EveryBlock is gone. Maybe it’s time to admit hyperlocal doesn’t scale

EveryBlock is no more.

The announcement was made via a friendly-but-succinct blog post:

Within the world of neighborhood news there’s an exciting pace of innovation yet increasing challenges to building a profitable business. Though EveryBlock has been able to build an engaged community over the years, we’re faced with the decision to wrap things up.

This was a surprise to EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty, who left the organization last year.

Hyperlocal is rough. It seems like there’s so much potential. So many local businesses and groups just waiting for the efficiencies of the Internet to revolutionize their efforts. And presumably, there are plenty of local advertisers who want to reach local people. That’s why we still have local radio and local TV and local newspapers.

But there’s something about efforts like EveryBlock and Patch and others that just doesn’t click. I realize I’m generalizing. And I know Patch is still around. And I know these sites all have different approaches and business models. Yet they all have that “hyperlocal” thing in common, and to date that’s been problematic.

The knee-jerk reaction to a hyperlocal failure is to blame the outsider approach. This is a case where I think that knee-jerk reaction is the right reaction. The more hyperlocal failures we see the more I’m convinced the trick to unlocking local is being local. The hub-and-spoke approach these organizations take is fundamentally flawed because they’re trying to create a model that can be plugged into any location. But is that what local audiences want? These outlets are franchising when they should be customizing.

Back to EveryBlock. Whatever the ultimate cause of the service’s demise — it’s weird how quickly it shut down — it’s still sad to see it go. EveryBlock was “data driven” long before everyone jumped on the big data bandwagon.

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts. So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter,…

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.

Judging Dell’s Twitter revenue against company revenue misses the point

If Dell turned heads last year when it claimed to have made $1 million through Twitter, its revised estimate for 2009 is going to cause nasty neck pulls: the company says Twitter revenue jumped to $6.5 million. (I’m assuming that…

Twitter and DellIf Dell turned heads last year when it claimed to have made $1 million through Twitter, its revised estimate for 2009 is going to cause nasty neck pulls: the company says Twitter revenue jumped to $6.5 million. (I’m assuming that spans multiple years.)

The Guardian has a nice bit of analysis on the announcement. It’s informative and interesting. It weaves in some contextual bits. But nestled amidst the numbers is the “drop in the bucket” paragraph that always pops up in these types of stories:

Although $6.5m sounds impressive, when you compare it with the net revenue of $12.3bn Dell reported in the first quarter of fiscal year 2010 it becomes clear that this is only a drop in the ocean …

Sorry. I guess that’s a ” drop in the ocean” paragraph. You get the idea.

I understand the need to insert this text. Its absence would surely raise a red flag for editors and consumers alike. But there’s an underlying perspective here that I believe is damaging, and I wish more analysts would call this out.

Social media exists in a space totally different from traditional business. Activity takes place at the edges, not the center. It’s ambiguous. It’s fleeting. Because of all this, judging social media efforts against traditional channels obscures the real analysis and the real opportunity.

What’s notable about Dell’s Twitter revenue is that it went from $1 million in 2008, to $3 million in June ’09, to $6.5 million now. That’s an enviable trajectory in any business, but it’s doubly impressive here because Dell is making actual money through a nascent system. It found a way to put social media’s tricky architecture to work.

That’s key. Digital disruption is wiping out the fat revenues from traditional models. Many businesses will get smaller simply because consumers have more power and more choice. The companies that find ways to make money within this new landscape — even relatively small amounts of money — have a better shot at adaptation.

Images courtesy Dell, Inc. and Twitter, Inc.

Yes, But How Do You Feel? Sentiment Joins the Web Analytics Toolset

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis: An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data. This is more than just an…

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis:

An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.

This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

Amy Martin briefly mentioned sentiment during her presentation at Twitter Boot Camp in June (the sentiment stuff is in slide No. 9). The concept caught my attention because it strays from typical number-centric measurements like page views, user-session times or velocity. For someone like me, who believes numbers and non-numerical “soft” analysis must exist in harmony, it injects a much-needed psychological component into the audience dynamic. This commingling of data and feelings is why NBC Local’s mood tool is so interesting.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the touchy feely business. Sentiment’s power as a data point is limited because it’s a loaded concept with infinite variations. If my “positive” could be your “neutral,” how can a measurement tool adequately capture sentiment on a broad, numerical level? It can’t. Not reliably, anyway. Wild swings and spikes will appear in graphs, but small percentage shifts between open-ended terms are too ambiguous to rely upon. That’s why sentiment needs to function as a general data point for online engagement. It’s a single tool on a big analytics workbench.

“Set It and Forget It” Doesn’t Apply to Comments

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations: But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the…

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations:

But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the loudmouth bullies, and generally runs the comment threads like a serious discussion group, a serious discussion will result.

It’s an issue for the news industry because tending to comment threads is not part of a journalist’s traditional job. But I would argue that it is now and they ought to get busy doing it. For one, the journalists that do it and do it well will be better read. And they’ll be better informed. They’ll get tips in the comment threads. They’ll get constructive criticism that will help them do their job better. And they’ll get leads on new stories before others will.

I’ll add this: The tipping point for comments is when users stop talking to the author of a piece and start conversing intelligently with each other. Reaching this commenting utopia requires an inclusive mindset from the original author/writer/poster. You have to value discourse, not just top-down pontification.