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About the Backfence Closing

Backfence.com, a pioneering hyperlocal media company, is shutting down. Terry Heaton, pulling together Web commentary on what he calls some important lessons, says:

The announced closing of Backfence has brought about some refreshing and much-needed discussion on the subject of hyperlocal news and the web. This is an important discussion, because a lot of companies are looking to hyperlocal as the salvation of their business model. But the concept is misunderstood and, as a result, carries a false promise for mainstream media.

As many of you know, Backfence purchased my Bayosphere site about 15 months ago. I became a shareholder and, for a time, a consultant to the company and part-time blogger.

Which is why I can’t say much about this, even though I’ve known about it for some time. I had some confidential conversations with the Backfence principals during the past year and a half. I won’t violate those confidences. Sometime in the relatively near future, I hope to post something about how I believe hyperlocal journalism can work best in a rapidly changing media environment.

Don’t imagine that Backfence’s demise is anything terribly tragic. It’s unfortunate, yes, particularly for the founders who put so much time and effort into the project (and somewhat less so for the investors), but let’s reserve seriously painful thoughts for events that deserve them.

Most startups fail. That is not a bad thing. It is a necessary thing, because a tolerance for risk — no, a need to embrace it — is at the core of how good things eventually come from experimentation. It’s a vital part of how we learn, and improve.

3 Comments on “About the Backfence Closing”

  1. #1 Andy Vogel
    on Jul 9th, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    There are at least a few of us Backfence.com veterans that are continuing (in our own way) to use the lessons we learned. I’m working on citizen media initiatives via an alternative weekly in Milwaukee, and have used word-of-mouth tactics we used in Chicago, where I was the Backfence.com GM, and found a better way to market to a very politically active group. I know that others are back in media, with Smalltown, and with consultancies working more on the community development and speech aspects versus the “hyper-local” pieces. Hyper-local really seemed to be a marketing term and not very descriptive of what we did.

  2. #2 media mindshare: on news, technology & media relations It’s been a coupla hyperlocal news kinda days … «
    on Jul 10th, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    [...] About the Backfence Closing Dan Gilmore at the Center for Citizen Journalism says ‘hyperlocal’ is a misunderstood and perilous concept. Posted in social media, newspapers, journalism, media. [...]

  3. #3 Tracy Ulin
    on Jul 14th, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Hey Dan — I talked with Backfence folks last fall about joining the company.

    Beyond the evidence that the model couldn’t scale, I was most struck by the fact that the people were unable to talk about the business conceptually beyond a “[insert latest concept here]‘s time has come” theme. The Backfence people I met with didn’t have an understanding of the history or issues that brought us to this point. I heard Backfence say the exact same thing I’ve heard countless *newspaper* people say: if you build it, they will come.

    I’ve had the good fortune of working on the earliest blogs (your first one, remember?), a worldwide social networking initiative (I was part of eBay’s recent launch of wikis, blogs and reviews) and citizen publishing (I designed the concept into Knight Ridder Digital’s product plan in 2001). As usual, the technology has made great improvements… our collective thinking is evolving much more slowly.

    Dan, it’ll be really helpful to learn more about why Backfence thought it would work in the face of evidence that suggested otherwise. Personally, I’d also love to see why they (or anyone else) thought of hyperlocal as a strict geographical concept.