Yahoo Local has been getting better and better of late, and today Yahoo launched another rev of the service which I think comes close to redefining the idea of local from that of a search based application to that of a destination – no small feat, given all the mojo and investment inherent in the “local search” terminology.
I spoke with Paul Levine, head of Yahoo Local Search, earlier in the week and he gave me a tour through the site’s new features. What did I see that led me to this conclusion? Two things. One, a major commitment to the architecture of participation – Levine and Yahoo are committed to surfacing user-generated content wherever they can. And two, integration into the recombinant web – at one point Levine called Yahoo Local an emergent “collective wiki for local.”
I really like this idea – that of creating a platform based on a need (in this case local) – then letting the users build the service over time. While it clearly controls the dials and levers for now, Yahoo seems to be watching how folks are using the content and services they have integrated into local, then building (or rebuilding) the site as paths are laid down and choices are made by the users.
Levine said he noticed that local searches were frustrating to many because they were often too broad – a search for “San Francisco pizza” or somesuch gave too many results. So Yahoo Local is now driven by the idea of “neighborhoods” for larger cities, a concept which informs and allows all sorts of new interface executions. It also has automatically generated “city pages” which surface the most popular content based on actions of local users. The whole deal is RSS friendly.
Yahoo is leveraging its “buzz” technology in part to create these city pages, and it’s also tying in the tagging inherent to its MyWeb social search platform (which does have its problems, as SEW notes). There are many other features, like wizzy rollover stuff and expandable maps, but I’ve never really been that strong on product reviews…
A couple of thoughts on where it seems this might be heading. First, I’ve written a lot in the past about the idea of clickstreams, search history, and the like. As I was touring through Yahoo Local, it struck me that what the service was starting to do was, in effect, *not waste my time and investment* as I interacted with it.
Said another way, as a user I get the sense that the more I put into Yahoo Local (or any number of other well considered sites), the more I get out. I’m motivated to use it not simply because I get some information, find a phone number, get driving directions, but also because I sense I am contributing, through my clickstream, to the creation of a smarter service which will serve be better in the future. Also, I am participating in a community that I am part of. That, in the end, is what will drive loyalty and usage in a Web 2 world.
Secondly, and germane to where Yahoo sits strategically in a Google dominated world, Yahoo’s embrace of user-generated content sets the company apart. Yahoo is clearly pursuing a strategy of hosting content – every merchant can build a page describing its wares, every user can comment on those wares, for example. Borrowing content from the Yellow Pages (or integrating related – but not connected – content from the broader web) can only take local web search so far. The architecture of participation is what’s next.
Google’s local offering has been growing significantly of late, even though Yahoo holds a commanding lead in overall usage (one it its only such leads in a search related offering). Given how rich this area is in advertising dollars and consumer demand, expect more announcements soon…