Website Fails to Immediately Succeed

In May I launched the first iteration of Placewire, a website for sharing neighborhood news by sharing photos. Follow neighborhoods where you live & work, post interesting stuff when you see it, revel in a stream of highly relevant pictures of local nail salon grand openings, dangerous new potholes, boxes you can pay to park your dog in, etc.

I thought Placewire was worth doing for a few reasons:

  1. Local information is interesting,
  2. but posting it feels irrelevant on other social networks, so nobody does.
  3. Sharing photos is something people like doing.
  4. Experience leads me to believe that this kind of content can be weird and wonderful.

So it’s been a few months, enough time to reflect a bit on what’s working and what’s not.

Nothing is working.

Several hundred folks have been nice enough to sign up, and most of them have looked around and followed some neighborhoods. But any other metric you can name — user posts created, repeat visits, earnest fan mail — shows that right now, Placewire is very far from providing value. Its failure is so complete that it’s kind of thrilling.

But you know, this is fine. Going in, I was aware that creating a hit local user-generated content website without editorial direction, community outreach, or marketing is going to be a long play involving some unforeseeable group of passionate early adopters like college students or cat thieves. But it’s still interesting to contemplate the reasons the product is failing right now.

Here, I’m not talking about issues like the clunky web-based posting flow, messy neighborhood map and missing features that make the product hard to use, but instead the intrinsic, directional forces which work against Placewire ever becoming a success.

The intrinsic, directional forces which work against Placewire ever becoming a success

  1. People hate new stuff! Most people download zero new phone apps a month. Instagram alone has at least three different feeds to worry about following now. The news is filled with strife and tragedy. At this point many people greet the news of some new information thing as they would an invitation to receive gavage.
  2. It has the chicken and egg problem, in that it needs content creators to adopt it in order to attract content consumers, but why would a creator take the trouble if there’s no apparent audience?
  3. It has the hyperlocal chicken and egg problem, in that even an ardent/oblivious creator and a corresponding consumer are unlikely to run into each other among the 41,040 neighborhoods currently on the site.
  4. If you’re seized by a desire to share a picture of that tire fire, there’s no real downside to sticking it on Facebook. The existing dominant modes of photo sharing are probably good enough, and they certainly have better face-swap capabilities.
  5. There are two ways for communities to grow passively: showing up in search results, and content that travels well on social media. Photos don’t perform super well in search, and if Placewire content doesn’t fit on Facebook in the first place, why would anyone share it to there from Placewire?

And yet, who doesn’t love a challenge? I have a simple ask for you to help me unravel these thorny issues:

  1. Go to placewire.co and sign in, ideally on your phone.
  2. Follow your neighborhood and others you work or hang out in.
  3. Add a photo. When you’re walking around and see something interesting — something happening, something new, something busted, etc. — take a photo and put it on Placewire. Like they say, if it would be interesting to hear about from a neighbor, it belongs on Placewire.

Thanks for your time, and please join me on Placewire’s inevitable march to massive, crushing success.

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