In our continued effort to serve the local Lawrence community, we at the Journal-World have just launched one of our biggest projects in quite a while. We call it Marketplace. Marketplace is almost certainly the best local business directory ever created. Google and Yahoo! will continue to try to provide local services, but we’ll always have something they don’t: a real, sincere understanding of what our community is all about.
Marketplace allows local business owners to “claim” their business online, at which point they are free to edit the business’ profile page. That profile page includes all the basics you’d expect: phone number, address, map, link to company website, business description, and so forth.
But it also includes some more unusual business attributes. Stuff the Yahoo’s and Google’s of the world aren’t likely to provide. Marketplace tells users what payment methods are accepted. It tells them what the business hours are — including hours for kitchen staff (or other alternate sets of hours). It tells users, right at the top of the page and in plain English, that the business “Closes today at 10pm.” Or, if it’s already closed, that it “Opens tomorrow at 8am.” Business owners can upload photos of their establishment. They can add videos — be they TV spots, footage of events at their place of business, staff profiles, etc. They can even upload scans of print advertisements and coupons for users to print and redeem. Like I said, it will almost certainly be the most comprehensive directory of local businesses anywhere (will be, I say, because this thing just went live about 30 minutes ago and not too many business owners have gotten their hands on it yet).
For a few nice examples of business profiles that have been filled-out with a few of the more interesting profile bits, check out Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, Headmasters, The Bourgeois Pig, or Kief’s Audio/Video. And, be sure to compare these to Yahoo! Local’s pages for the same companies (Sunflower, Headmasters, Pig, Kief’s). The difference is clear. Yahoo has nothing but the basics, littered with text ads and strange speech bubbles that compete for attention. Not only do we give users everything they need (and most of it within the first 150 pixels), but we give the business the entire page to promote itself.
And that, really, is what I think is most exciting to me about this site. I’ve found myself using this thing constantly as we’ve been developing it. It’s really, really useful. But at the same time, it’s a tremendous advertising opportunity for local businesses and a nice money-making venture for us, as well. I think it really goes to show that it is possible to make both advertisers and users happy. These two groups don’t have to be at odds with one another. Give users honest and tasteful advertisements for products and services they may actually be interested in, and provide them with a lot of useful content along the way, and I suspect you won’t hear many complaints from either party.
My favorite thing about my job in the journalism world is working on projects that truly benefit the community. As compared to folks who do agency work, almost everything I work on feels like it has a real impact on regular people. When we cover the local elections or the Elite Eight, you can really sense that your work is making other people’s lives better. Even though this site is clearly designed to make us money, I think we’ve built it in a way that will make us proud to be serving Lawrence, too.
This site has been a long time in the making, and almost everyone in the online and advertising departments at The World Company had something to do with it. But, the brunt of the dirty work was done by Adrian Jacobs and his advertising staff. Nathan Borror headed up the design, and Joseph Kocherhans and Tom Tobin were behind the proverbial wheel when it comes to programming. Of course, the entire thing is powered by Django.
Maybe Marketplace will be coming to your city next. ;)