New CitySearch APIs Give Developers a Role in its Business Model

Daniel Luxemburg, January 18th, 2011

CitySearch CityGrid CityGrid Media, the company behind local mainstay CitySearch, has announced a new version of its CityGrid API. The service offers developers new access to content, as well as new ways to monetize whatever integrations they might build. The new API provides features now synonymous with local services, such as business listings and coupons. And CityGrid is sharing revenues with developers.

The new version of its developer APIs falls in line with the company’s evolution. The new features include Places (business listing information), Offers (special deals business add to their profile page) and Reviews (user submitted reviews of these businesses). Much of what’s new is upgraded versions of existing ones intended to replace their predecessors fairly quickly—CityGrid will stop supporting the version 1 APIs on March 1st, less than two months after the announcement.

Developers with existing CityGrid integrations grumbling about having to retool so quickly can take comfort in the fact that they stand to make some cash by doing so. CityGrid’s new “Places” and “Offers” APIs (listed in the documentation as “Content by CityGrid) are closely integrated with a new “Places that Pay” program (listed under “Ads by CityGrid”):

The Places API is available for all developers to create mobile applications or websites that display CityGrid profiles. However, as a CityGrid partner, when you publish CityGrid profiles using the Places API, you can get paid when your users engage with the content of some of the profiles. The program that monetizes displaying CityGrid profiles is called Places that Pay.

An interesting consequence of mixing its content API with its advertising program is that CityGrid starts mixing its developers with its publishers—CityGrid “partners” are somewhere in between the two.

CityGird Partner Graphic

No such kickbacks exist in the Yelp API, arguably the leader in local place information. In its API use guidelines, Yelp even suggests that if anything the money would flow the other way, but kindly declines to take a cut: “You can monetize your own pages to your heart’s content — we don’t require any sort of revenue share.”

It isn’t that CityGrid is trying to buy off developers, but rather just functioning as a broker. It had already been doing so by selling location-targeted ads. Before the company became CityGrid Media last summer, “CityGrid” was the name of the advertising and content platform offered by CitySearch. It provided local content and tools for embedding paid ads into mobile or locally focused apps. The reasoning was:

We understood based on our own firsthand experience, that web and mobile publishers needed two things to be successful: content and monetization. So we took all of our content and our advertisers, packaged them up through feeds and APIs, and opened them for all to use.

CityGrid API v2 is an advertising as content platform—and not just inert, serially published content, but structured content and data accessible programmatically through CityGrid’s API. The “advertising” is hardly the same either, there’s nothing involved the users would recognize as an ad in the traditional sense because it’s all folded into the functionality of the application using CityGrid’s API. These are crucial differences that start melding developers and publishers into “partners” who, CityGrid would probably be eager to point out, are offered the revenue sharing that a competitor like Yelp doesn’t provide. If CityGrid’s incentive system works though, Yelp and similar services might have to change their tune if they want the apps and mashups to keep coming.

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