What Is Hyperlocal? Can Someone Please Tell Me?

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“Hyperlocal” is the new buzzword in media and advertising. The word is especially in favor among community-oriented blogs and Web technology startups. But the word suffers from ambiguity. By extension, the promising sector it attempts to represent suffers as well. I work in the Internet media industry, so I’d like to figure this out. What do you think?

Let’s break this down: We know that “local” generally means media or advertising focused on a specific location or area – versus regional or nationwide. We think of local when going to the supermarket, the doctor, the dentist, the movie theater, the car dealer, restaurants and florists. Local refers to services, businesses, government and other things local – in your city, town, village, neighborhood or block. Local has long existed through media and markets, even trivial gatherings and word of mouth.

Then what is hyperlocal? Media or advertising that are more local than, um, local? If local (pure, on its own, without the hyper) was a more specific term, then hyperlocal might make sense.

At the time of this writing, Wikipedia says: “Hyperlocal content is characterized by three major elements. Firstly, it refers to entities and events that are located within a well defined, community scale area. Secondly, it is intended primarily for consumption by residents of that area. Thirdly, it is written by an individual resident in that area.”

Wikipedia’s definition of hyperlocal is very similar to general understanding of local. But what do I know? So I asked friends on Twitter what is the difference between local and hyperlocal. Here are some of their replies:

xplusone@maxkalehoff I think that’s the weather on your block!

gilliatt@maxkalehoff Hyperlocal is a buzzword. Local is a word.

buckleyplanet@maxkalehoff would that be your local ADD community?

matthewhurst@maxkalehoff re local hlocal plz read my wiki entry and help with the page!

jaysbryant@maxkalehoff my take is you might have a better chance to raise $$$ calling it hyperlocal….

jaysbryant@maxkalehoff I’ll take a stab at it, in my case LOCAL would be Mercer Cty NJ, HYPERLOCAL would be just my township West Windsor, make sense?

mattquint@maxkalehoff I don’t think there’s any standard, but I think of “hyper” as applying to a niche community within a “local” geographic area.

PeterHimler@maxkalehoff local=boston.com; hyperlocal=http://loudounextra.washingtonpost.com/ Story here: http://bit.ly/NQj4B

thelittlebrierAND ME! RT @maxkalehoff: Someone PLEASE tell me the difference between LOCAL and HYPERLOCAL when describing business, media, advertising?

sebprovencher@maxkalehoff I always assume it’s the geographical scope: cities (local) vs. neighborhoods (hyperlocal).

The responses conclude there is no common understanding of hyperlocal. So why don’t we end the confusion by just deferring to the shorter, simpler local (without the hyper)? I think there’s a big future in local online media and advertising, but it will be bigger and come sooner with less friction. Confusing, unnecessary jargon is friction to growth.

What do you think?

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Max,

    Firstly, don't get distracted by trying to analyse the composition of the word. Like most things on the web, the term is just a key (e.g. 'conversational marketing' – if you took that apart you'd be looking at nonsense).

    The definition I put in the wikipedia page is, IMHO, necessary but not sufficient. If you look at local news, you will see that it is often not written by someone at that location it targets. In addition, it tends to cover a pretty broad area (it is local wrt national, but not 'community scale').

    MyBallard – a hyperlocal blog in the Seattle area – is a great example of hyperlocal content. Take a look at this article: http://www.myballard.com/2009/07/20/bicyclists-… . Here you see a story that is of little concern to a local news desk, but of significance to the community. In addition, note how the person involved managed to get back to the site and close the loop on the story.

    Hyperlocal is a puzzle for extant networks as it requires community involvement in the physical space – making remote (and disinterested) scaling hard. You have to be there. In addition, the mechanisms that work in topical space on the web for advertising don't work at the community scale. I can't take data from users in Timbuktu and use it to better place ads from a hardware shop in Ballard to users from Ballard. The inventory doesn't scale in the same manner. I don't quite believe that, but I'm writing it to make the point.

    Now that we can, residents are looking closer to home – especially in this economy – for information about how to better live their lives. The consumers of hyperlocal select not by global topical slices but by physical location, throwing a wrench in the long tail scaling of web monetization.

    Rather than try to dismiss the term, I'd encourage you to embrace it and put the reader and the community at the centre.

