First we had Topix aggregating local news and events from thousands of sites. Now we have Outside.in trying to pull off the same idea using hyper-local blogs as a primary source. Steven Johnson co-created the site with John Geraci. He talked with us last week via e-mail about the company's ambitions and where he sees “place blogging” today.
Johnson noted there are “tons of sites” that write with a hyper-local theme. Some sites, like The Gothamist and Curbed, even cover a slew of neighborhoods. But the smaller, neighborhood-focused sites have relatively modest traffic. Without aggregation, it is “certainly a long tail proposition.”
“What we’re trying to do is different” from a news-oriented site like Topix, he says. “Our imagined user is saying: 'I’m sitting right here at this address what are the conversations and events and controversies happening around me right now?' Or: 'I’m thinking about this public school in this new neighborhood: show me all the posts and threads about that school that the local residents have had over the past two years.' ”
Currently, Outside.in is aggregating bloggers, by ZIP code, and has the top 30 cities in its roster. It is aiming to expand to the top 50 cities by the end of November, aided by a team of spotters that look for bloggers in the communities it covers. It also relies on users to submit blogs to be tracked. “We've probably had a hundreds blogs suggested so far,” says Johnson.
But blogs are just the tip of the iceberg. “We’re very much committed to organizing more than just blog content,” he notes. “We’re also submitting links from other sources that have some kind of location-specific content: newspaper articles, reports from local governments, hot threads on chowhound. He also notes that the site is “increasingly reliant on users to do this we’ve had about 1,000 suggested links since we launched.”
As for making money, Johnson says the site currently has some Google ads and that it is “naturally optimized for both local and national advertising.” But making a quick buck is not as much a focus as getting the right content and the getting the word out. The latter he hopes to do via “the usual approaches: word of mouth, publicity, strategic deals with larger sites, perhaps some ad buys for key neighborhoods.”