Assuming you've surfed the Web this week, you know that MSNBC Interactive, a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal, has acquired EveryBlock, a Chicago-based startup that offers hyperlocal news on a per-block basis. Bloggers are buzzing about how EveryBlock's service is smart, because it allows users to see local news coverage, blog entries, and other information based on their address and Zip code, and savvy, because it has "a good chance of generating a positive return."
What they fail to mention, however, is that Microsoft has been down this road before, and it's filled with potholes. In 1996, the software giant acquired Sidewalk.com, an up-and-coming Web site that listed local events and information in a variety of major city cities, much like EveryBlock. Three years later, after Sidewalk failed to make a profit, Microsoft sold it to CitySearch for a hefty $290 million. Today, the domain promotes a contest: "Got a bright idea focused on helping users get to know their neighborhood? Share it with us!"
So will EveryBlock's arc be any different? It's tough to say. As Fast Company's Michael Gluckstadt points out in "Can Anyone Tap the $100 Billion Potential of Hyperlocal News," the market is ripe: As most Internet advertising in the United States grinds to a halt, online local-ad spending is projected to grow 5.4% in 2009 to $13.3 billion, according to media research firm Borrell Associates. Moreover, at least $100 billion is spent annually on local ads—TV, radio, print, outdoor, direct mail, and online.
But with other hyperlocal news services, such as AOL's Patch and the New York Times' The Local, struggling to find successful ad models, EveryBlock's future is still precarious. And as Gluckstadt concludes: "The future of hyperlocal—according to the people who have studied, lived, and championed it—seems to be in convincing others that hyperlocal is the future."
[MSNBC Interactive via CNET]