Local Search Gains Traction in Maps, News

Yahoo launches a new feature for mapping local attractions and businesses, while startup Topix.net unveils its new site that localizes news content for 30,000 cities and towns.

The buzz over local Web search is becoming more of a reality this week as search providers offer new ways to search for attractions and news close to home.

Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday launched a new local feature on its Yahoo Maps site to make it easier for consumers to find local points of interest. Meanwhile startup Topix.net on Monday unveiled its news search site that includes local news pages for 30,000 U.S. cities and towns.

Local search has become a major search-engine trend as Web users seek more personalized information. In a typical month, some 200 million U.S. Web searches are conducted that contain local modifiers such as a specific city name, representing about 7 percent of all U.S. Web searches, according to comScore Networks Inc.

Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., added a feature called SmartView to Yahoo Maps. It allows users to customize a maps display to show local attractions such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters and ATMs. They then can click on the map icons of local attractions to get information on addresses, phone numbers, pricing, Web addresses, user ratings and driving directions, Yahoo officials said.

Yahoo also has included a Web search link within the map results so users can connect to Web information. Likewise, Yahoos recently revamped Yahoo Search now lets users type an address directly into the search bar to retrieve a map display in their results that can take them to SmartView.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Yahoos launch in February of its new search technology.

Along with drawing from Yahoo Search, SmartView uses content from Yahoo Yellow Pages for addresses and phone numbers, Yahoo Travel for travel information and booking and Yahoo Movies for local movie times and ticket purchasing.

The new local mapping feature is part of the companys plans to offer more local search options, Jeff Weiner, senior vice president for Yahoo Search and Marketplace, said in a statement.

For its part, Topix.net, of Palo Alto, Calif., launched its own news site that makes use of its proprietary artificial-intelligence technology to aggregate and categorize news from 3,600 sources into 150,000 specialized pages based on localities and topics.

The pages include those dedicated to local news for every U.S. ZIP code, drawing both from local sources as well as broader stories that reference that city or town, Topix.net CEO Rich Skrenta said.

"Our goal is to find news that matters to users," Skrenta said. "We have a thousand-fold more news categories than closet other news site. We think were the first site to localize disparate audiences through content."

Topix.net was the brainchild of the founders of the Open Directory Project, one of the largest Web directories that is now used for Googles Web directory. Topix.net was founded in June 2002, and its Web site went live in January as a beta.

Topix.net faces tough competition in the news search arena. Both Yahoo and Google recently have expanded or launched their sites for searching news. But, Skrenta noted, Topix.net has taken a different approach from Google and Yahoo by focusing on local news coverage.

It also bases its categorizations not just on keyword searches but by matching news with a database of information from company names and celebrities to local streets and bridges, Skrenta said.

Topix.nets news sources extend beyond mainstream media outlets. They also include a selection of college and high-school newspapers, Weblogs, local police blotters and health inspection and Coast Guard reports, Skrenta said.

The companys business model includes making money through advertising targeted to the specific topics and geography—through its own ad programs and Googles AdSense contextual advertising program—as well as by selling syndicated feeds of its categorized news content and licensing its technology.