If three Blount County entrepreneurs have their way, a new local version of Google will soon become required viewing by web users throughout the community.
Blountopia.com kicks off from 4 to 6 p.m. on Jan. 22 with a drop-in event at the Capitol Theater. The purpose of the party is to introduce the community to a website and search engine that is for all things Blount County.
Partners Josh Pritchard, Brad Spires and David Everett say it’s an idea whose time is now.
Pritchard said they are starting to see the Internet beginning to play an expanding role in the lives and search habits of locals. Local businesses are providing wireless Internet access and people are choosing where to spend the morning or afternoon based on access to the Internet.
“We saw lot of people using the Internet in cafes. There’s a boom happening,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard, Spires and Everett also run a website design company, which they were also seeing grow. “We saw our area was catching on. We were previously just a website design company. In doing that, we realized there was a growing demand for the web in this area, particularly among local businesses,” Pritchard said. “We helped provide affordable web for small businesses, and, as we saw more and more people become interested, we realized there was a demand for an ‘All Blount’ site on a larger scale.”
Pritchard said area businesses needed a meeting point online where they can get their information out as well as advertise locally.
Pritchard said they started looking into becoming something of a local version of Google. “If you want to find what this restaurant has to offer, we wanted you to go to one place to find that information, and Blountopia is going to be that place,” he said. “We want to list gas prices, local events, music, artists so people can search Blountopia and see what is out there on a local scale.”
Although the site is still in “beta” phase, a quick comparison did show an ease in usage. Searching Google for “Blount County artists” brought up 42,200 hits. Some were helpful -- Fine Arts Blount, a story in Blount Today on Art Walk. But also on the first page was a link to the Blount County Health Department and a MySpace page on Blount County outlaws in Boaz, Alabama.
Click on “artists” on the still-under-construction Blountopia and you get four hits with links to four local artists, plus an invitation to add your own information if you are a Blount County artist who isn’t listed.
Spires said they believe Blountopia is the first of its kind for Blount County. “We haven’t looked into the very dark corners of the Internet,” Spires said, “but we haven’t run across anything that is as detailed as ours.”
Pritchard said that as they developed the idea for Blountopia, the economy was on the downscale, but the trio did not view that as negative to going ahead with the development of Blountopia.
“We started realizing there was a need for this tool for people who were trying to start businesses or who were losing jobs or small businesses trying to grow despite the economy,” said Pritchard. “They needed a place where they could go and get free exposure, a place to let people know there are events out there happening locally and local groups to contact.,” he said.
Spires said on Blountopia.com, small businesses get the same footing as large scale businesses. “It levels the playing field because they are there side by side,” he said.
And listing your information is free, said Spires. “You don’t have to pay to be in the Directory of Businesses. Just put in your information,” he said.
There are advertising opportunities, as well, said Spires. “We sell advertising banners but we want to provide help with people get on the Internet,” he said.
Spires said these banners can drive traffic to their clients’ businesses. “The economic situation prompted us to put up a jobs section,” Pritchard said. “We have jobs listed. That is free.”
Pritchard said the idea for Blountopia.com came two years ago. “It was collaborative effort. David Everett, our programmer and partner, had the idea to have a local Google perspective. He researched Google and lone businesses to see how they do businesses and how they approach problems and saw value in providing data feeds to the area,” Pritchard said. “He had this idea that, in his words, we needed a local Google to find gas, weather and local businesses.”
Pritchard said after Everett conceived the original idea, he and Spires organized it and made it concrete. “Brad took charge on the design and what it would look like. We talked about what tools needed to be on there,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard said the company’s mission statement is that they want to bring the benefits of Internet technology to this area and preserve the small town spirit of the area when you enter cyberspace. “One way we’re trying to accomplish that is through the artists’ listing. It’s sort of like a free MySpace, a network opportunity for local artists, music and entertainment,” he said. “We want this site to have a cultural feel to give accurate representation of the culture.”
Pritchard said there also will be an Events section with free listings. Businesses that hold events can get free publicity and can check before they schedule events to see if there are any conflicts with other events.
“It’s going to have a more personal touch and be less cold and distant than what you find on a national site. We live here and work on it. If people want a feature, we can add that for the customer,” he said. “We want the site to be organic and feel like it belongs to local businesses and people who live and work here.”
The three owners want this launch of Blountopia to just be the beginning, with the website growing to offer more and different things businesses and customers in Blount County need.
“Right now we have one blogger, Emily Winsauer. We want to find more people to blog for the site and, hopefully, do more for the cities and county governments on the site,” Pritchard said
Pritchard said he could see Blountopia.com as a growing network within the community and businesses. “I see us reaching out and working better with nonprofits and businesses, using technology to benefit causes in the area,” he said.
Spires said the biggest challenge to the website is getting the word out and getting enough content on the site to make it a daily useful thing. “That’s a constant job, keeping information up to date and keeping information fresh,” Pritchard said.
Spires said it is important for Blountopia to develop partnerships and Pritchard agreed. “We’re meeting other businesses that are trying to do things in the community,” he said. “We hope to merge with the community and provide a service we all care about.”
Spires said they came up with the name Blountopia after brainstorming with all the partners and their wives.
“I think the name speaks to the concept of helping to improve the community and inviting the community to be a part, help improve it and make it better,” Spires said. “It speaks to wanting to protect what’s great about our area and improve where we can.”
Spires and Pritchard said they hope residents will come by the launch event and will check out the new website on their own.
“Visit the site,” said Spires. “If you see something you want on the site, let us know, and we’ll do our best to make it happen.”