How many people’s names do you know who live within walking distance of your house? If you’re like many Americans today, the answer is probably not many.
No one knows neighborhoods and streets like the people who live there, and people who live near each other have a lot in common when it comes to local issues like parking, water lines and local crime.
That’s the thinking behind new online networks and RSS aggregation sites that aim to connect people who live near each other.
The Web is getting more serious about local content generated by people at the street level for those who live nearby. A new site called StreetAdvisor.com launched today, joining a wave of other locally focused, user-generated sites — including Outside.in — that are trying to get at the fabric of local stories.
StreetAdvisor bills itself as “an entirely new kind of online real estate community powered by crowd-sourced reviews.”
The site includes street-level data in communities across 26 countries and has a place for locals to review and rank the streets where they live, have lived or have visited. The site then generates a StreetScore city ranking, which considers ratings in various categories and factors including neighborly spirit, nightlife, cell phone reception, traffic, cost of living, public transportation and many others.
Users can give first-hand reviews of streets. One reviewer, for instance, says of his street in Palo Alto, Calif.: “We moved here about 1 1/2 years ago, and so far we absolutely love it. The neighbors are friendly, the houses are charming and unique, there’s a great sense of pride and sincerity — all the class and charm of Palo Alto, without the snobs.”
Site visitors also get an at-a-glance look at important details like nearby post offices, nearby drug stories, dry cleaning, and other things.
Co-founders Jason and Adam Spencer said they wanted to make available the local information that potential home buyers and current residents care about.
“Before StreetAdvisor.com, home buyers and renters were making important decisions based on the word of agents and landlords. We use the wisdom of crowds to help people share in firsthand experiences in order to make life-enhancing decisions, before they move in,” said Adam Spencer, co-founder and CEO.
This site also includes a message board area where people can communicate with neighbors or contribute information on local services. Users also can upload video taken on their street, from house parties to a Sunday walk in the local park.
Another locally focused Web service, Outside.in., which officially launched earlier this year, has a much different model and doesn’t target neighborhood reviews, but it similarly gathers content based on geographic location and presents it in a relevant, locally focused way.
The company tracks more than 3,000 neighborhoods across 62 cities so that users can enter a neighborhood or ZIP code and see stories, people and places associated with that area. The site content is organized around RSS feeds submitted from blogs. Users then see headlines from local blogs and click through to those blogs to read the full entry.
John Geraci, president and co-creator, said that Outside.in is now delving into more social networking features that would allow users to chat with each other about local issues like car break-ins or hot new restaurants.
Geraci said the site offers to take the pain out of unraveling the blogging scene. Many isolated blog entries about one topic can become more meaningful when strung together with others’ blog entries on the same local issue.
He points to a recent example in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, in which officials were talking about making all the avenues one-way streets and every local blogger started blogging about it.
“Each blog entry is really an isolated entry,” he said. “But Outside.in connects the dots and gives each story a local context.”
The long-term strategy behind many locally focused sites is that this type of rich and relevant content will translate into a highly targeted place for small local businesses to connect with consumers. Geraci points out that online advertising today is mostly geo-targeted, but there are strict limitations on geo-targeting that end up ruling out a lot. For instance, advertisers can geo-target by city, but not by streets or neighborhoods.
“Local businesses haven’t really had a game in advertising on the Web yet — that’s what we think that Outside.in will really address,” he said.
Investors clearly agree, as the company in February announced its first significant round of financing from backers including Union Square Ventures, and Internet luminaries Marc Andreessen, John Seely Brown and Esther Dyson. Additional financing came from Milestone Venture Partners, Village Ventures, and angel investors George Crowley, John Borthwick and Richard Smith.
“We have learned that the best Web services are two-way systems,” Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures said when the financing was announced. “They take content in, add something to it, and then send it back out. YouTube works this way. So do Delicious and Flickr. To date, we haven’t seen such a service for local information online. Outside.in will hopefully fill that void and we are excited to be involved.”
Outside.in plans to roll out a site redesign next week, Geraci said.
The site co-creator thinks that the whole notion of “place blogging” that Outside.in embraces is going to catch on even more. “We managed to surf out in front of a really big wave that’s about to break,” he said.