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.

The Boston Globe Stakes Out a Role in WiFi

The Boston Globe is building out a series of local WiFi “Pulse Points” that provide hyper-local information about the signal area (train stations, book stores, etc.). The paper, which is owned by The New York Times Co., launched two Pulse Points at the end of September, and expects to add some other Pulse Points by the end of the year.

While the Pulse Points only include content today, it doesn’t strain the imagination to see that advertising and transactions could be added in the future. Such a scenario is especially interesting in light of the breezy assumption that Google’s current bid to WiFi all of San Francisco is a slam dunk to sell advertising at the expense of local newspapers, Yellow Pages or TV stations –or all three.

Going forward, the question is whether The Globe and other papers can carve out a role for themselves if the likes of Google assume the hosting responsibilities for WiFi – and presumably, the default browser. We know this: to date, no newspaper has really developed a compelling wireless service worth paying for. Why would they be able to create a more compelling wireless service?

Infinity Adds AOL Local Content

Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting is focused on ramping up its Radiomat streaming network for all 183 stations in 22 markets, and will add AOL Local content. At the same time, however, it will pull out of AOL Radio, where it has streamed seven of its major stations since 2003.

Infinity’s pullout of its stations may have something to do with AOL’s recent tie to XM Radio, which now handles most of AOL’s radio programming. Infinity is currently developing a competing subscription service, HD Radio, in partnership with other key radio players.

TV-Based Local Services Beat VoIP?

One way for the telcos to beat back free or cheap Voice over IP services (VoIP) is to get away from their sole focus on the phone and move to a feature-rich, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) platform, complete with local directory, community and news services.

Amdocs, a leading telco integrator, certainly sees things this way. Amdocs Marketing Director Eitan Gelbaum said the key to winning the war with VoIP will be to transfrom the television into the family’s communications headquarters. He noted that 150 telcos worldwide have indicated that they’ll move to an IPTV platform within two or three years.

Kelsey Show Review: YP Brands Can’t Compete

The Kelsey Group’s Directory Driven Commerce conference in Denver Sept. 27-29 saw Yellow Pages executives accepting that they’ll never have the brand power of a Google or a Yahoo. “The cat’s out of the bag,” said Dex CEO George Burnett. “We’ll never have the brand of the portals.”

Burnett could have gone further. He could have noted that Yellow Pages aren’t effectively reaching key demographic groups, have failed to prove that their Internet efforts have separate value; and suffer from a 20 percent decline in overall listings due to unlisted cellphone and VoIP numbers. More critically, they are barely enhancing their deep business profiles, which has been their unique advantage over the portals.

But Burnett and his Yellow Pages colleagues think differently. They tend to focus on their genuine success in keeping revenues up, even as usage has demonstrably gone down. Only by merging print lookups with IYP searches does the industry’s usage show growth.

Diller Talks Up CitySearch

IAC/Interactive Corp. Chairman Barry Diller generally downplays CitySearch during analyst calls, preferring to focus on brighter stories among IAC’s portfolio of companies, such as TicketMaster, Lending Tree and until recently, Expedia.

But at a Goldman Sachs’ investor conference on Sept. 22, Diller surprisingly devoted more time to CitySearch than IAC’s other companies. He noted that CitySearch is now operating in the black, and has seen a rise in monthly unique users from eight million in 2003 to 23 million today.

Diller’s positive comments reinforce outward confidence in the division by IAC, including its recent move to the new IAC west coast headquarters in West Hollywood, and its recruitment of high level executives to work under CEO Briggs Ferguson.