During the last month I received a telephone call from an automated system informing me that someone had found Central Presbyterian Church through Google, and that a customer had left a rating at MerchantCircle.com. The first time I received one of these calls I held back on responding, and wanted to learn more first about what this organization was.
I've grown a bit cynical about telemarketers offering me web services. A couple years ago it seemed that everyone was offering to sell me a website. The come-on was an offer of a website "with all the bells and whistles" free for a month with a ridiculously high monthly charge after the free month. The telemarketers never seemed to be aware that the church already had a website (which told me that they didn't know me) and they never explained why a website needed a bell or a whistle (which told me that they didn't really know web design).
But I did decide to check out MerchantCircle, and it turned out to be a free web service offering a free listing along with a number of other services that provide interaction with people who might want more information or have information to share.
I was disappointed that there was not really a rating left by anyone. The reputation score that they offered was flawed. It was based on there being listings on other web services, but MerchantCircle appeared not to have done a real search for the listings that would have shown up. For example they gave Central a lower score because they did not find a listing on yellowpages.com, when the listing was perfectly obvious.
They have a section for online "coupons". I decided to experiment with using a coupon to solve one of the ongoing problems I have with people expecting me to know by telepathy that they are in the hospital. So the coupon offers a free pastoral visit in a local hospital - something I would be ready to do anyhow - but it requires the person using the coupon to call the church phone number and make the request. I will be interested to see whether it accomplishes anything.
MerchantCircle includes a mapping feature using Google maps, but the flags on the map all seem to be shifted away from the actual location of the businesses. (Central Presbyterian Church shows up on the wrong block, as does just about everyone in downtown Tarentum.) So it might get people into the neighborhood but anyone who relies on these maps had better know they will need to look around to find their destination.
MerchantCircle has set up a good system for businesses to have and extend their web presence, but I am really left wondering whether they understand churches, and whether using systems such as this will confuse people as to what the church is really about. The standard listing on their site includes a feedback link with the text "Request a Deal." I wonder whether this creates the impression that faith is just one more thing for sale. It would probably be nice if MerchantCircle had a way to let someone customize their listing with more appropriate language for some of the links that were designed for conventional merchants.
Anyhow, if you want to see the Central Presbyterian Church listing on MerchantCircle it is here. I'll be interested to hear what you think.