  2. Hi Max,

    Historically, “local” was defined by city, town or zip. It was very “top down” and assumed that everyone who lived in a certain city, town or zip was interested in the same thing.

    Now, hyperlocal has come to mean “smaller than city, town or zip” and usually refers to neighborhoods or small town blogs.

    I think hyperlocal is defined by the individual, built from the ground up. that is, local media, news or information that is personalized by you and YOUR location.

    hyeprlocal is unique to everyone. what are the places, locations and neighborhoods that are important to you.

    that is hyperlocal.

  3. Buzzword? Yes, absolutely, but here's what it means:

    Hyperlocal media refers to targeted (generally small, geographic) segments that have traditionally been underserved by traditional media.

    And underserved for good reason b/c traditional media hasn't been able to economically support this type of coverage.

    Soon, once this type of coverage becomes the norm, we will thankfully forget the buzzword, and return to calling it local, but for now, it is an economical phenomenon, with no shortage of companies chasing the space (Patch, WikiCity, Everyblock, etc.).

  4. Much agreed, except I take some exception on the “smaller than city” piece… How about for small towns that traditionally haven't had a daily newspaper? (My research suggests that most towns w/fewer than 6K population have never supported a daily.) Couldn't media covering a town, say – w/2-4K people be considered hyperlocal?

    For example, our website serves the ENTIRE town of Wahoo, NE. Couldn't this be considered “hyperlocal”? http://www.wikicity.com/wiki/Wahoo%2C_Nebraska

    P.S. We love Outside.in and we should talk b/c we trying to figure out how to incorporate your new Publisher services!

  5. Adrian,

    If we must have a buzz word, “microlocal” is probably more indicative of what we are, but that then we're still stuck using a buzzword – ha, ha.

    Congratulations to all your success w/Everyblock. Love it!


  6. I agree with you almost entirely, particularly on the concept and the trends. They're real. Except the semantics still throw me off. I tested the term on a few people at my daughter's birthday bbq yesterday, and most were lost until enduring lengthy explanation. The very real phenomena you describe need simpler terminology so they can make better sense to the people supposedly at the center. Or is the concept and terminology around “hyperlocal” only insider baseball — whereby the people at the center don't really need to know the concept, but simply enjoy the benefits?

  7. Thanks Mark. “Local media, news or information that is personalized by you and YOUR location.” I still get thrown off with “hyperlocal”, but your definition is succinct. I will use that now.

  8. The word,hyperlocal came from newspaper industory.Many people think that a lot of local newspaper will die in following years.So some organization will have to fill gaps to keep people know local news.The organization must be local news site which focus on neighborhood information.We will call these site,hyperlocal news site.

  9. I think this misses a huge part of what hyperlocal is. A definition has to address who is creating the content. The connection between the author and the community is vital in capturing this. This is why these cookie cutter hyperlocal networks that big(ger) media is rolling out don't resonate with the readers. It also captures implicitly the role of web 2.0 which has enabled this genre to some extent.

  10. Internet and applications such as Google Map or Twitter extend news content and conversation down to a level local newspapers can't afford to go. May be “microlocal” would be more appropriate:)

  11. Internet and applications such as Google Map or Twitter extend news content and conversation down to a level local newspapers can't afford to go. May be “microlocal” would be more appropriate:)

  12. I don't know how this “hyperlocal” stuff got started, but I'm surprised that any wordsmith would use such a term. “Hyper” is a prefix meaning over, above or beyond. Thus, hyperlocal would be something over, above or beyond local–perhaps “regional.” This would seem to be the opposite of what is intended.

  13. While it is cool to poke fun at trite buzzwords, I agree wholeheartedly with the practice, the difference between a city or town and a neighborhood is significant from an advertising and marketing perspective. Thus hyper versus local.

  14. The very point made that ‘local’ is too broad a word in common usage, to me, proves why hyperlocal is a useful term (if not perfect.) The idea of local is that you are zooming in on a particular area – take that zoom to the next level and you have hyperlocal. We cover a very small area of Southern California that is about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles. Every news outlet touts itself as “local” but they rarely do anything for us out here in the exurbs. As for marketing, small business owners can have a challenge with marketing media that are ‘local’ but they are really paying for presence in front of customers who are nowhere near their shop. Hyperlocal lets people know that you can in fact target people around the corner successfully. 

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