TechCrunch profiles TownMe, a local search site started by ex-Googlers that has a decidedly quirky set of search categories for local info. These include searching for the best neighborhoods or hang outs for cougars, yuppies and “sugar daddies” (seriously).
It can also provide a list of places that serve free meals on birthdays, or best vantage points to take pictures of famous landmarks. To get these data, it will rely on a combination of wiki-style UGC, and scraping various sources such as census data. This makes it a sort of cross between Brownbook and Everyblock. The latter unearths interesting data sets (i.e., crime records, Board of Health ratings) from various municipal data sources.
Like these sites, TownMe is trying to differentiate itself based on how it aggregates and presents data. In the local space, differentiation is paramount. There is lots of noise, and aggregating a meaningful audience ain’t easy. And with a handful of go-to sources that currently “own” most of the traffic in the space (i.e., Google Maps, Yelp, Citysearch), doing something radically different is the name of the game.
We’ve seen a very short list of companies in the past few years do anything considerably different, including those mentioned above. Even those that have are facing challenges in aggregating audiences. Another example that comes to mind is Center’d: a good feature set but hard to take share from existing leaders in the space.
TownMe could differentiate itself based on its quirkiness and novelty (an iPhone app could be an additional way to gain traction). Novelty is good, but the question is whether it has staying power. For success stories in local search, it’s really all about the basics: utility and rock-solid data (i.e., will it find what I’m looking for?).
If it doesn’t survive as a standalone destination, the data sets are at least compelling enough to exist as an overlay to local search sites in certain verticals. Neighborhood demographic overlays for Google Maps or a site like Zillow come to mind.
For now, it sounds interesting enough to try out, and to spend some time talking to its founders — its feature set is evidently in early stages. More to come, after we’re able to do both.