A home purchase led Stu MacFarlane to develop InsiderPages.com, a site that features business listings coupled with consumer ratings, reviews and networking.
“About three years ago, right after my wife and I had purchased our first house, we realized we wanted to get work done on the house. We had a tough time finding contractors,” said MacFarlane, Insider Pages CEO. They asked their real estate agent and neighbors for recommendations, he said. An idea grew out of the experience: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single resource where we could get this sort of information?”
MacFarlane launched Insider Pages in 2004. The site includes listings from across the country, with about 600,000 consumer reviews and about 2 million unique visitors per month.
He is no stranger to startups. Before creating Insider Pages, MacFarlane served as vice president of the new ventures group at Idealab, a company that has jump-started such tech biggies as CitySearch, a pioneering business directory and online community site that is now a part of Barry Diller’s Interactive Corp.; Overture Services (formerly GoTo.com), a paid-search services company that is now part of Yahoo!; and Tickets.com, an online ticket sales site acquired last year by Major League Baseball’s Internet division. Bill Gross, Idealab chairman and CEO, serves as chairman for Insider Pages.
Straightforward and uncluttered, the Insider Pages site adheres to many of the design principals that have defined the latest genre of user-friendly, user-feedback Web sites, sometimes collectively referred to as Web 2.0.
Real estate is a popular category at Insider Pages, MacFarlane said, and “Realtors” is featured prominently as a search category at the top of the entry page.
There is a search bar at the top of the site, in which users can enter a business category or business name, city and state, or ZIP code. Also, the site allows users to view search results on a map powered by the Google Maps platform. The site displays business ratings based on a five-star system, and a list of “featured insiders” who have logged a number of reviews.
Companies can pay to receive more promotion at the site, and some pages feature advertising powered by Google AdWords. A real estate agent who wants to receive higher placement at the site could expect to pay a flat fee of $15 to $25 a month, as an example, MacFarlane said.
About 50,000 people a month search Insider Pages for real estate information, MacFarlane said, and the site features about 5,000 real estate agent reviews and 10,000 real estate-related businesses. “People are definitely … seeking out this information that people are sharing about real estate agents,” he said.
Users can update the directory if a new business springs up or the business directory information is missing or incomplete. For example, a real estate agent could enter a Web site and e-mail address if the directory listing only includes an address and a phone number.
Insider Pages, though it is not geographically focused, has developed a lot of content in the San Francisco Peninsula region in California, as well as in Southern California, MacFarlane said. “It is mainly a suburban population that is using our site. It revolves very much around parents and parents’ groups and homeowners or people seeking homes.”
While some social networking sites such as MySpace.com attract teens and 20-somethings motivated by dating and relationships, Insider Pages has a different audience, MacFarlane said. “The drivers and demographics behind (those sites) are so different than what we do. Our members are people in their 30s, 40s and 50s sharing information about roofing contractors,” he said. “Older demographics are becoming very engaged in these communities.”
Insider Pages is building upon its user community with new features that will allow greater interaction, he said. One of these planned enhancements is a “query and response system,” which will allow people to send out a question seeking advice on services in a particular community area. Also, Insider Pages has been working on another feature that will allow members of an offline neighborhood group to connect through the InsiderPages.com site to view reviews from other members of their group and communicate within this group.
“Consumers really trust information from groups they know,” he said. “The most interesting piece for me is the importance of not just a review, but a trusted review.” MacFarlane said the new features are intended to help site users better evaluate which reviews and reviewers are most trustworthy. The Insider Pages marketing slogan is: “the Yellow Pages written by friends.”
While Insider Pages hasn’t completed its beta testing phase, MacFarlane said it should formally emerge from this stage before the year ends. So far, the site has mostly relied on word of mouth to build traffic. A key focus is building the “density” of review content, he said — getting more users to post more reviews for more businesses in more cities. This critical mass of information, which in turn draws more users, is the Holy Grail for sites that rely on user-generated content.
In March, Insider Pages announced it received $8.5 million in venture capital funding from Sequoia Capital, Softbank Capital and founding investor Idealab. The company also said it would be relocating from Pasadena, Calif., to Redwood Shores, Calif.
For related stories, see the Inman News Special Report, “Online Communities: Putting the ‘WE’ in the World Wide Web.”
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