"Local Business Starts Here," claims dbusiness.com.
"Here" refers to 10 newly commissioned Web sites that provide constantly updated local business coverage in 10 metropolitan regions of the United States, including the Washington area.
While many companies in the fast-expanding world of online news go for national scope, regionalization is a big part of year-old dbusiness.com's strategy for creating its own niche. (The "d," by the way, stands for digital.)
The company has focused its daily coverage on emerging companies, which may grow from the fact that dbusiness is a start-up itself. Reporters also do longer, in-depth stories, such as weekly spotlights of a local start-up. Last week's Washington feature was on software rental company AegiSoft Corp., based in Rockville.
Dbusiness.com, which is owned by Warfield Publishing Co. of Baltimore, launched its first site in South Florida last July. Since then, the privately owned company has expanded to nine other cities, with Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul added last week. Plans call for reaching 14 cities by the end of this year.
This news service is an offspring of dbusiness.com's original vehicle, a magazine called DigitalSouth, which focuses on emerging companies and technology trends from Florida to Northern Virginia.
But executives soon concluded that the magazine's bimonthly publication schedule wasn't adequate to keep readers up to date on the constantly evolving world of technology. With the number of businesses connected to the Internet increasing all the time, the company migrated to Web publishing, said Tom Maffettone, dbusiness.com's chief executive officer. It continues to produce the magazine as well.
Most cities that the company covers are staffed with one editor and two reporters, with a few freelancers working on an irregular basis.
In Washington, the site is only about three months old. D.C. Editor Marlon Millner still works out of a makeshift office in the living room of his Michigan Avenue apartment. But even with a shortage of staffers, the site is still updated three to five times a day, company executives said.
Steve Outing, who covers online media for Editor & Publisher, said that because the online publishing world is still maturing, most news sites on the Web don't provide original reporting, let alone regionalized original reporting as dbusiness.com does.
Some online services such as CNET and Newsbytes cast a global net for information technology and business news coverage. CNET Web surfers in Washington, for example, aren't able to get news just about the Washington-Baltimore region, unless they narrow the news information by using keyword searches.
In addition to writing its own material, dbusiness.com allows local businesses to post their press releases on the company's regional Web site free of charge, an online resource that John D'Onofrio, vice president of marketing for dbusiness.com, said isn't available to most small businesses.
And the company last week began registering businesses for online auctions, as part of a plan to give site visitors more than just news. Businesses can buy and sell used supplies, furniture and computers at what D'Onofrio said are less than standard market prices. Maffettone predicts the addition will bring in significant revenue.
Currently, the company receives most of its revenue from online advertising. While its news coverage is localized, its advertisers are primarily companies that operate nationally or across broad regions of the country, because that's "where you can attract ad dollars," D'Onofrio said.
"When the local companies start spending a proportion of their budget on the Internet, we would consider" aggressively seeking local advertising on the Web site, he added.
While most news sites have a national focus, there is competition in the niche dbusiness has chosen. American City Business Journals has launched daily Web sites for each of its 40 business journals, including the Washington Business Journal. The Washington Post Co.'s washingtonpost.com Web site also covers local business, as does the Washington Times' washingtontimes.com.
Yahoo Inc. and Excite Inc. both provide personalized business news, allowing users to enter their Zip codes to get localized news. And since January 1998, Cox Interactive Media Inc., a division of Cox Enterprises Inc., has launched local sites for 26 cities nationwide that provide coverage of business news, as well as yellow pages, horoscopes and restaurant guides.
In May, Cox Interactive's 26 sites were visited by 2.7 million different people, according to Media Metrix, which measures traffic to Web sites. The number of visits to dbusiness.com didn't register with Media Metrix because it was below the bar the company sets for measurements.
But Millner said dbusiness is just getting started. He said that the focus on local start-ups is what gives the service a personal touch and that readers will pick up on that. "We have the energy of a start-up, and it's much easier for me to relate to the start-ups," Millner said.
CAPTION: Dbusiness.com's D.C. editor, Marlon Millner, works on the online news service's site out of an office in the living room of his apartment.