GeoDomains: The past, present, and/or future of “local”?June 21, 2010 - Author: Dan Vonderheide - Comments are closed
I came to Louisville.com when I was 32 after half a lifetime in the radio business. The first day I sat down with my new employers and coworkers, it was pretty clear that selling ads was the only reason I was sitting there. I was unfamiliar with the most basic of terms (html, http, CSS, BROWSER – holy cow I was green!) that they all kind of snickered. I was there to sell some ads so I needn’t really worry about the rest.
In 2005, the industry was really just started to recover from the bubble burst. MySpace was really yet to take a foothold, bloggers lived in their mother’s basements and had very little in terms of readership not to mention commenters and participants, and newspaper readership was only mildly tanking. I suppose Google was selling adwords and building their stock price into something that most couldn’t afford, so they were making some money in the online space.
It was another 18 months of near trial and error where I was making some headway and building a decent portfolio of advertisers for the site, but I wasn’t 100% sure that what we were doing was the way it should work. We knew local was what people were looking for – but how did they respond to the ads? GeoDomains were predicted by Gordon Borrell to be the next big thing – a hockey stick of growth that could only be compared to the way TV took off in the ’50s.
We, along with most other city.com sites, had a very basic decision to make: Local vs. Tourist. There was no doubt (and there still isn’t) that people travelling or relocation to Louisville were coming to Louisville.com and finding a hotel room, restaurant, or something to do with their kids. The Castellos were raking in money over hand and fist with PalmSprings.com. They had (have) a business model that worked wonders in their tourist town, but other than Derby Week and the occassional PGA Event, Louisville could hardly be called a tourist destination.
Fast forward to 2010. Skip past 2 content mangers, 2 additional salespeople (I trained them, then they were hired away by other websites), a site overhaul into a new CMS complete with all the unpredicted hiccups, and a prolonged period of uncertainty about a possible buyout. After an abysmal 2009 for the entire ad industry (and humanity as a whole perhaps?) Louisville.com has finally hit the nail on the head. We brought on what was desperately needed; an actual writer with editing credentials to manage our freelancers. We’ve folded in real writers that live in the city (nothing syndicated here) and are uncovering awesome news nuggets, providing unique angles on old event concepts, and are giving our site a voice, a brand, a direction.
So, we seen this very broad arc and a lot of change over the past five years. We’ve gone from a glorified calendar, to a city “directory” vibe (which we’re paring down and refining), to a content-rich, article/blog-driven information tool with basic social media operations built in.
At the same time, those ubiquitous “web 2.0” tools have taken a chunk out of what we’d like to have done (e.g. yellow pages listings, building communities and groups, etc). But….there is still a massive gap between what is happening in Louisville and what makes news on the established outlets like TV, radio, and the C-J.
And that gap is the catalyst in my daily work. I think…I KNOW…that there is more going on in the city than fires, crimes, medical stories, and shocking undercover “conspiracies”.
Getting the job done on a shoestring budget is the trick. We’ve managed to come this far in the dark. Now, with the enlightenment that coming through hardship brings, I’m pretty fired up for what’s to come.
The hockey stick should start taking that aggressive upward turn.