WashingtonPost.com Revives City Guide

Spurred on by the likes of BackFence in its suburban territories, WashingtonPost.com has launched its third attempt at a city guide. The new effort, which succeeds previous efforts with CitySearch and Zip2, has a new search engine powered by FAST, search by location and proximity, improved navigation, selected newspaper content, editors picks, ShopLocal sales information, and a calendar that can be browsed by events and categories.

What the site does not include are Yellow Pages, which had been abandoned after Switchboard stopped supporting it. While washingtonpost.com has been an innovator in selling ads on podcasts, video pods and RSS, it has never found “meaningful ways” to sell local service and merchant ads. Indeed, CEO and Publisher Caroline Little, during a keynote at the Kelsey ILM show, said that washingtonpost.com is “4-5 years behind national players” such as Yahoo and AOL who have local templates.

A major emphasis of the new city guide is on “frictionless consumer generated media,” including user reviews of Washington area services and events. Soon, users will also be invited to comment on news and feature articles. Coming up in three-to-six months will be a photo library where users can send in their favorite photos – among the most popular features, coincidentally, on BackFence. “People love photos,” said Little. “We learned that on 9/11.”

Cox Search Launches Kudzu

Cox Enterprises has been largely silent on the local front since the high profile failure of Cox Interactive Media and its city guides in 2001. But the local media giant is quietly re-entering the local waters with the creation of a new “Cox Search LLC” division, described as “a strategy and development group created to develop interactive products.”

Cox Search’s first product is an Internet Yellow Pages/social network named “Kudzu,” after the invasive vine spreading over the southeast. Kudzu was set in motion in October 2003 and formally launched in August 2005, after months of delays. Kudzu’s pilot is set in Atlanta, Cox’s home base, and covers the entire Atlanta metropolitan area, rather than just focusing on the urban center, as Craig’s List tends to do.

A quick look at the site reveals a full-featured, highly searchable product, with 100,000 + local service listings and more than 13,000 user reviews (some motivated by the promise of a $10 gas card in return for 10 reviews). Like a good IYP, users can search by keyword or category, as well by distance or review. The site also features a number of “how to choose” guides.

We had an email exchange with Cox Search Vice President and General Manager Tom Bates. Highlights of the exchange, and additional background, are below.

The Boston Globe Stakes Out a Role in WiFi

The Boston Globe is building out a series of local WiFi “Pulse Points” that provide hyper-local information about the signal area (train stations, book stores, etc.). The paper, which is owned by The New York Times Co., launched two Pulse Points at the end of September, and expects to add some other Pulse Points by the end of the year.

While the Pulse Points only include content today, it doesn’t strain the imagination to see that advertising and transactions could be added in the future. Such a scenario is especially interesting in light of the breezy assumption that Google’s current bid to WiFi all of San Francisco is a slam dunk to sell advertising at the expense of local newspapers, Yellow Pages or TV stations –or all three.

Going forward, the question is whether The Globe and other papers can carve out a role for themselves if the likes of Google assume the hosting responsibilities for WiFi – and presumably, the default browser. We know this: to date, no newspaper has really developed a compelling wireless service worth paying for. Why would they be able to create a more compelling wireless service?

Insider Pages Bets It All on Pay-Per-Call

InsiderPages, IdeaLabs’ women-oriented social network that collects user-generated reviews for local businesses, says it now has “thousands of pay-per-call advertisers” and “is probably the biggest” pay-per- call network.

In an interview with The Local Onliner, Vice President of Product Andrew Shotland, wouldn’t comment on rumors that the company is in talks to be acquired , but he happily chimes in that the company would be “an interesting fit with a lot of companies.”

He notes that the company already licenses its 350,000 + reviews – including more than 5,000 reviews in each of the Top 30 markets – to one of the biggest Internet brands, and several others. Although Shotland would not reveal names, citing contractual reasons, he notes that “our reviews pop up all over the place.”

Diller Talks Up CitySearch

IAC/Interactive Corp. Chairman Barry Diller generally downplays CitySearch during analyst calls, preferring to focus on brighter stories among IAC’s portfolio of companies, such as TicketMaster, Lending Tree and until recently, Expedia.

But at a Goldman Sachs’ investor conference on Sept. 22, Diller surprisingly devoted more time to CitySearch than IAC’s other companies. He noted that CitySearch is now operating in the black, and has seen a rise in monthly unique users from eight million in 2003 to 23 million today.

Diller’s positive comments reinforce outward confidence in the division by IAC, including its recent move to the new IAC west coast headquarters in West Hollywood, and its recruitment of high level executives to work under CEO Briggs Ferguson.