Does Local Search Equal A Trillion Dollars?

How many times have you gone to Best Buy to buy a new camera/TV/computer/printer and were carrying a bunch of printouts of product reviews you got from researching online first?

More and more of us are now researching purchases “online” and then buying “offline” in our respective local communities. In fact, Yahoo just released a study that confirms this behavior, and even more specifically outlines how online advertising affects offline purchase behavior.

Greg Sterling, interestingly enough, calls this behavior “Local Search” by way of his definition:

“Local search is a process where users conduct research online but with the ultimate intention or result being an offline transaction. It’s about the Internet influencing real-world buying decisions.”

In my mind, this means that “local search” really means “local buying” due to the fact that these two actions are merely steps in the traditional commerce process. In other words, you aren’t going to search for a service or product outside of your geographical vicinity if you intend to buy it offline.

Here’s the other part of Greg’s post that got my attention:

The phrase, The Trillion Dollar Marketplace, comes from recent Jupiter and Forrester e-commerce/retail reports that predict the Internet will be influencing a trillion dollars of offline (local) spending by either 2010 or 2011.

Personally, I think this estimate is a bit overly optimistic (1999 flashback, anyone?), but the point is that we spend most of our buying dollars in the physical community in which we live. You can’t buy food out of state and have it shipped (I guess you could, but it wouldn’t be hot). Most of us still like to try our clothes on before purchasing, and there’s no denying the joy of instant gratification (or less hassle of returns) of picking up that shiny new gadget toy from your local electronics store today (rather than in 7-10 business days). And if I want any type of service or repair for my house or car, guess what, it’s going to be local.

More and more, it’s becoming important for online buying guides to provide very relevant and very accurate local retail guides. Innovations like alerts to local sales and special offers or service referrals from your in-town friends and family are going to become imperative for the bricks and mortar lot to compete for those dollars that are not spent in the online channel.

Will Newspapers Survive?

There’s an excellent article in this month’s Wired by Jeff Howe about the impact the internet is having on the newspaper industry. The story centers around Gannett and their efforts to thwart the decline that the entire news world is experiencing.

Having worked for the Kansas City Star at one point in my career, I can personally vouch for the ingrained behavior of the news publication process. The internet is definitely a disruptive technology, and this article paints a very insightful picture on what the news companies must face to continue to operate in the overly saturated information age.

Towards the middle of the article, some of the details of Gannet’s new approach are presented:

At the heart of the plan lie two Big Ideas that are sweeping through journalism circles nationwide: Involve the reader in every aspect of the process, and take a so-called hyperlocal approach to news coverage. In recent years, Gannett’s Cincinnati arm has gone from producing one metropolitan newspaper to producing 270 niche publications, including suburban papers, neighborhood Web sites, and regional magazines. The readers — their thoughts, their half-baked opinions, their kids’ Little League scores — are at the center of them all.

This is the exact same result we have seen with the eNeighbors service. People really do want to know about the stuff that’s just down the street. Yes, it doesn’t matter to anyone else (so there’s no profit in it for the newspapers), but the internet now allows us to focus on a much smaller demographic and still remain cost-effective.

The voice of the masses is definitely getting heard these days. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues or if we will eventually tire of the barrage of average talent and ultimately rely on the professionals for the information that matters most.

National Neighborhood Day

Do you love your neighborhood? Are you the one that always hosts the block party? Do your neighbors constantly help each other out?

Show how much you appreciate your community by celebrating on National Neighborhood Day, September 16, 2007.

The mission of National Neighborhood Day is to inspire, build, and sustain the neighborhood relationships that provide the foundation for civic action and the building of stronger, more caring and effective communities.

Also, be sure to check out the short film contest winners from 2006. The three films are very different from each other, and they give a great insight to the wide spectrum of community that exists across our country. The comments from the contest judges reflect this as well.

Visit the National Neighborhood Day website for more info.

Local Content: Year 2017

There’s an interesting article from Online Journalism Review about how newspapers need to adapt to survive in the new web-centric news world.

How important is community-based media? Are the days of reading the paper over coffee and toast coming to an end with the aging of my parents’ generation?

Fast-forward ten years… picture this:

My seven year-old son is now seventeen. For breakfast, he pours a bowl of Lucky Charms and flips through his iPhone IMs, checks the weather and browses the programming schedule for the latest episodes in his friend’s local reality show (which is about to be picked up by MySpace Productions).

Next he checks to see which classes are “video-broadcast only” today so he can plan his Xbox gaming time accordingly. He also sees that the high-school football game tonight starts at 7pm, and the opposing team’s record is 6 and 2.

As he walks out the door, he calls back to me, “Dad, I just got a text from eNeighbors that the city council approved the proposal to build the Starbucks on that corner lot. Looks like your coffee addiction is going to be even harder to kick — ha, ha… see ya later.”

So I ask, what does true local content integration look like? It’s not about technology. Web-publishing has been around for over a decade. It’s about the right tools for the right people. And it’s about the right people believing in something bigger. Something new and not based on “what we’ve always done” in the past.

