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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lack of links one reason for lukewarm hyperlocal experiment

For those keeping an eye on the success or otherwise of hyperlocal websites, this is worth a read. It's a Wall Street Journal piece about the less-than-stellar debut of a Washington Post hyperlocal site called

By way of background:

"Like hundreds of other hyperlocal sites launched in the past few years, reflects a basic premise: Metro newspapers probably can't compete with the Internet or cable TV in covering breaking national and international news, but they can dominate what happens in their backyards.

" offers detailed databases including every church, restaurant and school in Loudoun County, about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. It embraces the idea that a high-school prom is as newsworthy as a debate over where to build a hospital, and that Little League deserves major-league attention. And it promises to let visitors to the site shape the news through blogs and photo and video submissions."

The WSJ notes that despite those intentions, " remains little more than a skeleton of the site its architects pledged to build. One reason: the team of outsiders [brought in to build the site] didn't do enough to familiarise itself with Loudoun County or engage its 270,000 residents."

What leapt out at me was that the Post wasn't linking to LoudounExtra:

"Mr. Curley [the site's developer] says whenever a big story breaks involving Loudoun County, the Post typically publishes it on without a link to LoudounExtra. That deprives LoudounExtra of potential traffic.

"Nor does the Washingtonpost's own dedicated Loudoun County page send visitors directly to its online sibling."

Huh? Links are oxygen.

"In September, when Time Warner Inc.'s AOL unit announced it was moving its headquarters from Dulles, Va., to New York, the Post linked to the story on for a couple hours before moving the story back to its own site. That window of promotion fueled the Loudoun site's best traffic day to date, Mr. Curley says.

"Jim Brady [executive editor of] now says he is considering replacing the current Loudoun County page on with, although he adds he doesn't want or future hyperlocal sites to be too dependent on for traffic."

Maybe I'm missing something but I don't understand why the smaller site should have to stand on its own, especially not from the get-go. No site develops or thrives without links and all sites benefit from more links.

Wouldn't it make more sense to develop a network of niche sites which complement the main web property, and build a matrix of links between them?

I get the feeling audiences are less and less interested in destination sites and want to stumble across information in the natural course of their day or order what they want and have it delivered. I know I am. If that proves true, well-linked networks would make more sense than a chain of isolated sites.