Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Local Media, Technorati, and Vertical Search

I am sitting here at SDForum's "Vertical LEAP" vertical search conference, where I've sat through a local search presentation from Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and MSN which pretty much missed the point entirely. I asked a question about a) events and b) local search as local media, since neither (enormous, gigantic, huge) topic had been mentioned by any of the assembled gigantic players. Credit to Brady Forrest, PM at MSN for their local search, for at least mentioning mobile -- yet another (enormous, gigantic, huge) topic they'd entirely slid past for a whole hour. If these guys get it, then they're holding their cards very close to their chests.

I'm working on an events search company called Zvents, which heretofore is unannounced. So there. I announced it. Secret closed demos on the web in a month, live beta by September, or faster if Tyler starts adding Red Bull to his coffee.

So I am spending a lot of time thinking about local media. And none of these local guys get it at all, and at the same time, Technorati (hats off to Dave Sifry!) gets it in a (enormous, gigantic, huge) way. I'll be the Nth guy to link to the Live8 page, and the second or third guy to link to Peter Caputa's discussion of that page (right on Peter, and we should talk about events) and I'll even throw in a bonus link to Chew Shop on Caputa on Technorati.

So what do I think?

Well here are a few relevant facts.
1) Local media is enormously fragmented. There are 70 newspapers in the Bay Area, plus tens of TV and radio stations, and they are *all* supported by ad dollars.

2) Classified ads were a nice chunk taken out of local media, but those dollars are largely gone; high-value categories like jobs, housing, and for-sale went to Monster, eBay, and the like long ago.

3) The three legs of local media are 1) reporting 2) editorial and 3) advertising. Let's take these in order.

Reporting: When we look at a project like Dan Gillmor's open media / bayosphere / We the People, you see the foundations of local reporting. Remember that this is not just going to be people doing this in their spare time -- we are going to get latter-day Ben Franklins running around researching stuff and writing it up (or podcasting or vblogging it) and publishing it online. Reportage = conceptually sorted, 20 years of implementation to go.

Editorial: I have a whole separate riff about how political blogging and tech blogging represent the explosion of the vertically integrated media model -- guys like Kevin Drum or Joshua Marshall provide me with more editorial insights than does the New York Times; but for the moment, they are reliant on the "MSM" mainstream media to provide the basic grist for their editorial mills. Most interesting to me is the extension of editorial blog voices beyond the narrow reaches of politics and emerging technology. I firmly believe that the reason these "went first" is that the foundation of bloggable news was firmly in place in textual form, and the blogging tools that sprang up made manipulation of that text very simple for bloggers. Myspace is actually an example of music blogging, I think -- 18 million people go there because, fundamentally, they gave indie bands the (different) tools they needed to post MP3s, talk about their shows, and post their band/brand image online. I think that with the emergence of "structured blogging" standards for other categories -- shopping, events, finance, and so forth -- we will see and explosion of new blogging editorial categories as, for instance, a financial blogger can quickly and easily point to financial data and charting information to make his (her) points.

Advertising: This is the part of local that has gone the furthest, and the least; local classified (in certain categories) went 10 years ago, but local newspaper display, local TV and radio, and lots of classified -- plus flyers, posters, billboards, etc. -- has yet to go. And we are talking tens of billions of dollars. It will follow the eyeballs, which will follow the tools, editorial voices, and reportage that is already moving to new media.

Technorati gets the media thing, as demonstrated by the Live8 page -- but it's not clear that they get the local media thing, which fundamentally has shaken out to be an oligopoloy the first time around between Knight-Ridder, Hearst, Tribune, Gannet, etc. with very little local competition. Will it happen that way again? I'm not sure - and this Technorati thing may be the emergence of a new NBC or a new USA Today, not a new Knight-Ridder -- but what I'm sure of is that none of the local papers get this, none of the big portals get this, and there is money laying all over the table to be scooped up.

Game on.

P.S. How much has the world changed? This places is full of VCs and entrepreneurs and the nicest thing that's happened to me today is that Marc Canter linked to me in his blog. Thanks, Marc!

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