People increasingly look for reasons to avoid traveling, knowing we will get crowds, intrusive security, a bland sameness everywhere, crumbling infrastructure that could be dangerous and to top it all a smidgeon of guilt about our carbon footprint. When travel looks like fun, it is “off the beaten track”, in some place that does not look like everywhere else, a genuinely local place.
Living “off the grid” was once a dream for a few wild hippies, toking in yurts in the Mojave desert. Now we can see three “straws in the wind” that indicate that this is turning mainstream:
1. Silicon Valley A List VCs are financing the solar energy products to enable all of us to cut off our dependency on the electricity grid.
2. The work from home generation increasingly takes a world without commuting to Dilbert cubicles for granted; reducing our dependency on highways and mass transportation. In that more local world, we can get about by foot, bicycle or maybe electric car; we are also more likely to interact with and care about local shopkeepers and other suppliers.
3. Consumers increasingly value local and hand-made as special, for which they are willing to pay a premium; consumers want the opposite of mass-produced. We increasingly distrust the industrial food that comes from the Meatrix and a book about sustainable agriculture hits the bestseller lists. Local food is the new black, “better than organic“.
Local 2.0 is clearly Web 2.0 type thinking. The big focus is on location based services. The classic use case is a traveler, a stranger in a strange land who has just landed and wants to find something or somebody (who might help them find something). As we all rush around the country/world pitching to clients/investors/partners or hanging out at cool un-conferences, that is an important use case; but it is different from Re-localization.
Re-localization is about locals. It is about people who like being in one place and interacting with neighbors. This does not make it a closed world. Local shopkeepers/restaurants/cafes welcome the stranger/traveler/tourist with their credit card. Realtors, plumbers and all kinds of small businesses welcome the newcomer, who may put down roots here and become a regular customer.
In Web 1.0, these local businesses were viewed as roadkill. Everything would be ordered online and delivered by air and trucks from giant automated warehouses. Oops, lousy economics; plus increasing consumer push-back. So now Web 2.0 start-ups want to “partner” with these local businesses.
“Partner” is a term we fling about carelessly in technology/media circles; it is a thoroughly devalued term. Use it with a local shopkeeper and she will ask you how many dollars you plan to invest with her in this new business that you will jointly own.
What we really mostly mean is “we would like to sell you some advertising”. After delivering your pitch for a paradigm-changing local ad service, you will hear something about Yellow Pages or Classified Ads in the local paper; well you would hear that if you were actually in conversation. Many will tell you they don’t bother - “the locals already know me”. Others will say they have always used the local paper/directory “because Harry is a great guy, no idea if it works, but don’t plan to change”. So then you switch your pitch to something about visitors and the pitch degenerates into something pretty marginal.
Selling to real small businesses at a local level, means having a little cheat sheet to remind you of three basic facts:
- People don’t live online. Re-localization is all about human interaction face to face. If you think community = online…ahem, get a life! MeetUp looks like a big winner in this environment. Mobile is a big deal, but you will be hard pressed to offer something more compelling than hitting autodial to tell your friend what cafe you are in.
- Small business owners are traders. Trade with them. Buy from them or sell something to them that they can sell to their customers. I know that sounds kinda basic. To put it in more fancy media/technology language, there is a value chain that leads from CPM to CPC to CPA to transaction fees. Ebay gets that and they are as mainstream as it gets.
- When the local business wants to look at an online alternative to Yellow Pages/local paper, Craigslist is right there and virtually free and they have crossed the chasm. Count me a sceptic on the local ad market; Craigslist took the air out of that one.
Here is the little secret. Local business people are plenty smart (even if they don’t know what Drupal is) and the Web just made them smarter. They can get together with other small businesses to compete more effectively against the Fortune 500 behemoths who turned America into a shopping mall. They will use the Net to trade with their peers; enable that in some way and you may have a winner.
The Net is also critical to re-localization because it brings the “distant independent digital worker” who relies on broadband and smart tools to communicate with colleagues/partners/clients globally. They bring new revenue into the local economy.
What do you think? Do you like your local bookshop or are you Amazon only? If you ran a local small business, what Net based service would you find most useful?