This weekend, I set out on the Web to find a good definition of the term "hyperlocal".  Sadly, I found just about all so-called official definitions of the term to be focused on one area of the emerging phenomenon — most tied specifically to social media & blogging.  Allow me to posit a new definition that I think makes a lot more sense in light of the various technologies and business models that appear to be evolving.

Hyperlocal is the application of Web 2.0 technologies to inefficiencies associated with local businesses.

Ergo, the term hyperlocal can be applied to local media (newspapers, radio, etc.), information sharing and social media (local blogging, location-aware services, community activism, etc.), and/or local advertising (billboards, yellow pages, etc.).

I've seen a lot of emphasis on local media and information sharing, but less emphasis on the evolution of local advertising — the area where we spend most of our time.  Check out the search results I snagged from Google tonight:


It isn't just about local media or local blogging.  It's a broader theme about applying new technologies to old problems.  It's the long-tail of Web 2.0 for a few reasons:

  1. Smaller, local businesses represent a majority of businesses in the World, but they are also hard to reach, capture, and retain.
  2. Local businesses are notoriously late adopters of new technologies.  I mean, how many small local business owners still don't own a computer?!?!?
  3. Small local business come in a wide variety of flavors, so it's particularly tough to profitably build a set of technologies that serve a meaningful % of them.

Ergo, they are underserved (to date).  What investor is going to jump feet first into a deal with significant customer acquisition & retention challenges that requires a fair degree of customization to reach the many types of small businesses in the world?  It takes a special deal right now.

(Quick Aside:  We've found a few opportunities that we'll talk about later when we have made more progress.)

But overall, if you accept my expansive definition of the term "hyperlocal", you'll notice that there haven't been a lot of success stories to date.  That's because it is still early and the hyperlocal craze is still in its infancy.  Craigslist is probably one of the few — they've reinvented the classified ad and taken untold millions from local newspapers already.  eBay has done a good job of making everyone a potential buyer or seller in a new global, transparent marketplace for junk.  Ok, maybe that's harsh… but they have impacted the prevalance of local garage sales and flea markets.  I'd argue Craigslist and eBay are hyperlocal pioneers.  Companies like Zillow and Redfin are similarly helping the real estate industry evolve and make it more efficient.  Countless others will at least partially displace long-standing stalwart brands that have dominated the local landscape.

That isn't to say some great ideas won't be regarded as failures.  Some great hyperlocal opportunities will be passed over because they don't meet the traditional requirements of a venture capitalist.  Others won't work because the benefits will be hidden amongst the thousands of small businesses that just catch on and make a few extra points in margin all of a sudden.  And even others aren't even remotely monetizable, but will just make peoples' lives easier.

I do believe that hyperlocal opportunities represent a new potential hot area in Web 2.0.  But it's best to think of it in broader terms beyond the impacts to local newspapers and magazines.  Bringing locality to the Web in a deep, profound, and meaningful way will dramatically impact our lives and the Web community in coming years.