Marchex CEO Russell Horowitz is launching websites for thousands of cities, big and small. The play? To beat Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo to the punch in connecting businesses to nearby customers.
With smart people, powerful tools, and hundreds of millions of dollars behind it, I’m sure that this effort will produce something of value… in fact it already has. But I wonder about “soul”…
Marchex is having a hard time selling its vision. Since so many of its sites sat idle for so long, packed with nothing but ads, Marchex looked like a giant domain play except with much higher overhead. But the company has been developing new technologies. And in June, Marchex lit up 100,000 of its sites – with another 150,000 or so to go – changing them into destinations with a smattering of content and reviews. The goal is to create sites that, as Horowitz puts it, “have a soul.”
In May 2006, for example, Marchex bought a review site called OpenList, a local guide that pulls together reviews for restaurants, hotels, and local attractions. The company then developed software that crawls the Web, sorts out duplicate content, and then generates a review. Look up San Francisco’s Hotel Triton on BayAreaHotels.com, for instance, and the software-generated write-up reads like a Zagat guide: “What travelers said they loved: ‘The location,’ ‘the staff,’ and ‘the room.’ Guests can enjoy yoga and other local activities.” Users add their own reviews too.