Almost a year after taking $3 million in funding from Menlo Park’s Formative Ventures, SmallTown.com is launching its Flash site for small town local reviews tonight. I personally find this much Flash annoying but the site might catch on with users who like the look and feel.
The San Mateo company wants to provide a visually rich site for reviews and listings of businesses that don’t get indexed by larger sites, like dog walkers and babysitters. The display is built out of expanding and contracting modules they call “web cards.”
Web cards come in two flavors, free and enhanced. Free cards allow you to post a picture and a short narrative about whatever you want. They are also used for comment threads. Enhanced cards cost $40 a month and allow you to add 4 more tabs of information that include galleries and printable coupons. Cards can be organized into personal lists by drag and drop and can be easily cross linked.
By default any businesses SmallTown can find in a listed city are included and can upgrade their card to enhanced by claiming it with the site. Only two cities are included at launch but the site will be expanding with time.
I like the multitab option for enhanced listings and the site has some potential to be visually appealing. As it stands though I found the navigation counter intuitive. SmallTown skips the social networking angle that Yelp takes and for listings in small towns outside of hip metropolitan areas that makes sense.
I think the success of this company will come down to the response on the part of its target audience to the Flash UI. I find scrolling more difficult and the illusion of smooth flexibility disconcerting. It reminds me of Famster, the family oriented social networking site that combines heavy doses of Flash and paternalism. I think Flash has its place (I think $1.6 billion proves that) but building an entire site out of it feels awkward to me.