Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Local portals: bridging the gap between reality and virtuality

How do you find special offers in your town? You either know what store you want to go to (either in reality or via their web page), or you could just go and see (trial and error), but where can you possibly find specific products or services? For the former, you have eBay, where you can look for any goods which are either offered via auctions or static (instant) purchases, assuming that the provider of the product offers some means of sending his products to the requesting customer. For the latter (services), you have auctioning platforms such as my hammer, bringing demand and users together. But what about the real word, e. g. you have a need for a product that you would like to buy locally, wanting to find the best value for your money (which does not necessarily mean the lowest price)? Local platforms such as Qype may help in finding opinions regarding local places, but although it is possible for stores and service providers to enter their own information, they seem to be reluctant to do so. Perhaps this is so because of lack of time, or fear of being bashed, but I am not sure. My feeling is that these platforms can help in raising awareness for local product or service providers, but their task does not seem to be to answer specific demands.

Entrepreneurs of small businesses often do not have the time nor the money to invest in their own web presence. For them, some framework where they can easily place their products, specific offers and background information can be helpful. On the other hand, before investing their time (and possibly, money), they need to be sure that such a platform will not only help them in improving their business (i. e. more customers), but that they can also trust in the platforms' persistence and reliability.

One example in Germany, targeted at just that is CityPedia (not to be confused with the British platform bearing the same name). Of course time will tell whether it will succeed in attracting businesses and private users alike, but I am quite confident that its founders will succeed provided they manage to emphasize the benefits and potentials of their platform for both businesses and end users.

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