The Hyperlocal-Local-Niche debate: a follow-up

By Steve Safran 

Yesterday, I posted what I thought was a fairly non-controversial entry on what the LR editorial differences are between the words “Hyperlocal,” “Local” and “Niche.” Today, I have a longer form article about the topic over at the RTDNA site. What surprised me was how many comments and opinions the entry received. The debate has been excellent. I wanted to post a few of the challenges to our definitions, along with some supporting posts. This is my favorite part of the job – letting the audience decide. More, after the jump.

A quick refresher. I wrote the following definitions:

Local: What’s happening in your town or city as a whole.
Hyperlocal: What’s happening in your neighborhood or section of larger neighborhood
Niche: A site dedicated to a particular topic, i.e. a “mom blog.”

    Here are your thoughts, along with my replies:

Remixer 96: I think local and hyperlocal are simply types of niche, based on geography. I’ll buy the distinction between them as city vs. neighborhood, but to try and abstract them away from the term niche isn’t effective IMO.

John Musci: It’s all niche, really. Local and hyperlocal news are themselves matters of interest. My desire to learn about Chicago blues musicians isn’t any different from my desire to learn what happened at last night’s town council meeting. Journalists should take pointers from mommy bloggers. Moreover, slicing whiskers between “local” and “hyperlocal” is looking at the matter from the publisher’s perspective (raises questions of distribution, circulation), but it’s like asking readers whether they want news that’s “relevant” or “more relevant.”

Mike Fourcher: I’m not sure the difference is anything more than polemic. What is more meaningful from a market positioning and advertising perspective, I think, is how do you generate your content and what value are you creating for the reader?

… And there were a few more who fell into this school of thought. My take? I suppose you can define anything as “niche.” “Sports,” after all, is a niche. But I don’t think this is “slicing whiskers.” I firmly believe these are important distinctions, and we need to get our definitions straight, if only for the sake of internal strategy. (If Sales tells you they can sell a hyperlocal blog for a certain neighborhood to retailers in that neighborhood, you better not build a blog for the whole city.)

And I don’t think I’m being polemic. I’m trying to argue in favor of generally accepted terms.

Ed Walker: I’m not sure it matters too much in defining it, hyperlocal is definitely a buzzword at the moment – but pure and simple it’s about providing local information… Ultimately if the content being provided is of interest (to local people or perhaps to former local people and others) it doesn’t matter what we define it as.

Steve: They are pure and simple buzzwords.

Tracey in W-S: It *IS* a buzzword and the main thing that’s “wrong” with it is thinking you can/should use it in customer-facing communication. Means NOTHING to your user/reader/customer/etc. (now THERE’S a debate I’d like to have).

I don’t have a problem with buzzwords. A buzzword is something that refers to a topic that is usually hot at the moment. It’s a fleeting word, and it can often be used incorrectly, but the Web is a fleeting place with malleable definitions. I absolutely think definitions matter – especially to writers. We certainly need to provide content of interest to the readers, and they probably don’t care what we call it. But, at least internally, I think it’s essential to get our definitions straight.

Shields Bialasik: The definition which you are providing for hyperlocal is very temporary. Locality in 20th century was referenced and quantified by measurements of physical proximity. Example: I am 1 mile from my job and my community has 19,127 people in it. Locality in the 21st century will be not be referenced by physical proximity, but by a model of ACCESS. Example: I can work from anywhere and my network has over 2.5 million people all around the world. I don’t know my neighbors. I buy everything online, and I bank internationally. HYPERLOCAL IS ABOUT ACCESS. How close can you get… to anything.

Cool thoughts. Hyperlocal is, in part, about access. However, I’m a hyperlocal site telling me what’s happening in my physical neighborhood will always be desirable. We have a town vote coming up. I want to know how my district voted. If my neighborhood is suddenly zoned commercial, that’s breaking news — to me.

jnatz: Agree on the merits of the debate. I concurred with the original definitions.

Matt McGee: I think it’s tough to always put the local vs hyperlocal labels on certain blogs/sites and get it right across the board. Some blogs that cover smaller towns/cities can still be hyperlocal, I think, even if they go beyond neighborhood level.

CoryBe (who is THAT guy?): I think local sites can have hyperlocal components, but they’re still local sites. There’s something very unique about a hyperlocal site, beyond coverage, because it connects people in close proximity, creating a new kind of online community that behaves differently than a community on most local sites.

Obviously, I agree with Cory. That’s why we have an editorial position. But Matt makes a good point – things that are labeled “one-size-fits-all” rarely fit all.

Foomandoonian (nice handle): You keep using that prefix, ‘hyper-‘. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I think it means “very.” (Or, as we say in Boston, “wicked.”) But Merriam-Webster says it means “high strung, excited or extremely active.” And Wikipedia says it refers to four or more dimensions. So you’re right – we may all be using the prefix incorrectly. We’re not covering the space-time continuum in our neighborhood. “Placeblogging” may be a better choice.

And nice Inigo Montoya reference, too.

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