stand in the way of my mom getting her Mother’s Day card.

But 2 cents is a huge hit to the direct mail industry. This means it costs more to send you advertisements in the mail that you don’t want. Which is good for you and me.

According to my grandfather, there used to be a time when getting the mail was actually the high point of a person’s day. People looked forward to walking to the post office, dialing in the combination to their box eagerly anticipating the contents inside, which was exclusively letters from friends and family – no junk mail.

Today, I find going to the mailbox painful. I can’t wait for the day when all my bills are delivered electronically so there will finally be no reason for me to check the mail ever again. Sometimes I almost feel stupid going to the mailbox. Like today for example. I went to the mailbox and found it stuffed from top to bottom with crap. I walk over to the community-provided trashcan and begin to throw each letter, flyer, and postcard in the trash one at a time, making sure that I’m not missing anything of value. When I’m done, I have no mail left in my hands. I have effectively wasted 2 minutes of my day moving trash from one box to another!

Did you know that:

  • Each year, 100 million trees are used to produce junk mail
  • 250,000 homes could be heated with one day’s supply of junk mail
  • Americans receive almost 4 million tons of junk mail every year

Junk MailIf increasing postage rates doesn’t stop direct mail, consumer behavior will. In my own experience, I just don’t pay attention to junk mail any more. And by the looks of my community trash can, neither does anyone else.

If everybody hates direct mail so much and it doesn’t work effectively as an advertising medium, then why do advertisers still do it? Quite frankly, because there’s no alternative…yet.

As eNeighbors continues to grow our national network of neighborhoods, we will become the first hyper-local network from which advertisers can contextually and geographically target their message.

This is a huge win for advertisers and consumers. Local advertisers will finally have a way to follow consumers online, and consumers can expect unobtrusive and highly relevant adverts that actually help them. For example, coupons to your neighborhood restaurant accompanied with restaurant ratings and reviews provided by your neighbors. Looking for a plumber? Find out who your neighbors use.

Until then, here’s to no more junk mail, and a very Happy Mother’s Day!

The Tech Threshhold

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently published a study on the usage of information and communications technology (there’s a great breakdown here). This includes internet and cell phone usage. The most interesting part that jumped out at me was the number of users that either are annoyed by technology (29%) or don’t use it due to inexperience (23%). So, I ask this question:

If technology was easier to use (and understand), would more people be comfortable using it? Or, does the very nature of technology limit the number of users that will adopt it?

In context, this is very relevant to me relating specifically to the work I did on the eNeighbors application interface. My design efforts were focused on simplicity and a very “non tech” look and feel, but even more importantly, the very essence of the application was designed to focus on a small number of tasks and to perform those tasks easily and efficiently. In short, I was targeting the inexperienced technology user with no prior exposure to things like web 2.0 sites, Ajax tools, RSS, blogs, etc. Does this make it more likely to be used, or will those individuals who resist using technology still be reluctant to adopt the tool?

I think the key is relevance.

If a technology tool can provide a service or information that is relevant to the user, those previous biases can be overcome since there is a very real reward for exerting that extra effort.

When it comes to content, there are certain types of information that we’ve become numb to. TV commercials, banner ads, etc. have lost a significant amount of their impact due to the fact we encounter them when they are not relevant. I think the future of online advertising is heavily dependent on this concept of relevance.

I realize that is exactly what Google keywords does (and why it’s been so successful), but ultimately, the amount of quality within those pieces of relevant information needs to grow before we once again grow numb to it. That level of quality is going to be based on filters and behavioral awareness. There must be a limit to the information, otherwise it loses it’s impact. And that it is exactly why there is a race to the “local” finish line. The question is: where does that line exist?

I like to think it’s in my own backyard.

Does “Local” Really Work?

There’s been a rash of local listing websites sprouting up lately (CityWaboo, Oddpath, FatDoor) and even more adding new features to their existing services (Local, AskCity, Superpages, CitySearch).

All these sites claim to connect me with all sorts of restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, events, etc. in my area, but they all seem like they just rehash the same data. Additionally, it occured to me that I can search all day long for chinese restaurants in my neighborhood, but the only one I’m going to eat at is the one my friend says is really good because he ate there last week.

So, what does that mean? Am I unusual? Do people really perform random searches for new bars to hang out in? Where is the word of mouth captured in these scenarios? We all know the personal recommendations matter the most. JudysBook and Yelp are on the right track, but unless I know any of the people giving the review, what’s the likelyhood that I’ll seriously consider it? In my experience… not very.

So how do you connect hyper-local audiences so they can share their collective insight and personal experiences? Furthermore, how do local service providers then tap into that collective to grow their business?

Start by getting your neighborhood online.