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Global v. Local
What's the web? On the one hand, it's a global information superhypeway, letting us trade bits across borders without running into glorified crossing guards. On the other hand, it's a small little town where everybody knows your name.
Remember Intenet 101? Where you learned that the Internet is really a network of smaller networks? Key concept, because try as they might, the BigBooks of the world will fail. It seems that local directories of things, well, local, are turning up all over the web.
Where I live, I have access to gobs and gobs of localized web content. The Digital Lantern. San FranZiskGo. Television and radio stations. Of course, the fact that the self-described "epicenter" of the web happens to be 100 yards from where I work probably has something to do with this.
But while programming guides from your local classic rock outlet are one thing, entire local web directories are another. In the "looking for somewhere to invest our IPO dollars" category is Yahoo! San Francisco Bay Area. With a nice colorful home page graphic, some message boards and a restructured content tree, they've created "the ultimate, ultra-current guide to Bay Area living." Case in point: they have a link on the front page to 20-minute delayed quotes on the "Internet 25." Now all those Bay Area knowledge workers can watch their fortunes rise and fall.
Yahoo cheated. With a little database programming and their existing treasure trove of links, they were able to create a "guide" to Bay Area living. It obviously doesn't matter that Yahoo's a local company; they've gone ahead and created Yahoo! Canada and Yahoo! Japan. Yahoo's primary motivation is not to build local communities around localized Yahoos. It's to open up more opportunities for advertising revenue. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) It's hard to sell a spot to the San Francisco Giants at Yahoo proper's ad rates. And don't they realize that the great thing about Yahoo! is that it can point you to a page on Algeria just as easily as a page on Alameda?
I'm not worried about localized content turning the web into a series of provincial, insular communities. That's already happened. The web is a wonderful tool for connecting regional, like-minded folks. Just look at the real life community that the Well created. But for true local content to survive, it will need true local advertisers.
Case in point. I'm a semi-regular reader of both the SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian. Both are excellent (read: free) guides to local arts, politics and entertainment. The Bay Guardian is online, with their content freely available to anyone who doesn't want to get their hands covered with newsprint. Craig McLaughlin's article on the local content issue" is there. Heck, they even have a nice search engine. But there's a problem here. I don't read the Guardian for the editorial. I read it for the ads.
Any free weekly is only as good as its ads. And the printed version of the Guardian has great ads. They're not only informative (clubs, restaurants, events) but highly entertaining (body art, sex therapy, methadone research, psychic hotlines). And all of those ads are missing from their web site.
The struggle to create and support real local content will be attracting real local advertisers. The Guardian would be more than "just another web site" if they could attract local merchants (bars, book stores and bodegas) to advertise. It would mean an enormous education effort to bring potential advertisers up to speed on the potential of advertising on the web. But it could lead the way to an Internet that's truly useful on a local scale.
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