During the Kelsey Groups Drilling Down on Local conference here this week, Insider Pages and LinkedIn Corp. separately announced services that help consumers hunt for everything from attorneys or financial planners to plumbers or dog walkers by making use of their networks of online contacts and friends.
"The matching of buyers and sellers of local services doesnt work very well [online]," said Stu MacFarlane, the CEO of Pasadena, Calif.-based Insider Pages. "On the consumer side, theres no place good to go for quality information. Theres nothing that really tells you how good or how bad a business is."
To tackle that problem, Insider Pages launched a beta site for the Los Angeles area last July where users can submit and search reviews about local businesses. Users must register to create reviews. By doing so, they also start building a network of personal contacts and friends of friends in the service.
Insider Pages uses each users social network in order to more highly rank business reviews from friends and contacts in search results on the site, MacFarlane said. The Los Angeles site has about 24,000 reviews and is growing at a rate of about 700 reviews a day.
Insider Pages, wholly owned by incubator Idealab, plans to create local sites in 20 markets by the end of the summer, MacFarlane said. It already has begun pilots of sites for Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, pilots which should become more broadly available in about a month.
"Weve taken the concept of word of mouth and moved online," MacFarlane said.
For the businesses, Insider Pages has begun a pay-per-call ad program, where businesses can buy premium placement at the top of search results and highlight reviews about their companies or services, MacFarlane said. The service also plans to offer a pay-per-click option for companies preferring Web site leads over phone leads.
Insider Pages isnt alone in increasingly targeting user reviews within local search. Another startup, Judys Book Inc., ties a network of friends to reviews and recommendations about local business. Yahoo Inc. also lets users rate and review businesses as part of its local search service, and Google Inc. aggregates reviews from the Web within some local results.
Meanwhile, Palo Alto, Calif.-based LinkedIn has begun leveraging its well-known professional social-networking site to generate referrals to service-oriented local businesses.
The company on Tuesday released a program called LinkedIn Services, where users can find business service providers based on their connections. Users can browse through 40 service categories or search by keyword.
Service providers are ranked so that those recommended by people in a users social network appear at the top of the list, LinkedIn said. The listings display degrees-of-separation information and endorsements from other users.
Service providers participate by creating LinkedIn profiles, and more than 150,000 providers currently have profiles. They also can solicit recommendations from clients who are members of LinkedIn.
LinkedIn Services, launched as a preview, is offered for free. But the company is planning to sell premium listing options to service providers in the second half of the year, LinkedIn officials said.
LinkedIn is targeting its service-provider search service toward higher-value services such as legal, financial, employment and creative services.
"LinkedIn is well-positioned to capture revenues from the segment of local search where transactions typically exceed $1,000 and trusted recommendations are essential," said LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman, in a statement.