AOL is diving into a shot glass from 100 feet up, betting huge amounts of cash on local media, a sucker’s bet. The list of failures in this area boggle the mind: Backfence, Bayosphere, Outside In, TBD, Loudon Extra, Everyblock, and now AOL’s Patch, which might be the biggest dodo of all:
Mathew Ingram, Can Patch Become the Huffington Post of Local News?
The bigger issue for AOL is that even if it manages to hit the Patch ball out of the park, and creates thriving communities in hundreds of locations across the U.S., it’s not clear whether that’s going to be a good business or not. Building online communities is all well and good, but generating revenue and profits is what AOL really needs to do. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post shut down their local ventures in part because they didn’t generate enough revenue to make them worthwhile. So far, Armstrong hasn’t made a strong case for why Patch should be any different.
AOL says it expects to generate local advertising revenue from its Patch sites, but admits this isn’t even close to happening yet. Meanwhile, it plans to continue pouring millions into this unproven hyperlocal strategy. Tim Armstrong just keeps piling his chips higher and higher on his Patch bet, but the odds of winning continue to be extremely slim.
The message of the web is being missed here, again, by folks like Armstrong. People are breaking free of mass media, so we don’t watch the Evening News together like folks did in the ’50s and ’60s, or reading the Daily Blatz on the train every morning.
But we aren’t replacing that 20th century behavior with watching the Hyperlocal Evening News or reading the Hyperlocal Daily Blatz, either. We haven’t shifted our allegiance from the nation or metropolis to a zipcode, which is after all just a smaller mass.
No, we are defecting from mass identity — which is the real message of mass media — to social identity. And social identity is not based on zipcodes, it is based on connections.
We are building intentional communities: by picking who to follow, not by moving into some utopian neighborhood.
And we want our media to follow those intentions, to support the communities we are crafting through connection.
So Armstrong and Huffington will have to give up on Patch. It is trying to do the wrong things for the wrong motivations. There is no constituency for Patch, because there is no single public that cares in the same way about geographic locales, any more.
(This turns out to be a similar problem for geography-based politics, too, by the way.)
Patch attempts to solve a problem people don’t know they have. They feel informed — if anything, they feel like they have too much information.
AOL would be better off look at solutions like News.me, Percolate, and Flipboard. These are based on the social news flowing in the streams of tools like Twitter.
News is better when it is delivered through people I trust, and then it is ‘near’ me in my social net: that’s the only sort of local that works. It will overlap with hyperlocal, in part, but incidentally.