“Hyperlocal” News Sites Take A Hit

    July 6, 2007

A lot of big companies – from Google to CNN – are interested in “going local,” and, to be honest, it seems that those companies have the money to do whatever they want.  But “going local” isn’t easy; Backfence.com, which focused on a number of smaller communities, is going out of business.

The Guardian Unlimited’s Jemima Kiss describes Backfence as a “network of citizen journalism sites in the US,” and notes that it was “touted as one of the big web hopes for the development of participatory media.”  Backfence’s passing has elicited comments from such sources as BusinessWeek, American Journalism Review, and VC Ratings.

But despite its apparent popularity, Backfence is indeed dead.  Paul Farhi writes, “The failure of Backfence may offer no greater lesson than the old one about pioneers being the ones with arrows in their backs.  New ventures fail all the time.  But it could also sound a cautionary note about the present – and immediate future – of hyperlocal news sites.”

Should Google, CNN, and the rest be worried, then?  Farhi goes on to pinpoint Backfence’s problems as “getting the word out and getting the money in” – problems that bigger companies aren’t likely to encounter – so I’m going to say “no.”  But Farhi responds to a similar question (“Is there a real business in this kind of business?”) with an answer that Google and CNN won’t like; companies without piles of money will hate his discovery that hyperlocal news isn’t yet profitable.

I dunno.  Some pioneers were able to pave the way for others, but there’s no doubt that some pioneers just died.  It remains to be seen into which of those groups Backfence will fall.