City Tools: Creating Classified Verticals on the Fly

Crawling and aggregating classifieds on nearby Web sites a la Oodle is one thing. But why can’t local Web sites create verticals on the fly? And in this homogenized era, why can’t they carve out a unique identity for themselves, based on their collection of verticals?

That’s the question former SF Gate head Bob Cauthorn asked himself when he started City Tools, an angel-funded venture based in San Francisco. It has been announced that City Tools is working with The Washington Post. Cauthorn expects to announce additional newspaper affiliates in the near future.

Classified networks can take a number of shapes, working with different types of local media, says Cauthorn. Why not a ski bum network? Or a California coastal real estate network? Or a luxury boating network? Sites that have a neat collection of verticals might stand apart better, he says. It becomes part of their identity.

“Boating classifieds in Florida are worth say, $40 million to $50 million,” says Cauthorn. “But why should boat listings be limited to Boca Raton? We want to aggregate the market for the right boat. Local sites can send content [ads] wherever it is needed. Tampa might have a sailboat that Miami doesn’t have,” he says.

Cauthorn notes that newspaper sites probably compete with Trader publications and other shoppers for such reach. But the Trader pubs provide every listing “all the way to Chesapeake Bay” in Maryland. Cauthorn says a customized boating network, however, might include a more relevant set of Florida cities, and Gulf Coast cities, too. “People will travel to the right city for the right boat,” he says.

Under City Tools’ system, participating Web sites can add or delete content as they see fit. For instance, they can effectively black out neighboring publications that compete with them … much like the NFL blacks out local games in nearby markets.

Currently, the plan is to charge local Web sites $650 per month to participate on an all-you-can-eat basis. While a major newspaper like The Washington Post is already participating, Cauthorn says he expects the bulk of his sites to be small to medium-sized publications that can beef up their local offerings with the network.

City Tools also enables affiliates to mix n’ match editorial content with its classifieds, creating a truer vertical network. In fact, Cauthorn ultimately envisions using the system to be composed equally of social network tools and advertising tools.

Of course, this is hardly the first time a company has pitched newspapers on building a classified network. PowerOne Media had Abracat. TownNews has a classified network, too. But they were all secondary brands, Cauthorn argues. Cars.com, for that matter, is also secondary brand.

The difference is City Tools is “front-end agnostic. Until now, all the solutions were aggregating content into a single solution. This is a different model. We are creating a coherent corpus of documents.”

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