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A Start-Up Provides the "Who" and "How" in Local Search

  |  June 19, 2008   |  Comments

A new twist in online event planning marries local search with social media.

Who says that Yahoo and Microsoft aren't joining forces? Not Jennifer Dulski, a Yahoo veteran who ran the local markets and commerce groups, and Chandu Thota, previously the lead developer of Microsoft Virtual Earth. Dulski is leading the charge at recently launched local search property Center'd as CEO, and Thota is applying his vast technology skills as CTO.

Not only is Center'd well armed with many industry veterans from across the local search space, it's also well funded, having already raised $6.5 million in capital from Norwest Venture Partners and KeyNote Ventures, as well as from high-profile private investors.

A few days before Center'd launched, I asked Duski for an overview of the Center'd platform.

"Center'd is a local planning site that ties together local search, planning tools, and trusted communities to make planning easier," she said. "By marrying these three elements, Center'd gives people a way to seamlessly manage the core elements of planning: picking a place, picking a time, picking service providers, sending invites, and hosting. From basic local activities, like figuring out what to do this weekend, to more complex plans, like organizing a school event that needs volunteers, Center'd provides the tools to get it done. Ultimately, Center'd aims to make local planning so easy that people spend less time planning and more time enjoying themselves."

It's an interesting and different concept. I asked how they'll build a loyal user base that would have a need for these types of tools.

"Our site will be well optimized from an SEO perspective," she replied. "We are doing all the right things to drive the appropriate traffic and usage to Center'd. But even more compelling is the viral effect a site like ours will have. For example, if one of our users plans an event or party and invites 50 people, that's 50 more potential Center'd users. The opportunity to grow our audience is tremendous."

Most local search products today focus on the "what" and "where," such as what restaurant in San Francisco? Center'd introduces two additional components to the local search equation: who and when. This is unique and a clear differentiator to what's generally available in the local search space today.

At first glance, users may find Center'd reminiscent of a party-invite or -planning site. However, Center'd also offers a vast source of place data. Users can access local business listings and add events, like school picnics or other social or community events.

It also provides users a powerful suite of planning tools to make all the tasks associated with planning and organizing an event that much easier to manage. Users can utilize tools at Center'd to pick venues and dates, invite guests, and even manage nitty-gritty details like who's responsible for bringing the food or drinks to a given event. Because all these elements are so nicely tied together, Center'd creates an interesting destination for communities to become engaged.

There are several other fun and useful tools within the site. For example, users can add images to define their night out or event, and there's a planning dashboard to keep track of everything. Another cool feature is the ability to designate either Google Maps or MSN Virtual Earth as the default map.

Like many other sites, Center'd provides users with business reviews aggregated from across the Web to make picking an event venue that much easier. However, because Center'd also brings a social media aspect to the mix, users will also be able to see their friends' favorite places. On Facebook, arguably the leader in social media, members of the same network can view what books or movies their friends have recently read or seen. Center'd adds a local search twist to social media by allowing friends to view from what bookstore their friends bought that favorite book.

So next time you're planning a night out, Center'd can make the entire planning process that much easier.

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Brian Wool

Brian Wool is VP of content distribution at Localeze, a Chicago-based local search company. Established in 2003, Localeze specializes in connecting consumers with local merchants through online content collection, enhancement, and distribution. An expert in local Internet search marketing, Brian leads the distribution efforts at Localeze and is responsible for content delivery to over 35 leading search engines, Internet yellow pages, and local directories. Brian previously held various sales and marketing positions at comScore Networks and Claritas.

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