Backfence cofounder Mark Potts has done a “final word” on Backfence. The post is a good catch-all, but contains no revelations. Don’t look for much second-guessing of the company’s strategy, either – although he clearly wishes he could have ridden the social networking boom that emerged after Backfence’s launch two years ago. He also thinks that local media companies have gained real appreciation about the opportunities in hyper-local and would now be helpful partners.
In his post, Potts contends there is “most certainly a robust hyperlocal advertising business,” based on Backfence’s sale of ads to 400 advertisers across all 13 community sites (plus an undisclosed number of cheaper Yellow Pages ads). But he doesn’t discuss average buys, upsells, renewal rates or any kind of track record for return on investment. The number of ads sold actually seems underwhelming to me.
Although Backfence’s content wasn’t very interesting and likely didn’t inspire people to return on a regular basis, I do like what Potts says about the need to focus on “strong, well-defined communities.”
“We chose the communities in which Backfence launched based on demographics, population density, local governance, commercial viability and competition, among other factors. But as much as any of these, we chose them because they had a strong, well-focused sense of place and community pride – I live here, I don’t live over there.
“Moreover, they were well-defined geographically. Beyond a certain size, communities lose their focus – there are too many different governmental bodies, local organizations, schools and people to get a clear grip on what it means to be a community. It’s possible to argue, in fact, that a hyperlocal site ideally should operate at the neighborhood level – that even a town is too big. Trying to create a hyperlocal site that covers a large area increases the potential population and spreads the focal points of interest too broadly. You only care about the high school your kid goes to; the one across town might as well be 3,000 miles away. It’s all about focus: local, local, local.”