Updated with full list of names of angel investors

outsidein.bmpHow do you build the perfect local community Web site — with news, events, comments and more?

If you manage to, it will be a grand slam. It becomes the talk of the town, people spend more time going there, and local advertisers spend money there.

A wave of companies have tried, but failed. But Outside.in, a new Brooklyn, NY start-up is looking very good — as good, if not better than any we’ve seen so far. Its visual presentation is nice and simple (see screenshot at bottom). It uses AJAX and other technologies to improve upon efforts preceding it.

Here’s the background: Newspapers have largely dropped the ball. A dozen or so Internet companies have tried to adapt the community concept online, but none have nailed it. There’s Yelp, which specializes in reviews of bars and restaurants. There’s Judysbook, which began with a broader community feel, but has since moved toward shopping. There’s Insiderpages, which is struggling, and focused on business listings. Smalltown focuses on local business, too. Topix gives you community news. Backfence gets closer, as does ePodunk to coverage of wider community events — but their execution and user interfaces have remained unimpressive. Craigslist provides a local marketplace, but stops there.

Outside.in takes both existing content (from local bloggers, city governments, movie listings) and user generated content, and packages them into local sites.

For each town, Outside.in lets you see stories, comments, places and “neighbors,” or registered users. It has one useful, powerful feature we haven’t seen before: You can switch the focus of your region easily — using a map feature at the top left of your region. This lets you zoom in or out to include more or less surrounding regions or cities — and the information, news, events and comments all adjust in real time.

So you can limit a search for crime to Park Slope, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Then you can search for Italian restaurants across the entire city. Or you can look for poetry readings in Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods. All by just scrolling within a map.

There’s a lot to look at here. Outside.in provides a URL for each city (it adds a +1 to the URL if you zoom out and see a mile of surrounding area, etc), but also for each place. For example, there’s an entry for the Whole Foods in Brooklyn, which is under development, and creating considerable community debate. People can go to the URL and see the latest stories by local bloggers, and can submit their own comments.

In this way, Outside.in wants to be a Wikipedia for local places. How does it monitor the comments and entries? Well, like Wikipedia, it has the crowd controllers. Of its eight full-time employees, three are chaperoning the site, and 12 more freelancers are helping out.

It is early days, and it is a little buggy. For example, in Palo Alto, Calif., some “top places” are actually based in places like Mountain View (in part, because Outside.in is still figuring out how to deal with regions like the Bay Area where cities merge into each other, and because it wants to show places with buzz within ten miles from you).

Founder Steven Johnson gave us a demo today. He was the co-founder of the online magazine FEED and community site, Plastic.com.

Hollywood producer Andy Karsch, and John Seely Brown seed-funded the company with $200,000. Yesterday, the company announced it raised $900,000 more from Union Square Ventures, Milestone, Village Ventures and individuals Marc Andreessen (Netscape co-founder), Esther Dyson, George Crowley, John Borthwick and Richard Smith.

This will be fun to watch. We’ve been waiting for a decent site to come along. While Outside.in has a long way to go, it is looking very smart.


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