Smalltown Adds Video to Local Ads

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Local-search and advertising startup Smalltown is getting a bit bigger Monday, adding a few new towns as well as support for video to its web-based local-business directories.
Hal Rucker, CEO of the San Mateo, Calif.-based Smalltown, says web-based video gives business owners a chance to break free of the short and sometimes costly messages built for traditional broadcast or cable.

The video feature could also be a way for Smalltown — which will now cover five communities on the San Francisco Peninsula — to distance itself from other competing search-and-rating sites, like Intuit’s Zipingo, Judy’s Book, or Yelp.

The video support is part of Smalltown’s version 2.0 platform, scheduled to be announced today along with the addition of coverage for the Peninsula towns of Millbrae, Foster City and Belmont. The videos can be uploaded to a merchant’s “Webcard,” Smalltown’s proprietary index-card type listings. Rucker says the videos can help merchants or businesses tell customers about themselves or their products or services in whatever way they choose, perhaps in longer episodes than the traditional 30-second or 60-second commercial.

(screenshot of video format in Webcard below)

Though companies like Spot Runner are earning fame for making it easier and cheaper for local businesses to advertise on TV, Smalltown is going a different route by bringing video capability to the Web, where costs are far lower and there are no time constraints. Of course, there aren’t as many couch-potato eyeballs, either.

“You’re not pressed for time, so there’s no need to have splashy graphics and cram everything into 30 seconds,” Rucker says of Smalltown’s method. Video support will be added to the regular “enhanced” Webcard pricing to businesses, currently $40 a month.

While Smalltown expects some merchants to upload versions of professionally produced spots, Rucker says the startup has a small internal production team that will help merchants shoot videos if they don’t have the ability to do so themselves. Smalltown’s home-baked user interface will support a wide range of file formats, including QuickTime and Windows Media, Rucker says.

Though the videos featured on Smalltown Webcards are “not yet” embeddable, Rucker (whose roots include founding a graphical/web design firm that was bought up by the @Home Network in 1999) says the Flash-based Webcards were designed from the ground up to support more features than the company currently allows, and expects embed support to be forthcoming in the future. As part of its 2.0 rollout, Smalltown announced a feature that will alert Webcard owners when their site has been reviewed, and will allow them to instantly reply with a comment.

While Rucker wouldn’t divulge traffic numbers for the privately held Smalltown, he did claim that Smalltown has “registered” approximately 2 percent of the residents of its first two target communities, San Mateo and Burlingame, and that 3.5 percent of the populations of San Mateo (91,157 residents) and Burlingame (27,387) visit the site at least once a week. The privately held Smalltown, famous for its coffee mugs, received $3 million in venture financing from Formative Ventures in October 2006.

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