Microsoft Local Pushes Maps, Imagery

When Microsoft quit its Sidewalk city guide in 2001, it promised to keep its foot in the door of local services. At that time, it was probably thinking “small business,” since it was bent on remaking the small business marketplace around the Great Plains software company that it had recently purchased.

But small business services have never really pushed local into new areas. Arguably, software never has. In fact, Microsoft’s role in local is only now getting established, due to the newly accorded prominence of two areas that Microsoft also considers part of its core competency: maps and imaging.

Speaking at Kelsey’s ILM conference in early December, Microsoft Local Group head Erik Jorgensen presented a masterful picture of local’s image-driven future. “People want true visualization, showing them ‘what is there,’ he said. “Fundamentally, people are visual. And people want location integrated into relevant services.”

AOL Promises ‘Local’ Progress in 2006

AOL was early in investing in its Digital City city guide, early to solicit local business reviews, early to see the power of mapping via its acquisition of Mapquest, and early to see the importance of offline activities by purchasing MovieFone.The company wasn’t necessarily strong on follow-thru, however.

Speaking at Kelsey’s ILM conference, AOL Senior VP Jim Riesenbach reminded the audience that AOL remains a major player in local. He promised that the company would see significant progress in 2006, especially now that AOL has worked out many of its transition problems and is widely considered a hot property again.

A major emphasis for AOL will be to leverage its assortment of platforms as a “communications suite,” now that it has been freed from emphasizing the fire-walled access service. “ To Riesenbach, local figures into all of it.

“It is counterproductive to think of local as a vertical,” he said, responding to a comment by a Microsoft executive earlier in the conference. “The question for us is how we integrate local as an enabler for everything that people do online.” Riesenbach added that the richness of AOL’s local offering will make its local search among the industry’s most compelling.

Judy’s Book Launches ‘TrustScore’

Judy’s Book, InsiderPages, CitySearch and others run relatively open social networks. In their efforts to attract as many reviews as possible, they run the risk of accepting some phony reviews sent in by business owners, competitors, sarcastic college students and others that might be incented to cheat. Now Judy’s Book, the recent recipient of $8 […]

How Many Local Advertisers Are Online?

It is oft-repeated that there are “300,000 local advertisers online.” But it doesn’t strain the imagination to suggest there are at least 400,000. And that’s just on the search and pay per click side. Overall, there may be more than 900,000 local businesses advertising online.

It is all guess work on our part, but here is how we calculate. Google is close-lipped, but it is thought to have over 150,000 local advertisers. Yahoo Search Marketing (Overture) might have another 100,000. And then there are the localized efforts run by the remaining portals, and many smaller players to contend with, including the contextual networks, the social networks, and various other local services.

And all this is just for search and clicks. Looking at more traditional local advertising products (i.e. enhanced listings), the number of local online advertisers swells exponentially. Why does it matter how many local advertisers are really budgeting for online? Because the higher number shows that most local sites are really underperforming.

WashingtonPost.com Revives City Guide

Spurred on by the likes of BackFence in its suburban territories, WashingtonPost.com has launched its third attempt at a city guide. The new effort, which succeeds previous efforts with CitySearch and Zip2, has a new search engine powered by FAST, search by location and proximity, improved navigation, selected newspaper content, editors picks, ShopLocal sales information, and a calendar that can be browsed by events and categories.

What the site does not include are Yellow Pages, which had been abandoned after Switchboard stopped supporting it. While washingtonpost.com has been an innovator in selling ads on podcasts, video pods and RSS, it has never found “meaningful ways” to sell local service and merchant ads. Indeed, CEO and Publisher Caroline Little, during a keynote at the Kelsey ILM show, said that washingtonpost.com is “4-5 years behind national players” such as Yahoo and AOL who have local templates.

A major emphasis of the new city guide is on “frictionless consumer generated media,” including user reviews of Washington area services and events. Soon, users will also be invited to comment on news and feature articles. Coming up in three-to-six months will be a photo library where users can send in their favorite photos – among the most popular features, coincidentally, on BackFence. “People love photos,” said Little. “We learned that on 9/11.”

GoogleLocal Stresses ‘Openness’

GoogleLocal is one of the biggest wildcards in local advertising, with new partners and angles being pursued for AdSense, AdWords and GoogleBase, the new self-serve directory and classifieds product.

Whatever it is planning behind the scenes, Google clearly wants to be seen as a bunch of good guys. Keynoting the Kelsey ILM conference, Google Local leader Shailesh Rao’s presentation was almost entirely data-and-content free, focusing instead on the shimmering possibilities of local information and services.

“We don’t see ourselves in your business,” said Rao. “I don’t feel your pain.” Addressing the controversial rollout of GoogleBase, Rao said it has simply been misunderstood. “GoogleBase is not synonymous with owning content,” he said. “Google Base is to the benefit of owners of content….it is a meaningful, structured (way to do) content.”

Google’s Froogle Ramps Up on Local

Google’s Froogle has been an also-ran among the giant comparative shopping sites, being out-distanced by the likes of eBay’s Shopping.com and Scripps’ Shopzilla. Indeed, Google’s apparent inattention to Froogle has been a mystery.

But this week, Google turned on the burners for Froogle. It announced that it will provide sales-and-inventory search programs for big box and local merchant retailers with ShopLocal, and StepUp, a Bay Area startup that now provides online inventory search for 1,200 retailers in 8,000 locations. Roughly 75 percent of StepUp’s merchant base, or 900 retailers, come from outside the Bay Area. StepUp also has 250 Bay Area specialty retailers, grandfathered from its acquisition of MarketSquare.

The Froogle announcement is actually the first concrete manifestation of GoogleBase, a do-it-yourself classifieds and Yellow Pages builder. While few details of GoogleBase have been released, its mere existence has caused some consternation with local media and commerce companies, who now finally understand that they’ll be directly competing with Google.