Introducing Backyard Post: Real-world neighborhoods as the foundation for a reappraisal of what a local newspaper should be
I’m going to mention the word once, then not only will you never hear or see me use it again, I might actually go so far as to punch squarely in the neck anyone who insists on using the word in relation to the product I’m about to announce: Hyperlocal.
There, I said it. An utterly meaningless word, rendered so by the seemingly endless parade of me-too products and projects to which it has been applied so carelessly. Precious few of those efforts seem to even bother pretending that they meet the geographic standard the word implies. Let us not mourn that terrible buzzword, then, let us instead forget where we buried it and consider this: The word “local” itself has already been redefined, freeing us of the need to prefix it so inanely.
I feel better now, I really do.
So here it is, exactly 574 days after I placed the very first vertex in a mapping and do-it-yourself data project so maddeningly meticulous that it left my already warped brain teetering on the edge of proper insanity: Backyard Post. Shall we spend a few minutes at Backyard Post, then reconvene at the next unitalicized sentence? … time passes pleasingly, some might even say gratifyingly … Now that we’re all here again, let me say this: I unveil Backyard Post today in a launch so soft that it is perhaps better described as plush. A pillow-soft launch, if you will. Please bear this in mind if you’re faced at Backyard Post with something broken, poorly executed or just generally ill-conceived.
More importantly, Backyard Post today is a very small fraction of what it will be mere months from now, much less what we see it becoming ultimately. What I’d really like to leave you thinking about today is simply the foundation on which Backyard Post is built: Neighborhoods. Not cities, ZIP codes or some other vague, gigantic or similarly off-the-mark stab at reaching actual humans in the actual neighborhoods where they actually live. Let’s consider what “neighborhood” means here in South Florida, or indeed any suburban area, where most newspapers are planted, versus what it means in an urban center.
Where I live, a neighborhood is horizontal, low-density, residential-only. In an urban center, a neighborhood is vertical, high-density, mixed-use. New York City, for example, is 469 square miles, home to 8.2 million people and has, last time I checked EveryBlock, 199 neighborhoods. West Palm Beach, where Backyard Post is launching, is 58 square miles, home to just over 100,000 people, and has 210 neighborhoods. And West Palm Beach is just one of 38 cities in Palm Beach County, which is over 2,000 square miles (bigger than Rhode Island, almost as large as Delaware) and home to 1.3 million people. What’s more, Palm Beach County is just one of three counties in our area. There are another 1,400 square miles, 400,000 people and seven municipalities in the other two counties.
There’s no shortcut to getting that level of detail correct, and no one but us, as far as I know, has even bothered trying. But why shouldn’t the local newspaper be the party that delivers that level of detail and organization to its community? Think of the value you can build on top of that foundation of neighborhoods. Not just value for your users, but value as well for the 80 percent of local businesses in your typical market that don’t consume any form of newspaper advertising. (More on that last point in a future post.)
I’ll leave it at that for now. I will, of course, have much more to say about Backyard Post. For now, please check it out and let me know what you think. Be sure to have a look at the “about” page and the obligatory meta blog. For the nerds, the major geek specs boil down to PostGIS and GeoDjango. Speaking of which, nothing awesome that you see at Backyard Post would have been possible without Matthew Wensing and Peter Sheats, the two scary-good developers we hired for the express purpose of making me appear to be much, much smarter than I actually am. And I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t pour one out for our departed homey Will Sullivan. Will isn’t departed in the “departed” sense, but he did leave us while Backyard Post was still in its embryonic stage.
Hit the jump for some screenshots, or just go to the flippin’ site, already.