Dichtbij expands where The Guardian leaves the hyperlocal battlefield

(dit artikel verscheen eerder deze maand in het blad IDEAS)

The very same day The Guardian put a sudden end to its hyperlocal activities, Dutch “counterpart” dichtbij.nl decided to expand them. Both initiatives experimented with three pilot sites, yet the outcome at this moment is far from the same.

The Guardian’s three platforms in Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh were “not sustainable in its present form”, Head of Digital Engagement Meg Pickard blogged on April 27. In other words: editorially okay but commercially not viable.
All but claiming sustainable success at this moment – it is way too early for conclusions like that – the results up to now have given Dichtbij (Dutch for “Close to Me”) faith for some next big steps. From three sites at this moment to more than 100 within the next two months. And, even more exciting, from hardly 10 people today to possibly more than one hundred at the end of the summer.

The three initial pilot sites in Zwolle, Woerden and Eindhoven, were built upon the wish to get answers to three main questions:
1. How far can the aggregation machines get us? (pilot Zwolle)
2. How can we find and activate communities? (pilot Woerden)
3. Which new business models bring us the profit we need to survive? (pilot Eindhoven)

And yes, Dichtbij got the answers. Two of the things Dichtbij found out experimenting, seem to be key to any media success in the near future: a journalistic attitude that fits in the needs of a real community, and the closest possible cooperation between editorial and commercial departments within the organization.

Local teams should consist of entrepreneurial journalists, community managers and sales representatives. All starting from their own excellence, they should work closely together in finding communities, new businesses and the content that attracts the right audiences.

Dichtbij is on the eve of its national launch. Plans indicate that next month, the most crowded area of the country will be covered and only a month later the rest of the country. In an attempt to not overstretch the managerial means of control – and to keep costs as low as possible – Dichtbij will in fact grow step by step. While the first rollout regions will have a full fledged organization, the rest will start with a “light”-version of the website.

As always, bottom line is the question of profitability: the viable business models that Pickard couldn’t find. Yes, any site or blog (be it hyperlocal or not) will have a very hard time being profitable, if the makers do not build a business model before they start building the platform itself. Content may be great, participation may be super, it all comes down to nothing more than hobby if the business doesn’t take off. Money doesn’t fall from heaven, hyperlocal penny’s don’t roll your way by itself.

It is thanks to the conviction that a viable and sustainable new media business will have to step away from the old media-truths, that Dichtbij is making money even before the official introduction campaign was launched. It’s the attitude, stupid!

Bart Brouwers will be telling the whole story on the commercial chances of this Dutch hyperlocal platform during a WAN-based conference in Paris at the end of june. You can already take a sneak preview at eindhoven.dichtbij.nl.