Perhaps it was inevitable. Twenty years ago the Worldwide Web threw its arms around the whole planet and we were intoxicated by the idea of reaching everyone in the world, for business or pleasure, without leaving our homes. Ten years ago reality settled, the bubble popped, and we realized the limitations of a world without limits.

Now that view has turned upside down, and the new unlimited horizon of the web is our own backyard. Internet developers now trade on the fact that we all still live in small communities. We don’t dine in Seattle and work in Buffalo and go to church in Miami. We do all those things near our homes. And the Internet has caught on, with the number of hyper-localized websites, blogs, tweets, posts, and feeds growing by the day.

Until recently most of the “backyard” websites and blog spots have been owned and operated by people in the community. A few computer-generated sites have tried to aggregate data from various community news sites, but the results have not been noteworthy.

Now, however, a national organization, AOL, is making a bold attempt to create a network of standardized news sites across the country. AOL’s venture is called Patch and it promises one major difference: Each Patch site will be managed by real live editor (often a downsized journalist from the community), not a computerized robot trolling the ‘Net. For advertisers, Patch is presenting itself as an opportunity to target an online message to a single community, a geographic cluster of communities, or the entire nationwide network.

AOL launched Patch in 2009. Last spring the company announced that it would invest $50 million in Patch, claiming that it would offer news outlets for “hundreds” of towns no longer covered by traditional media. But, as some national media writers predicted, Patch sites seem to be avoiding the areas vacated by print media. Patch has yet to launch a localized site for an area uncovered by existing newspapers in New Jersey.

Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro, so far, have no Patch, though the network has grown to encompass Lawrence Township, South Brunswick, East Brunswick, and Hillsborough. The company also is rolling out a new Patch in Cinnaminson, where the Courier Post and Burlington County Times newspapers compete, and has posted an opening for an editor for Princeton. Among the central New Jersey editors: Former reporters of the Times of Trenton and the Princeton Packet, now competing in some places with their former print paper.

Herewith a view of the more visible online sites catering to hyper-local interests.

#b#News Sites#/b#

www.CentralJersey.com. Website for the Princeton Packet and its companion newspapers, providing community news, advertising, and announcements.

www.MercerSpace.com. Website for weekly newspapers in the Community News Service chain, including the recently launched Princeton Echo. The site offers community news, blogs, and contests.

www.NJ.com. Website that includes the Trenton Times and Star-Ledger newspapers. Offers area news, classifieds, sports, and announcements.

Patch.com. The website indicates that Patch has about 80 sites so far in New Jersey, including the ones in Lawrenceville, South Brunswick, and Hillsborough.

www.PrincetonInfo.com. The online arm of U.S. 1 newspaper, this site offers comprehensive databases for companies, health and fitness practitioners, restaurants, and events. It also archives U.S. 1 news stories and columns dating back to the year 2000. It is supported by daily updates via Twitter and Facebook.

TheAlternativePress.com. Independent network of online hyper-local news sites, similar in approach to Patch.com. Based in New Providence, the site has a page covering New Brunswick and a few other towns in northern New Jersey. It says it is “founded by local residents.”

www.TownTopics.com. Website for the free community newspaper covering Princeton Borough and Township.

www.wwpinfo.com. The website of the bi-weekly West Windsor-Plainsboro News, the site also archives news articles and comments posted by interested members of the WW-P community. The site is also the source of a biweekly E-mail newsletter that it alternates with the print publication.

www.WWPToday.com. Community resources, news, events, and perspectives for West Windsor and Plainsboro. The site uses Twitter to provide frequent updates of events and high school sports results.

#b#Events-Oriented Sites#/b#

www.PrincetonOnline.com. Events, announcements, and directories of community resources for the greater Princeton area. Operated by Peter Gibson and based at Box 1269, Princeton.

GetPrincetonEvents.com. Events listings, mainly leisure; has additional pages for towns surrounding Princeton. Origin unknown.

Eventful.com. Events listings and meet-ups, posted by users, for events nationwide. Customizable by ZIP code.

