CitySquares Offers Merchants Opt-Out for Reviews

Excerpt from the  CitySquares Blog.

So now, if you’re a small business owner you can opt-out of consumer reviews on your CitySquares business profile.

Here’s how it works:

If you are a paying customer, you can choose between having reviews, or not having reviews. Period. End of story. There is no gray area – reviews are either enabled, or disabled, for paying customers only.

If you are not a paying customer, we cannot disable reviews. You must be a customer. And all it takes is $5.99/month to become a customer, and that is all it costs to have reviews disabled on your profile. Not a penny more.

What it means: I think the time might be right to offer such a product on local search sites offering user reviews. Why? Because I think the majority of merchants now understand they need to participate in the conversation. As for those who feel reviews “threaten” them, they have an easy way out (and it’s revenue for Citysquares). Let it be known that those businesses will look suspicious to the average user if they don’t allow user reviews but it’s their choice. In addition, it’s a nice way for CitySquares to build a lead list for potential “upsell”.  Ben Saren, CitySquares’ founder, feels the need to defend the move by saying that the feature “is not some crafty bait-and-switch” but I don’t think that was necessary. I think the merchant reviews space is mature enough to allow for this exception product. I hope it proves very succesful as I think Ben has stumbled upon an interesting concept.

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The Local Wide Web

A couple of somewhat conflicting articles today.  I love those!

On one hand, Amy Gahran over at Poynter.org challenges the Knight Foundation for their “strong focus on geographically defined local communities” in the context of a Silicon Valley community forum event.  She says: “It seems to me that with the way the media landscape has been evolving, geographically defined local communities are becoming steadily less crucial from an information perspective.”

On the other hand, in an article called “The web’s future is a ‘village'”, the BBC reports on a study from HP Labs that talks about what happens “when information becomes more available, cheap and valueless”

“Mr Huberman said the overwhelming amount of information online was also starting to affect relationships.  “With Facebook many people boast of having 100, 200 friends but in reality only keep up or track a very few of them.” On this basis Mr Huberman concludes that we are returning to a time where we maintain close contact with a small number of people – enough people to fill a village.  “Things are starting to become intimate again,” he said. “We went through this explosion, this illusion that the world is at my fingertips and I can reach anyone and everybody. But at the end of the day we notice that we actually interact with very few.”

What it means: when faced with information overload, we go back to known quantity.  That’s one of the reasons why I believe local represents the future of the Web. Most of us live our offline life locally (we say in the directory industry everything happens within 50 miles of our home or office). With more and more local merchants going online and more and more hyperlocal initatives like Metroblogging, Outside.in, Citysquares and newcomers like Neighborsville or Yipit, we’ll be able to drill down on the local information that matters to us.  I’ll definitely welcome this new Local Wide Web (LWW?)…

Update: Howard Owens chimes in on the Pointer.org article with a great analysis.

Citysquares.com Raises Series A Financing Round

Just received this news from my friend Ben Saren. His company, Citysquares.com, just raised its series A funding round from eCoast Angel Network. The amount was not disclosed. Up until now, the site was self-funded. The company will use this investment to expand its sales and marketing operations and improve the user experience on its website. CitySquares.com is a Boston-area hyperlocal web site.

Ben sent me this article providing more details about the deal and CitySquares itself:

Ben Saren founded Citysquares with partner Bob Leland with the intention of providing neighborhoods in the Boston area with a meeting place on the web — each designed around the qualities that make that neighborhood unique. In 2005 the pair launched sites for seven neighborhoods in Somerville and Cambridge; the company now covers 25 separate communities from South Boston to Allston/Brighton.

While Saren would not disclose specific traffic numbers for the various sites included in Citysquares, he said the following has been loyal, and the five-person company has experienced traffic growth climbing at what he describes as a better-than 45 degree angle over the past year. Forty percent of the site’s traffic is new, while 60 percent comes from repeat traffic, he added. Revenue, from businesses advertising on the sites, was under $1 million in 2006.

What it means: Congrats on the funding Ben! I am a strong believer in hyperlocal sites and content. It takes a lot of efforts to get them off the ground and it’s difficult to get to critical mass but, if you’re successful, you become deeply ingrained within your community.