I had cause to write up some thoughts on the future of local content on the Web. I thought it’d be good to get this out in the larger world and maybe get others’ take. This is very web-focused (because of my original reasons for writing it).
It’s not about the site
Very few sites are able to claim “destination” appeal. Banking on “http://yoursite.com/” to be *the business* is tragically short-sighted. The challenge is figuring out how to get that content to where the users are. I’m a fan of things like the integration of local content with http://city.ask.com. RSS feeds of frequently updated local information could also work (I access Chowhound.com and Upcoming,org solely through my feedreader).
Local == Mobile
If you’re truly seeking a next-gen experience, having a clear vision for mobile is crucial. Local information is most valuable in the moment, on the street. I can’t tell you how often I punch up Google Maps on my iPhone, or do Chowhound or Google searches when I’m out and about. As mobile devices evolve and increasingly embed themselves in people’s lives, local content must be available on the street.
Be a good web citizen
Content sites, particularly those that have been around for years, tend towards a publishing model that is more concerned with “stickiness” then with truly valuable customer experiences. Open up your content to others; receive content for other sources. Imagine Upcoming.org events and geotagged Flickr photos integrated with the local-business profile pages.
Assist decision support
This requires some research to understand more fully, but I suspect (based on my experience and what I’ve seen with others) that the biggest challenge facing local content sites is not the content itself, but is about helping people make decisions about what to do and where to go. Right now, none of these sites offer strong tools for decision support over time — apart from saving a business’ profile page. I’m talking about things like on-the-fly comparison charts; saving collections of items and share it with others; placing a selected set of choices on a map; and asking questions (think answers.com) for local-specific matters could all help users not just find information but figure out what to really do with it.