#b#Shopping Sites#/b#

www.HometownPrinceton.com. “Shop local” site highlighting and maintained by downtown Princeton businesses. It provides business links, events, deals, and video promotion clips.

www.PrincetonDeals.biz. U.S. 1, long a source of business and social happenings for the Princeton region, maintains its continuing (and oft-borrowed) database of area events and has added PrincetonDeals.biz to the mix. Not to be confused with PrincetonDeals.com (which offers boilerplate real estate pages), PrincetonDeals.biz offers sales, promotions, and deals free of charge to Borough and Township businesses and to U.S. 1’s print advertisers.

www.PrincetonScoop.com. Princeton-related online messaging and social networking regarding events, deals, and announcements. Operated by Melissa Klepacki as part of Scoop Inc., a web-based social media and marketing agency. Sponsors pay to have their shopping deals highlighted on the blog and tweeted. (U.S. 1, October 7, 2009).

ShopPrinceton.com. Events, news, and real estate in Princeton. Owned and operated by HG Media (U.S. 1, August 29, 2007), 31 Airpark Road, the site’s information has not been updated since spring, 2010.

HG Media also operates www.PrincetonNewsNetwork.com. Similar in approach to ShopPrinceton, it maintains current events and postings, plus press releases of interest to Princeton.

www.YourTownTube.com. Princeton-based and Princeton-centric host to videos made and uploaded by area residents. Includes videos that promote downtown businesses, which have the opportunity to advertise on a per-sale basis.

#b#Sites for Visitors#/b#

www.PrincetonTourCompany.com. Owned and operated by Mimi Omiecinski and her downtown tourism company, this site appeals to residents as well as visitors. Omiecinski posts frequent and chatty updates via Twitter and Facebook. (U.S. 1, December 15 and March 10, 2010).

www.WeGoPlaces.com. Tourism and hospitality site that provides regional information. Offers page on Princeton that includes services for travelers, from hotels to kennels. Affiliated with Hotels.com.

www.NewBrunswick.com. Events and visitor information for downtown New Brunswick. Maintained by Brunswick City Market.

www.VisitPrinceton.com. Princeton area tourism and visitor information, maintained by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

#b#For Families#/b#

PrincetonKids.com. Family-oriented events and resources for parents. The site is related to PrincetonFamilies.com and PrincetonTots.com, all operated by Princeton Kids LLC. The firm, founded by Noriko Svenson and Sylmarie Sasso Trowbridge, is based at Box 1392, Princeton. (U.S. 1, August 22, 2007).

#b#Personal Blogs #/b#

PrincetonComment.blogspot.com. Princeton news, events, and perspectives by U.S. 1 senior correspondent Barbara Figge Fox. Now that she has removed herself from the daily grind of U.S. 1, Fox finds time to attend many of the networking events and business meetings listed in the paper. She reports on many of them via her blog.

ShutterbugGeek.Wordpress.com. Run by photographer Robin Birkel, this is a Princeton-oriented blog for community resources and photography. Birkel also runs PrincetonFound.Wordpress.com and the Princeton, NJ Daily (which has the onerous URL paper.li/ShutterBugGeek/1292848933) through ShutterBugGeek.com.

#b#Info Aggregators: #/b#

AllPrinceton.com. Events, multimedia, and RSS newsfeed items, plus area weather and Twitter posts. Affiliated with Princeton Community TV, the site has recently featured objective news reports of Princeton Township events, though the name of the reporter was not identified.

BreakingPrincetonNews.com. PrincetonToday website proclaiming “All Princeton, all the time.” It aggregates Princeton-related stories and Twitter feeds, mostly from the Star-Ledger and Associated Press RSS feeds. Many feeds are about New Jersey but not specifically Princeton. The Twitter feed has been silent since June, 2009.

NewJerseyNow, part of Schmap, a location technology service provider based in North Carolina that ties events and announcements to maps online. Schmap is best known for its real-time city guides, which offer buzz for restaurants and bars, reviews, photos, events, activities, and deals via users of its Twitter service. The New Jersey version offers some central New Jersey listings, but concentrates more on the northern part of the state.

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