Startup Review: City Dictionary

City Dictionary is a Madison-based startup that organizes user generated definitions for local slang and locations.  Co-founded by brothers and Wisconsin grads Thomas and John Carmona, City Dictionary is similar to urban dictionary, but location based and and city specific.  Thomas Carmona told me their “goal is to capture the subtleties of American cities that existing references leave out.”   From their website:

Have you ever gone to a new city and been confused by the way the locals speak? Whether it’s an idiomatic expression, a nickname for a local street, or the name of a local food, cities can have confusing language. For example, should you be offended if someone in Pittsburgh calls you “nebby?” In Philadelphia, will you know what to say if someone offers you a “whiz wit?” Will you be alarmed in Madison when someone says they drank a “boot” last night?  If you understand all three of these references, then you’re in the minority. For the rest of us, there’s City Dictionary.

They launched the site back in May 2008 as a Madison website, trying to “capture the eccentricities of Madison language and culture” but have since expanded nationwide.   They have made some great progress lately, including winning the Burrill Business Plan Competition and a cool $10,000 first prize, signing a deal to put dictionaries on over 60 local TV news websites and adding lots of new definitions.  

The site is interesting because it fills in the gaps that other sources like traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia and others leave out.  Thomas Carmona told me that “eventually, we would like City Dictionary to be a valuable reference for all cities and towns–large or small–in the US, similar to the way Wikipedia is a powerful reference for, well, everything. Whereas Wikipedia and other existing city references give the “official” account of a city, City Dictionary will fill in the gaps with the subtleties that only real locals can offer.”  

City Dictionary’s market is a niche that had been previously underserved and  I really like their strategy of partnering with local TV stations to get more users and content.  If they are able to get enough partners, they will build a wall around their industry, making it hard for competition to break into the market.  The syndication deals are a promising sign because others companies realize the value that City Dictionary brings to the table and provides City Dictionary with a much larger presence across the web.

Currently, City Dictionary is ad supported and it will be interesting to see if they can find a way to squeeze revenue out of the page views that they generate or have to find another revenue stream as they move forward.  I’m excited to see how they continue to grow.  Check out City Dictionary and let me know what you think.