MerchantCircle has a simple goal, but challengingdisplace the old fashioned printed Yellow Pages and bring local business into a more social Web of commerce. I talked to Ben Smith, CEO of the startup, who told me that the 14 million local merchants who advertise in the Yellow Pages (some online as well as offline) want a better way to express themselves online and to reach customers.
The startup hopes to differentiate itself with a social interface and a more effective ad model than that of big competitors. Merchants who sign up for the service can create ads, coupons, newsletters, blogs, reviews of other merchants, comments and enable RSS and local news feeds. MerchantCircle buys the inventory and does the placements and search optimization. A key differentiator for MerchantCircle is that each member can create and participate in local commerce networks. Members can include links to each others ads and business listings as a way to boost referrals.
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