Police activity in front of your apartment building? Obama dining in your neighborhood? Want to know exactly what’s happening in your location, at any given time but don’t know where to go to get this information?
BlockFeed, a newly launched app for Andorid and iPhone pulls in content from hundreds of sources – from large publishers to small independent bloggers to provide the most hyperlocal source of news for any given location in the city. The startup is the brainchild of Philip Perkins, Ben Goldman, and Adam May. BlockFeed plans to have tagged and categorized 150,000+ stories by the end of its first year.
Today, we chat with Philip to learn more about the startup, its future plans, and the future of hyperlocal news in New York city.
Tell us about the product or service.
Blockfeed is the only NYC app that features a news stream tailored to a user’s exact location in the city. We do this by geolocating over 500 stories a day from the city’s best blogs and news sites, from the big dailies down to niche hyperlocal blogs most people have never heard of. As a result, a user can open the app at home in Brooklyn, then hope on the subway and head to work in Midtown, and see entirely different news streams.
A good way to think of it is like a magical newspaper that rearranges its front page to show you news stories near your location.
How is it different?
Local news is unique in that the relevance of a story is directly tied to how close it is to a reader’s location. A story about a new supermarket opening, or a store robbery, can be the most interesting content in the world to a reader – if it’s from the block they live or work on. However, the same story can be supremely uninteresting if a reader is just a few miles away.
In a city the size of NYC, this is doubly true since a mom in the Upper West Side may not have the same interests as a student in Williamsburg.
Blockfeed is the first app that solves this by geolocating news stories on a massive scale – at least 500 per day. By geolocating news, we unlock awesome possibilities. Now we can customize a user’s news stream based on their location, alert users to when a news story breaks near them, and users can even browse the city’s news via a map – scrolling from one block to the next to see the news that broke there.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
We’re entering the local news space, which is notorious for being a tough market to crack. However, we prefer not to think of the existing market as it is – instead, we’re more excited about the potential market size that’s unlocked by lowering the barrier of entry for anyone to easily consume great local content.
For instance, before Blockfeed, a user had to be aware of a constellation of local blogs and news sites, and finding content from their area would require either a Google search or meticulous research. With Blockfeed, a user can open the app and instantly find the biggest and most recent news stories from their area, without having to do a thing.
We think Blockfeed will create a whole new audience for local news, and help drive traffic to the important blogs and news sites that have been serving their communities for years. Capturing mobile readers could make running a local news site more sustainable, and help reinvigorate the entire local news industry.
What is the business model?
We’re not implementing a business model at this stage, and are singularly focused on becoming the best source for local news in existence. However, we’re most excited about the value we’re creating by geolocating and categorizing news stories on this scale. We estimate that by the end of our first year, we’ll have geolocated & categorized over 150,000 news stories in NYC alone. This is a treasure trove of data, and could be useful for a number of industries, such as advertising, business planning, real estate companies, quantitative analysis, and much more.
What inspired the business?
The problem we really wanted to solve is helping people know “What’s happening in my area?”
We originally tried solving this with our first hyperlocal app Qork, which allowed people to share geolocated posts with other nearby people. But while working on Qork, we discovered that in cities like NYC, there already are thriving communities of local bloggers and journalists who answer that question on a daily basis. The problem then became, “How do we make a local news app for a city of 8.5 million people?” Blockfeed was the solution.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We would like to achieve 50,000 users in NYC by our 6 month milestone. We’d also like to see evidence that local news sites are receiving big boosts to their traffic as a result of having their content on Blockfeed.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
When working with a small team in the tech-driven startup world, scalability is often equated with automation. The common myth is that if a task requires regular human involvement, it’s not scalable. In reality, I’ve found that there are many opportunities for a company to use computer assisted human efforts to go beyond the limits of automated mediocrity. This can even become one of the core competencies of the business. Sometimes a well-orchestrated human effort sets you apart from the competition.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Alex Iskold – the managing director of Techstars. We recently applied to Techstars NYC and are very much hoping to be accepted. Creating a media startup is supremely challenging, and scaling will require the connections and mentorship that a program like Techstars affords its companies.
Why did you launch in New York?
All 3 cofounders went to college in NYC (Cooper Union, The New School and Columbia University) and love the city with a passion. More importantly, however, is that NYC has perhaps the greatest local blogging and journalism scene of any city on the planet, which means our value proposition can be realized most clearly there.
Where is your favorite outdoor bar in the city for a drink when it is warm out?
The Jeffrey on E 60th St, mostly due to its proximity to my old workplace at Bloomberg. Beer selection is very important, and they don’t disappoint in that regard.