Center’d Focuses on Local’s ‘Content Overload’

Center’d started its mission in June 2008 like most city guides, albeit one largely aimed at women and planning. But over time, the local space has changed. And the site itself has refocused to meet “the missing pieces” in local.

CEO Jennifer Dulski and CTO Chandu Thota, in a conversation with us, say they’d encountered  a noisy ecosystem of local sites suffering from content overload and meaningless, one-dimensional user-generated content that gives four stars + to everything. “There is certainly not a lack of content,” says Dulski.

Their solution: comprehensive information and deeper context. Dulski, the former head of Yahoo Marketplaces, says the Center’d team has spent the past year building “Sentiment Analysis,” a data platform that pulls in and analyzes data and language from social media sites, maps and other sources. “It is more robust than it appears at first glance,” she says, noting that it actually understands language, while most sites are focused on a keyword approach.

The platform, which has some similarities to Marchex’s OpenList, “understands food terms. We know that salmon and crème brulee is food.” The presentation of the analysis is also more complex, showing sentiment as a series of bar charts, rather than simple “star” systems.

“One piece of this is like Zagat,” the popular ratings company, says Dulski. “But it is much broader,” partnering with sites such as Topix, Mobimissimo, Insequent, Silicon Valley Moms Blog Network and various other local and travel blogs and Web sites (a few dozen or so). At the same time, Center’d’s own count of city guides has expanded from 12 to 50 cities.

The site has also added a Twitter page and a popular iPhone app. Dulski, in fact, projects that mobile is going to play an increasingly important part of the city guide business, perhaps accounting for 50 percent of usage within a few years.

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