Hyperlocal is shrinking. Not the market, or the number of sites, or even the number of start-ups in the space - just a glance at the OpenlyLocal directory reveals that the sites are multiplying as quickly as ever. But the size of the communities that new local businesses and sites aim to serve are getting smaller all the time, with the latest websites and businesses launching in this space often aiming to cover communities of fewer than a dozen streets or a single postcode.
And that's potentially very interesting news for local journalists facing yet another round of newspaper cutbacks, because if smaller communities will support viable hyperlocal community websites there's potentially more jobs covering the news in those communities to go around.
In the US last year Patch.com hired more than 600 journalists (probably the most of any company in 2010) to roll out more than 500 sites to towns with populations between 15,000 and 75,000 people. But in the UK new businesses are already emerging with a plan for publishing hyperlocal community sites, with original news reporting, in towns of 5,000 people or fewer.
Postcode Gazette is the latest initiative from Science Navigation Group, publishers of nationwide entertainment guide Wozzon and the Global DataPoint events listings service. Postcode Gazette's Managing Director Chris McCormack explains:
"Our aim is to deliver a hyperlocal service on a national scale. As a rough rule of thumb, we are thinking in terms of one local publisher for each 5,000 people."
The Postcode Gazette has already taken on a number of local publishers in Sheffield and the site went into live beta recently. In their latest release the company noted that for their initial test of some sample Sheffield postcodes (S1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 35, 36) "we posted 450 items related to Sheffield postcodes during January, and 1,000 for February, in March we hit just over 1,600".
If they can get it right, rolling that model out nationwide implies an ultimate roster of 12,000 local publishers covering unprecedentedly small news beats. That's not just a big deal for hyperlocal or the communities those sites will serve, but big news for local journalists leaving shrinking newsrooms.
(Disclosure: I spoke to Postcode Gazette about doing some work together earlier this year, and then we didn't. Still, the point of disclosures is to be complete, not necessarily conclusive or even as in this case remotely interesting to the reader.)