AOL announced Wednesday that it is re-launching its City’s Best guide, a Yelp-like directory of reviews and tidbits on local bars, restaurants, and other stops. Or rather, I should say, it isn’t really for local joints, but for the best of the best of a given city. Cities include Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Washington, DC.
Between October 13 and November 30, Web users can go online or download the City’s Best app and vote for their favorite restaurants, hangout spots, spas, salons, fashion boutiques, and more. Categories range from the broadly defined “best spas,” “best salons,” and “best Italian food,” to the more oddly specific “best places to break up,” “best hook up bars,” and “best day drinking.” The winners for each category will be announced December 14.
The competition will give local businesses a unique opportunity to gain visibility by encouraging patrons to vote. AOL will be distributing City’s Best window stickers that feature QR codes that customers will be able to scan with their smartphones and vote in real-time.
Businesses up for vote were selected by AOL writers and editors based on reputation and residents’ picks. AOL’s press release describes the goal of the program: “The selection process is fueled by the mission of City's Best, which is to bring experts and neighbors together to find and share the best in [their city].”
The City’s Best program originally got its start ten years ago, but was suspended in 2008 when AOL began to transition away from its old subscription model as a dial-up Internet service provider to an advertising-based model. These days the company is focusing on original content and news, acquiring hyper-local news site Patch.com in June 2009 for $7 million. While the news site only operated in a handful of small towns at the time of acquisition, AOL outlined its plans to pour $50 million into Patch to make the news site a nationwide provider of news and spread it to major cities throughout the country. In August, Patch reached its 100th site and AOL disclosed plans to reach 500 by the end of the year.
But City’s Best will be competing against more prominent and established local review sites like Yelp, which has over 38 million users and is valued between $510 million and $533 million. Other sites like Angie’s List, Insider Pages, and scores of other local review sites will also make the space a tight squeeze for AOL. Additionally, mobile apps and platforms like Aloqa and Foodspotting are making it easier for smartphone owners and Web users to personalize their local interests and find local spots and offerings on the go. How will City’s Best compete with such formidable competitors?
"Simply put, City's Best is the easiest way to find and engage with what's best in our cities," said Jon Brod, President of AOL Ventures, in the company’s press release. "Launching City's Best is an important step in AOL Local's goal of providing the highest quality, most relevant and most accessible local information, from hyper-local to major-metro markets.”
Image source: citysbest.com