Sunday, February 21, 2010

Four aspects that could make AOL's local "white spaces" work

Yesterday, I wrote about how AOL's new "white spaces" for local journalism might not work. There are, however, a couple of ways they might work:

1. Proprietary alogrithms. If AOL has a proprietary alogrithm (like Demand Media) that will tweak headlines to hit on the proper keywords. However, on a local level, this will still have to be connected to some sort of geo-located search capability. If AOL develops an algorithm that partners geo-tagged ads with geo-tagged headlines, there might be something to it.

2. Watch what Foursquare is doing with geo-location and geo-tagging. Foursquare had made some huge, prestigious deals with major media companies that are going to make it a real player in semantic advertising--and could either hurt or help newspapers (What does Foursquare mean for Which means it could also help/hurt local independent news sites with geo-location. Also see How to Make Your Small Business Geo-Ready on Mashable.

3. Semantic advertising gets better-- Google and others are working on algorithms that will match the right local ads with the right local content. There was lots of talk and lots of interest in this at the recent SIIA Information Industry Summit, as the algorithms are getting better, and Google's local search is getting better.

4. Paying reporters. People can't afford not to be paid in this economy. Sites like Demand Media, Examiner, and Newser--and other kinds of "content mills" (a contentious term)--are paying their reporters. Some of them don't pay much, but they pay. If AOL sets up some way for those who want to report on local to be paid something, then they might attract some of the local reporters who have lost their jobs, or local citizens who want to get paid something for their writing. Or they might not. Think: entrepreneurial spirit--and that some folks would rather do their own thing if they're not going to get paid. Then again, some journalists/reporters aren't entrepreneurs either and would just like a steady paycheck, no matter how low the paycheck is. Still, don't know how this might work for breaking stories. What might the pay scale/pay rate be for breaking stories, and would there be some sort of editorial oversight as there is for the evergreen content at Demand Media? Note: Jay Rosen has a new project starting between NYU and The New York Times that may pay citizen reporters. The editor will have a "war chest" at his/her discretion. Will be interesting to see what happens there, what the pay rate ends up as, etc.

So, if people give up on the entrepreneurial thing, and they're able to get paid, and there's some sort of geo-tagging that will link local ads with local content, where AOL's properties can push out other local content, then they might make money--

But if people don't like the product, then it still might not work. The social aspect has to be worked in somehow, beyond the engineering. After all, the Internet is full of people: people talk and people share things. That could also be what makes or even breaks AOL's planned content dominance in local space.

Think about it...


jessdrkn said...

Hi Tish. I've been enjoying your thoughts on the AOL expansion. I've been watching that company, too.

I founded a directory last year of independent, online news start-ups (I have more than 60 listings now, with more to add), so I've been tracking the numbers on start-ups and the nuances, and I'm interested to see how the Patch expansion could change the local news business landscape. I predict a local advertising dollar war.

For one-newspaper towns, this could be a good thing, because ad rates are notoriously high in traditional media monopolies.

How well a Patch outlet presents local news with one reporter and a band of volunteers and freelancers is another thing.

Jessica Durkin
Scranton, PA

Tish Grier said...

Hi Jessica,

thanks for stopping by--and you make a good point about local ad dollar wars. It could definitely be a boon to local merchants.

and took a look at your site. Very nice! IMO, there are going to be lots and lots of news startups in the next couple of years, so you're going to have a whole lot to review :)