Outside.in to AOL's Patch: Bring It On

Mark Josephson, CEO of hyper-local news aggregator Outside.in, doesn’t seem all that concerned about AOL’s plans to pour $50 million into its own hyper-local news operation, Patch.com. That’s because while AOL is trying to generate its own custom content for dozens of small cities and towns in New York state and elsewhere, Outside.in is happy to take on the much less resource-intensive job of pulling together what is created by others — from traditional media outlets such as newspapers and TV affiliates to local bloggers and even municipal listings and announcements. If anything, the expansion of Patch.com will just give Outside.in even more content to aggregate.

“I saw they were planning to spend $50 million, and I tried to think of ways we could spend $50 million and I just couldn’t do it,” Josephson said in a recent interview. Although they’re coming at the marketplace from two different perspectives, the goal of both Patch.com and Outside.in is similar — to tap into the local advertising market. “I think we see the same thing, which is an opportunity to capture an advertising audience at the local level and then roll that up into large national buys,” the Outside.in CEO says. Other hyper-local efforts with their eyes on the same prize include Topix and Placeblogger.com.

“They’ve decided to create original content for everywhere they want to be, whereas we aggregate and pull together what is out there already,” Josephson said of AOL. Outside.in pulls from more than 40,00 different sources, including traditional publications such as local newspapers and TV stations, bloggers, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, as well municipal information sources and real estate listings. Those latter sources make Outside.in a little like Everyblock, the startup founded by programmer Adrian Holovaty that was sold last year to MSNBC. Microsoft is also experimenting with some aggregation of hyper-local blogs through its Bing search engine.

Josephson says Outside.in has been working closely with traditional publishers to “help them take costs out of their business.” The company offers a self-serve version for publishers that allows them to aggregate content for a specific location and then use it to beef up their local coverage. “We’re working with about 100 publishers, including the New York Post, Tribune Co., Media General, as well as TV stations such as CBS, NBC and Fox,” Josephson says. “We don’t want to see the traditional media go away — we want to help everybody to stay in business.” One of the more recent additions to Outside.in’s list of clients was CNN, which is not only working with the service but also invested an undisclosed amount in the company in December.

Meanwhile, Josephson says the New York Post’s web site, which used to have just four sub-sites for their regional bureaus, now has a toolbar with hundreds of different boroughs, towns and other locations, all powered by Outside.in — providing news headlines as well as blog posts, and a local map with events and news items pinned to it at various locations. The service also pulls in content from Gothamist and other news sites, via their RSS feeds. And the content feed from Outside.in that publishers such as the NY Post use comes with ads embedded in it (publishers can pay a licensing fee for a feed with no ads, but 90 percent of the company’s customers take the ads).

As far as other hyper-local or aggregated content solutions such as Daylife and Topix, Josephson says they all serve a slightly different purpose. Daylife “does for other sections of the paper what we do for news,” he says, creating vertical and topic pages around content areas such as travel and entertainment, while Topix “does a great job of aggregating community and comment boards, but doesn’t really focus on news.” In any case, the Outside.in CEO says there is “plenty of room for everybody in hyper-local. There’s $115 billion spent on advertising focused on local markets, through TV, radio, print and outdoor — and only about $15 billion of it is online.”

And if AOL spends $50 million and brings a lot of attention and advertisers into online hyper-local, says Josephson, “then we all benefit.”

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Merton

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