Upon visiting TBD.com it’s hard to see how it even is hyperlocal. Under the logo we see the tagline “All over Washington” but its’s hard to see how, if I lived in an area such as Annandale, I’d find out what’s going on in that area.
Under the very last menu item, in a drop down I spot the “TBD Community Network” – is this it? Regulated to a sub-menu option after everything else? Actually, no this is an alphabetised list of links to other blogs, many of which are not overly local.
Okay, I’ll use the search. I try various areas of Washington D.C. including; Annandale, Aspen Hill, Colesville, Brentwood, Marlton and Oakton. The majority of results are for external sites, both independent and many from TBD competitor, Patch.
Where there are good articles on the area there is no indication of how I can subscribe to content about that area. Each article is also headed with the section it’s in – often just “Community” or something like “On Foot” – the relevance of which I’m struggling to see.
Meanwhile I’m being shown generic, seemingly site-wide ads that have no relevance to the area I’m reading about.
This is no network. It’s a mish-mash of regional content supplemented by aggregation of independent hyperlocals and all surrounded by the same lack-lustre ad targeting that seems to infect local media here in the UK.
Moving onto Patch I’m instantly greeted with a map that I can click into my area with. It’s all state-based though which isn’t exactly very refined so I try the (very small) search box beneath. I figure I should try the same areas again.
I instantly find Annandale Patch which appears to show local content, invites me to sign up to the newsletter, shows me locally relevant ads and I can see services like event listings, a business directory and classifieds – all focused around Annandale.
Patch isn’t in any of the other areas, but does suggest Vienna when I look for Oakton. So I wonder if these areas are too small for Patch and check Wikipedia for population stats;
- Annandale – 56,975
- Aspen Hill – 50,228
- Colesville – 19,810
- Brentwood – 2,844
- Marlton – 7,798
- Oakton – 30,228
I’d randomly picked these places off a Google Map so I’m quite pleased with the range of population sizes, so it’s not that they’re too small.
Perhaps Patch just hasn’t found anyone in that area! Looking at the jobs they’re advertising in the area, they don’t seem to be looking in the towns I’ve chosen. Where they are looking, population appears to be above 30,000 as far as I can tell.
Additionally, a quick search for Aspen Hill shows an existing community wiki for the area. That site isn’t featured instead of telling the user ‘nothing for your area’ so the network is decided by where Patch wants to be, not where there is a passion for hyperlocal.
Firstly it doesn’t surprise me that TBD is having to cut staff because it hasn’t sussed local advertising. When it isn’t sending people away (and thereby limiting it’s own traffic) it’s serving up generic, poorly-targeted ads. It ain’t rocket science boys and girls, it’s common sense. It’s a lesson for all hyperlocal endeavours – serve an area properly, and make the model work.
On the flip side, Patch appears to be doing a good job. What Patch does appear to be suffering from though is blowing air into an emerging hyperlocal bubble. It’s spending about £3,000 on each site with plans to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. £3m sounds a lot to be spending on a business that isn’t getting the traffic in. The same lesson as TBD, except that Patch’s rapid expansion could, if it fails, mean the loss of numerous jobs and a another blow to the communities they serve, just like TBD has already done.
Headlines are already questioning whether any hyperlocal can be successful in light of analysis of these two.
I’ll touch on that last point in more detail tomorrow when I talk about why I believe networks in the UK, including my own efforts, are showing the way forward.