It's that time of year, the very beginning, when all sorts of predictions and crystal ball gazing takes place, so I figure why not toss something in the ring. A number of things seem to be pointing to 2008 as a year where it's a small world after all for consumers, even on the web. Websites that focus on local information are not new, with the likes of Zillow (real estate), Yelp (local reviews), and MerchantCircle (local businesses). The road to building a succesful local news aggregator has been a bit rougher. Backfence (local news/citizen journalism) went for it, then flamed out. It exists in frozen form, all content dated to June of last year when it closed shop.
Fast forward to today, and you have Everyblock, spotlighted in The Sydney Morning Herald. Nick Galvin, in his list of Ten Things That Will Change Your Future, notes that Everyblock, which is still in the development stage, is the brainchild of Chicago journalist and programmer Adrian Holovaty, best known for his chicagocrime.org project, which combines crime stats and maps to provide a detailed overview of crime in the city. EveryBlock's website says it'll aggregate an unprecedented depth of local news and information in select cities. Don't bet against Holovaty. His chicagocrime site was named one of 2005s Best Ideas by the New York Times, and he was a 2006 Knight News Challenge winner, receiving $1.1 million to make his Everyblock dream a reality.
2008 is a make it or break it year for local newspapers. With declining readership and revenue, more and more are coming out of the woodwork with Web 2.0 makeovers. KYPost.com launched today, replacing the 126 year old Kentucky Post newspaper, which printed its last edition Monday. KYPost.com is promoting itself as an easy-to-use platform that enables user generated content and citizen journalism, along with a wide variety of local-focused news from professional journalists and wire services. My local papers just re-launched their website, Fauquier.com, in Fauquier County, Virginia. Along the same lines, it's a more attractive site that's seeking to develop an online community that'll contribute stories, blog posts, pictures and feeback. I think it will be a battle between the local newspapers (online editions) and sites like EveryBlock that are national in scope, but drill down to the city/town level. You would think the advantage goes to the local papers, since they've been part of local communities for decades, or in cases like the Kentucky Post, for more than a century. But a vast majority of them don't have great Web chops. So it wouldnt' surprise me to see a well planned and executed major player take the lead in local news.
Combine all of this with the coming out parties of various video platforms, like UStream.TV and Qik.com, and you now have a much lower threshold for the average Joe and Jane to become local journalists and broadcasters. UStream and Qik enable you to broadcast live video over the web, in effect creating your own channel on their sites. Qik is especially intriguing, as it allows you to steam video from certain cell phones, live, with only a five second delay. I can imagine a growing army of consumers across the country starting to broadcast live, local events on the web this year, like small town parades, sporting events, weddings and the like. I truly believe this will be the year that Passionate Consumers get 'hyper local'. The tools are here ... so let's get busy.