We're having a mini-conference here at NYU on Saturday to discuss hyperlocal blogs. In preparation, I've done a little thinking about what it must be like running one in the summer of 2011. And thinking if I had any advice for people running hyperlocals.
The number one bit of advice -- is to be sure you control your own publishing and distribution. It must be tempting now, and it's likely to get more tempting in the future, to accept the offers of the big tech companies. They're just now beginning to realize that their platforms have a role to play in the future of news. As the larger publications are jumping into bed with them, without thinking very much (imho), it would be just as mistaken for the small ones, the locals, to do the same.
All offers sound great on the way in. Great stats, publishing tools, discussion tools. Monetization perhaps. The problem is that the way out is unknowable. And where are these companies going? They probably don't know. But in the past they've made their money through lock-in. And it's pretty obvious that over time more of them will be in competition with you. AOL already is. At that point, you're going to want to know how to get out.
A better way forward would be to stick with the boring stuff and stay away from the platform du jour in techland. Focus on your users, learn from and about them. Think clearly and imaginatively, find new ways to be relevant to them. If new technology is needed, either develop it, or make your needs known clearly to developers. In a city like Berkeley, for example, there are lots of programmers. Go out and find them. There are independent developers everywhere who are willing to work to create free environments outside the large tech companies, so there's a natural partnership with hyperlocals. Don't be afraid to make the connections. And don't be afraid to ask for help.
I'd also try to come up with projects that can be directly, financially supported by the community that your hyperlocal can facilitate, but aren't directly related to your business model. There's no reason you personally can't make money from the growth of your community. It's the one interest every local publication accepts. You have an interest in the success of your community.
No matter what, there is no formula for relevance in hyperlocal, and no guarantee either. The winners here, if there are going to be any, will have to be imaginative and courageous and really smart. And good at working with others.
Bonus link: BloggerCon format.