Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Step for Hyper-Local

There's a lot of press about NBC Local teaming up with hyper-local platform Outside.in to offer geo-targeted content. While it allows NBC to offer geo-relevant content for its users, it appears to be a reactionary move to competitors and so limited in its implementation and vision. Even so, it signals an important shift in local media.

NBC uses a hosted widget from Outside.in. The widget delivers aggregated results provided by Outside.in. The use case is pretty limited. The user can select "neighborhoods" from a predetermined drop down and get back results. I suspect the partnership is a reaction to what is already built into a competitor's platform, and not as proactive as it may appear at first. In contrast, competitive sites such a WNYW-TV and WISH-TV on the FIM platform provides two use cases. First, the user can click on the "Map These" button on a headline list and be driven to a page where the stories are geo-tagged. From there, the user can actually pick and choose the center and zoom of the map, determining in a more democratic manner what they want to see as results. This is essentially local search via a map/geo interface. The results of the Outside.in solution is aggregated content. The results from the FIM solution are stories from the local station Web site.

Both solutions fall short in delivering some important features. FIM's solution needs to move towards aggregation of content and display of other types of content from within the host site (video, photos, UGC, etc). NBC's solution has aggregated content, but needs to also add video, photos, UGC, etc. The hyper-local strategy only works through aggregation because local TV sites do not generate enough local content professionally to make hyper-local searches return relevant and robust result sets.

Geo-advertising is also missing. This may be due to sensitivities around news. FIM offers geo-tagged advertising on the traffic maps of the host sites. This technology should be extended to the geo-tagged content. NBC is lacking geo-advertisements all together.

Ultimately, the strategy is more than just offering a *fancy* new method of navigation to the end user. This is about creating a new interface where users can get what they want, when they want it -- relevant information about their surrounding community. If one extends the metaphor to include advertising this is fertile ground. These tools give the host site the ability to connect hyper-local advertisers to hyper-local users. The users can be targeted by geography, which should command higher value. Why? Most shopping is conducted within a close proximity to home and work. It also means we know more about the user, because geography correlates with demographics. The greater the targeting the greater the value.

The fact that the NBC solution is not built into their platform could become an issue at a later stage because it will limit what they can do with the technology. For instance, if NBC wanted to add their own geo-tagged photos to weather maps, they are dependent of Outside.in and other vendors to work together. The FIM solution is part of the platform and so more pliable, lending itself to more uses across the site. Another example of a FIM implementation of geo-tagging can be found here. Weather.fox.com, the first social networking Weather site, offers a mash-up of User Generated Content.

Despite the shortcomings of both solutions, they are import steps in the right direction for local media. Local media should stop trying to compete with CNN.com and start realizing they need to defend their ground from Google. They should be focusing on local where they can differentiate themselves, engage the audience intimately, and go after local ad dollars. Local media can win locally because of the content, the relationships, and the brand loyalty.

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