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Amnon Dekel

I always enjoy Jeff Pulver’s networking “breakfasts” which he holds around the world. Pulver, a VoiP superstar and lately startup angel with a passion for Israel, usually hosts his breakfast shindigs in Tel Aviv, but last week he came to Jerusalem.

I approach a networking event like a Kiddush at shul. You want to flit around as much as possible (while not being too rude with quick getaways) but if you find yourself talking to someone particularly interesting, you stay put.

That was the case when I met up with Amnon Dekel. Dekel is an old friend (he used to run the Digital Media Studies program at the IDC in Herzeliya and hired me to teach a course) and he’s about to turn in his doctoral dissertation to Hebrew University. The topic: “indoor navigation.”

Dekel has identified a problem you probably never thought about, but that’s a potential “next big thing.” Mobile phones are great at using GPS to find their position outside. But they don’t work so well under a roof of, say, a library.

Dekel’s research specifies a methodology for locating objects such as books, and it doesn’t require transmitters to be installed all over the ceiling of the space. The idea is that you’d type in the title or author into your phone, and you’d receive a map telling you exactly which floor, section and even shelf you should head to.

Dekel has built a working prototype in the Harman Library on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. His tests show that, using the system, it takes only half the time to find a book and people make less navigation mistakes and need less help from others to find the book.

The same technology could be used in warehouses, bookstores and manufacturing plants, Dekel says.

That’s not to say that it’s easy – staff at the physical site need to input data, items may need to be scanned – but it’s a fascinating start.

The system has yet to be commercialized (venture capitalists – take note). But, who knows (and Dekel will scold me for writing this), you could eventually crown yourself mayor of the Dewey decimal system!

This article appeared last year on the Israelity blog.


Mark Potts, co-founder of the defunct hyperlocal citizen-journalism experiment BackFence, shared some thoughts on lessons he learned during his tenure at the company. While “some of BackFence’s problems were internal and self-inflicted,” Potts is still “very optimistic that a similar model can and will succeed.

We’ll summarize Potts’s main points here, but the full article, published in 2007, has timeless advice.

Potts, by the way, has already moved on and started an ad-services group aimed at helping hyper-local and vertical/niche sites generate more revenue. GrowthSpur, which includes an impressive team of ex-newspaper execs, is focusing on technology, training and ad-networking to improve ad sales.

— Engage the community. “ It’s not about technology, it’s not about journalism, it’s not about whizbang Web 2.0 features. It’s about bringing community members together to share what they know about what’s going on around town,” Potts says. “A top-down, ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy absolutely does not work.”

— It’s not journalism – it’s a conversation. “The magic of hyperlocal sites is that they provide a forum for community members to share and discuss what’s going on around town.”

— Hyper-local content is really mundane – at least to outsiders looking in. “But for residents of a particular community, it’s very relevant. Mundane is a competitive advantage.”

— Trust the audience. BackFence never became a nasty free-for-all due to a number of tools – required registration to post comments, profanity filters, “report misconduct” buttons on every page. As a result, the need for BackFence to take down content “happened just a handful of times over two plus years.”

— Focus on strong, well-defined communities. “We chose them because they had a strong, well-focused sense of place and community pride—I live here, I don’t live over there.” Don’t try to cover too large a geographic area.

— Leverage social networking. “The rise of MySpace, Flickr, YouTube and the commercial version of Facebook—virtually all of which have happened since Backfence launched more than two years ago—demonstrates the power of social media.” Backfence, Potts says, never took proper advantage of social media.

— Local advertising is robust. “Local advertisers are eager for new online advertising vehicles. We sold ads to more than 400 advertisers, more than any other similarly sized hyper-local effort that I’m aware of.”

— Keep costs down. “The BackFence formula averaged about one staffer per community site, and in retrospect, that probably was too rich.”

— Piggyback on a print or broadcast partner’s existing community relationships and marketing power. “It’s very, very difficult to start from scratch in a community and get to critical mass without help.”

— Hyperlocal is really hard. “ Anybody who’s run a hyper-local site will tell you that it takes a couple of years just to get to a point where you’ve truly got a vibrant online community. It takes even longer to turn that into a viable business.” Backfence failed essentially because, although it raised $3 million, it couldn’t sustain itself long enough.

Ultimately, Potts says that he believes that at the core, “user-generated hyper-local citizens’ media is sound. If there’s anything I’ve learned from BackFence, it’s that the power and potential of local communities still is waiting to be tapped.”

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


YouTube is Embracing Hyperlocal

by Brian Blum on July 30, 2009

in Classified Advertising

Hyperlocal is coming to YouTube. The Google-owned video-sharing giant has invited the more than 25,000 news sources listed on Google News to become video suppliers. The site is also promoting videos from ABC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and other outlets.

YouTube’s hyperlocal trick is to match your location with news from your area (in YouTube’s case, that could mean as far away as 100 miles). Through its “News Near You” feature, the site is already distributing hometown video from dozens of sources, and says it wants to add thousands more. Ultimately the goal, speculates The New York Times, is to engineer newscasts on the fly.

So far, most of the videos on YouTube aren’t coming from mainstream TV outlets. You’ll see panoply of college newspapers and radio stations and amateur filmmakers. But that doesn’t devalue the potential. And of course homemade video from Iran already made news when distributed by YouTube last month.

To date, nearly 200 news outlets have signed up with YouTube to post news. Google search results now show YouTube videos alongside news articles. News providers split the revenue from any advertisements that appear with them.

The new YouTube program shouldn’t run into the same controversy that has plagued Google News recently: news outlets sign up as explicit partners.

For newspapers, distribution of video news via YouTube could have additional revenue opportunities: links to classifieds pages can now be embedded directly into videos. These links could be keyed to the specific content of a video (a review of a new car could like to the automotive classifieds). Or it could be a more generic link back to the publisher’s classifieds section (or for that matter wherever the paper wants the link to go).

That might be the first revenue-generating application of YouTube’s new program. But newspapers should keep their eye on the program and, we’d suggest, jump in early to grab mindshare and credibility in the brave new YouTube news world.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


An article in The New York Times about Twitter got us thinking. The piece by Claire Cain Miller discusses how small businesses are increasingly using Twitter as their main form of advertising. It cites a man in San Francisco who opened a pushcart selling crème brulee. 5,400 people are now following him to find out where his roaming restaurant will be on any given day and what’s the flavor of the month.

In another example, a sushi restaurant that tweets about what fish is the freshest that day, is receiving up to five new customers a night.

We’ve always thought of Twitter as a kind of bi-polar entity, attracting individuals who insist on informing everyone when their plane is delayed and big brands like Moonfruit who give away computers to generate buzz.

But if the mom and pops are finding Twitter their best form of advertising, how can publishers who want to attract those hyper-local customers utilize the medium?

Here’s an idea: offer to link a small business’s tweets into your larger classified sales channel. For example, could a Twittering business cross post automatically to their own followers as well as a newspaper’s followers? That of course would require some infrastructure to generate tweets from listings, but we’re seeing that already with many of the large job boards jumping on the Twitter bandwagon.

Or could offering to broadcast classifieds via a publisher’s larger Twitter stream be a possible upsell opportunity for a newspaper? Even if it’s free, it might be a way to lure back customers who have left their local outlet to join a large Internet classifieds pure play.

There are undoubtedly many models to consider here. The critical point to consider is that if the mom and pop’s are migrating to Twitter, you need to be there too.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts:


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