For the folks behind AmericanTowns, tackling every corner in this country is work enough.
AmericanTowns.com is a work in progress begun over a decade ago in answer to the question of whether an online tool could enable citizens, groups and merchants to build a better community together. The question is not fully answered on the whole but certainly some communities have found that sweet spot. And not unlike challenges of scale that any nationwide network faces, AmericanTowns has some of the smallest markets in its network.
According to co-president Edward Panian, “AmericanTowns has a site for every town in the country (about ~29,000). Each community site operates as an open platform for nonprofit groups, organizations, individuals and businesses to find and share information,” he said. “We layer in an extensive community calendar, news and guides for over 15,000 of those towns on a daily basis.”
For the most part, this is indeed an expansive collection of homogenous city guides that invites residents to add their voices to the mix in specific vertical spaces. However AmericanTowns is not really generating local commentary (on, say, hot local news) but instead seeks to have readers post their local events, share news, publish press releases and list data on groups and businesses. The kicker is that posting all this information is free (take that, Craigslist).
Panian said he views the platform as a source of “rich local information across a wide spectrum.” And this includes community organizations, who post close to one million events and notices to the site annually.
“We continue to provide free tools for these organizations,” he said. “For example our press release tool allows local organizations to not only post their news and press releases to our site but also to distribute it on their behalf to other local media outlets in their area.”
But it’s not all charity. Says Panian, “We have diversified revenue sources that include partnerships with a number of major yellow pages companies, CareerBuilder, Google, local ad networks and more. All of these have a tremendous amount of local advertisers who continue to seek local customers. We find that advertisers value our hyperlocal audience and our local platform scales profitably with great efficiency.”
And by their own account earlier this year the model is doing something right, with revenue and average monthly visits up (3x and 80%, respectively) and profitability reached at the end of ’09.
AmericanTowns fills out its baseline with content, link-offs and data feeds from several providers including, as Panian noted, Google, Restaurants.com, Oodle, eBay, Careerbuider, Trulia, Kayak and others. This gives a decent platform on which they can layer in the categorical content from site users.
AmericanTowns does not lose site of the core utility of a city guide, something I see Patch and others have missed or taken a pass on.
The hyperlocal has also gotten into the deals and coupons business, like this example in Stamford. But beyond the trends of the day, AmericanTowns does not lose site of the core utility of a city guide, something I see Patch and others have missed or taken a pass on. For instance here you’ll find quick access to (link-offs) for movie times, locations of free WiFi, local TV schedules, traffic reports, gas prices and directories to locate local physicians and dentists.
Some of the sites have the feel of those auto-generated SEM plays that aggregates data around a good URL or misspelled popular term — particularly in smaller towns with (apparently) low penetration where there’s not a lot below a click before you’re off to another site.
But does that matter to the consumer as long as he is getting what he came for? Likely not.
“Over the years, we have helped thousands of nonprofit organizations across the county ‘get the word out’ about their upcoming events, fundraisers and call for volunteers,” Panian told me. “We have recently added two beta products that are in keeping with that core mission of helping community members find and share the best local information – GreenTowns.com, a new platform for connecting and celebrating local sustainability initiatives across the country, and our just launched Community Answer Book, a shared local Q&A where local users are encouraged to tell others what the best services and resources are in their community. You can see a great early example of it in action here: http://www.americantowns.com/in/carmel/answerbook.”
Rick Robinson’s Turf Talk column appears every Wednesday on Street Fight.