What will the true voice of local content sound/look/feel like?

The Future of Online Classifieds

Kevin Kelleher wrote an interesting piece last week about eBay’s new Kijiji classifieds service in the U.S. and how it stacks up against Craigslist.

Kevin links to Internet Outsider which has this great comment:

Despite significant online classified efforts, moreover, the classified opportunity remains massive: The dying newspaper industry still rakes in tens of billions of dollars a year for printed classifieds — a less efficient, less informative, less convenient, more wasteful, and more expensive way to buy or sell products. In another few decades, when the current (and last) generation of hard-copy newspaper readers dies out, printed classifieds will seem as archaic as whale oil. The newspaper companies may be able to retain some classifieds business as it moves online, but given the success of Craigslist, Monster, et al (and the seriously weak newspaper efforts thus far), this percentage will likely be small.

So, there’s a $10 billion plus market for classifieds, and the majority of it is not online.

Here’s where I get excited. Of all the news and community content features that eNeighbors offers to the neighborhood residents, classifieds have been the most popular by far. To date (we launched in April), we have had over 300 classifieds posted from only 2000 users in 18 neighborhoods. Keep in mind that most of the neighborhoods have only been using our service for a few weeks.

Additionally, we have already received numerous comments from users that they would like to be able to publish their classifieds to other neighborhoods in their area. This is a site enhancement that we are currently working.

The great thing is that we built the classifieds engine as a “nice to have” feature for residents to use when garage sales were not appropriate never expecting it to be so popular, but our users have begun to see a huge potential for a truly hyper-local type of market square.

I’d like to see eNeighbors follow in Craig Newmark’s footsteps and provide valuable relevant classifieds in an even more hyper-local context.

Never underestimate the power of free.

eNeighbors Features: News

The “news” feature is next up in my profile of eNeighbors’ services. Everyone likes to be informed, and we use CNN, Yahoo and MSN to keep up on all the world, national and even city-level news, but what about the news that’s happening in your own back yard, literally.

The News feature is the most versatile of the communication tools. You can use it to alert the community to upcoming events, post details about neighborhood activity, remind residents of safety protocols, or simply use it to start an online conversation.

1. Anyone can post a News item.

2. Anyone can leave a comment on the posted News item (this helps to generate an online discussion by allowing real-time feedback).

3. The top 3 most recent News items appear on the Home page.

4. When you post a News item, it is viewable by anyone in your neighborhood that has registered on the website.

5. Finally, each News item is automatically put into the eNewsletter and sent to every neighbor that has chosen to receive the newsletter either daily, weekly, or monthly.

Contact us today to get more info on signing up your neighborhood for eNeighbors

Where 2.0

The Where 2.0 conference is underway in San Jose. All the big local players are gathered together to share the latest and greatest in location-based technology.

Here’s a quick excerpt from their overview page describing what Where 2.0 is:

Now in its third year, the Where 2.0 Conference is where the grassroots and leading edge developers building location aware technology intersect with the businesses and entrepreneurs seeking out location apps, platforms, and hardware to gain a competitive edge. In the O’Reilly conference tradition, Where 2.0 presents leading trends rather than chasing them.

Visit the blog here, or if you prefer, live Twittering.

It’s also nice to see Garmin participating. Not a lot of big tech firms out of the midwest, but Garmin’s corp headquarters is about 5 blocks from my parent’s house in the suburbs of Kansas City.

Fatdoor Goes Alpha

fatdoor has launched in alpha mode (SF Bay area only for now).

In a very high-level sense, fatdoor is a new social network focused on localness and aims to have direct ties to the physical community in addition to the online nature of the network.

Per Greg Sterling’s blog, Raj Abhyanker of fatdoor indicates that their goal is to connect neighbors to each other specifically around things like local community, schools and families.

I applaud fatdoor in their efforts. Here at eNeighbors, we are attempting something similar — eNeighbors’ focus is connecting neighbors in their community and offering new ways to more effectively communicate with each other.

The move of social networks to the local level is a great thing to see. Relevance of information and community is starting to grow, and for adults who have little time on their hands to spend online, services like fatdoor will provide a great way to keep in touch with their community.

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.

Local Social: The Insider View

Perry Evans posts on the launch of Local Guides today on his blog, evans ink. At first, it seems to be another rehash of local content, but what I think sets it apart is the “guides” aspect. Here’s a way for you (as a local in your community) to provide direction for other people in regards to the “it” places to eat, shop, hang out, etc.

For instance, I’m a huge music junkie. There are a lot of great local bands in Kansas City (where I live) that no one knows about. Here’s an opportunity to provide an insider’s view on the local music scene to someone like myself but who is from another city and is just visiting KC and wants to catch some great local shows.

I also like how the site gears itself towards an experience by using guides. In other words, sight-seeing the Plaza as opposed to just finding a restaurant for lunch.

The other great aspect is the centrality of the service. Everyone in KC knows that The Pitch is the best guide for local music, but people from Boston might not know that. I’m usually not a proponent of nationally-centric sites for local services, but it seems to make sense here due to the content that is being shared and the intent for the information.