Goodbye hyperlocal, hello microlocal

Written by Adrian Holovaty on December 4, 2008

What is a "hyperlocal" Web site, precisely?

As with the term "Web 2.0," I've given up on defining it. Over the years, I've seen the term used to refer to Web sites that cover a metro area but organize their content by specific town or neighborhood, Web sites that focus on a single city or neighborhood intensely and Web sites that focus on a particular part of a metro area. It appears "hyperlocal" means "city/county-level or deeper" — but wouldn't the term "local" work there, just as well?

At EveryBlock, we don't use the term "hyperlocal" to refer to our site, because, frankly, it sells our site short. There's a profound difference between something like the Washington Post's Loudoun Extradeemed "hyperlocal" because it covers only a single, 521-square-mile county (!) instead of the entire Washington, DC, metro area — and EveryBlock DC, which provides a distinct page of news for every city block in the city of Washington.

That's in no way a slight against Loudoun Extra; it's a solid site that I'm sure I would find useful if I lived in Loudoun County, Virginia. I'm just saying county-level news and address-level news are fundamentally different products — and stretching the term "hyperlocal" to fit both is more confusing than helpful.

So that's why we shy away from calling EveryBlock "hyperlocal." But people love their buzz words, and I do appreciate the value in being able to communicate a concept in as few words as possible — particularly because our brand of local news is the first of its kind and can be tricky to explain. That's why we've started calling EveryBlock something else:

Microlocal.

This gives a much better sense of our focus. It's unambiguous in its level of detail: the 1400 block of S. Hill Street in Seattle is unequivocally "micro." Is a neighborhood micro? Yeah, kinda, depending on the size. An entire county, a borough, or city/suburb? No.

Micro implies intense focus, incredibly small scale and rich depth — all of which describe EveryBlock's general take on things. Best of all, people I've talked to seem to understand the term implicitly, as isn't the case with the much more vague "hyperlocal."

Here's to a diversification of the local news ecosystem: the hyperlocal and the microlocal.

Comments

Posted by Peter Harkins on December 4, 2008 at 11:27 a.m.:

When this term is abused to cover neighborhoods and cities, will you switch to nanolocal?

Posted by Adrian on December 4, 2008 at 11:32 a.m.:

Peter: We'll save "nanolocal" for news events 100 nanometers or smaller. :-)

Posted by William M. Hartnett on December 4, 2008 at 1:36 p.m.:

Quantumlocal!

Posted by Jeff on December 4, 2008 at 2:03 p.m.:

To be honest, I could care less if it's web 2.0, 3.0, 3.1.x or hyperlocal, microlocal or local. Just give me the goods who cares about the name. I think we spend too much type trying to put things into classes and not enough time just focusing on what the consumer wants. The consumers could care less about buzzwords and to me people that overuse buzzwords lose credibility.

I see where you are going with this, but to be honest who cares? Not trying to be rude, just saying, honestly who cares? Data is what I want, not a name.

Posted by Adrian on December 4, 2008 at 2:21 p.m.:

Jeff: I totally get where you're coming from. Basically, this blog entry is a response to the pundit types who don't share your enlightened view -- people who waste brain cells caring about buzzwords. :-)

The message to these people is: Please don't call us "hyperlocal," because that term is meaningless. If you *insist* on calling us something, "microlocal" would be a lot better.

In a perfect world, buzzwords wouldn't exist. Until then, the least we can do is set these people straight by giving them some more accurate terminology.

Posted by Mark Josephson on December 4, 2008 at 2:25 p.m.:

I think Adrian and Jeff are both right. Trying to build something that defies current definitions is limiting and can be frustrating -- we all think we are doing something much better and different than everyone else! Adrian certainly is doing something different...and I think we are too at outside.in. ;-)

But, at the end of the day, to Jeff's point -- what matters most is what we deliver and how it is received by our users.

Posted by Peter Harkins on December 4, 2008 at 3:18 p.m.:

"In a perfect world, buzzwords wouldn't exist. Until then, the least we can do is set these people straight by giving them some more accurate terminology."

No. Terms and jargon inevitably become buzzwords when people want to impart the connotations of the term without fully understanding the definition of the term. There's no way to prevent it, people (esp. marketers and others lacking in conscience or language skills) will always mutate terminology into buzzwords because they fail to understand the terminology and simply don't care about accuracy. If "microlocal" is adopted significantly, it will be abused in the exact same way that hyperlocal has.

This will even happen when the term is unambiguously specific, like if you'd created "block-local journalism". There will be talk about "block-like journalism" and "doing block journalism at a city level", then eventually they'll talk about how "block journalism" is the new hot thing that national cable news networks are all about, because they let people who live on blocks submit their camera phone pictures of kittens in trees owned by young blond white women getting struck by lightning during flooded wildfires or whatever.

Also, when I am king, anyone abusing the word "paradigm" will be shot. I liked that word.

Posted by Mark Schaver on December 5, 2008 at 2:15 p.m.:

I'm interested less in the jargon than how it's working in practice.

I'm curious, Adrian, are you going to share publicly some day how visitors are using your site? How many are there? Are they local? How often do they come back? What's of most interest to them? What doesn't interest them?

More generally, do you think newspapers with diminishing staffs with limited skills can emulate what you've done?

Many of us will benefit from knowing that, since your site is the gold standard for how this is done.

Posted by Eric Moritz on December 6, 2008 at 5:23 a.m.:

How about "geolocal" since there is nothing stopping you from letting the user define their own geographic range. They can go from macolocal to hyperlocal to µlocal to nanolocal to picolocal :)

Because the size is definable, describing the site based on a finate size seems silly. Though I love any excuse to use the mu char.

Eric.

Posted by Will Hortman on December 6, 2008 at 10:09 a.m.:

Thanks for your submission! MICROLOCAL has been added to the official 2009 Buzzword Bingo ® gamecard. It's sandwiched between 'widget' and 'database' in the top left corner.

Paradigm has officially been retired from the game. It violated its contract by appearing in this logo.

Awesome.

Posted by Bradley J. Fikes on December 25, 2008 at 12:37 a.m.:

I agree with Mark -- don't obsess over the label, just explain what you do and how it differs from other hyperlocal operations.

For example, EveryBlock geographically organizes news and information created by others, while Loudoun Extra generates its own content. That's at least as fundamental a difference as your relative geographic scopes.

(Whether Loudoun Extra's content has much quality is another matter entirely . . .)

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