Google Upgrades Local (Again)
After introducing a new and improved dynamic mapping product just weeks ago, Google quickly and smartly integrated it into its local application yesterday. Google is also going to support the Opera and MAC-based Safari browsers.
In addition, Google's integrating content from structured feeds and specific local algorithms to support a more user-friendly (and somewhat YP-like) presentation of content in a profile or details page that includes reviews and specific additiional information about the business (e.g., hours, payment methods, etc.).
The structured content is coming from partners and Web crawling. The new upgrades are similar to, but not as structured as Yahoo!'s details page and the more recent AOL Local upgrade. However, they're a strong step in the right direction for Google. As they say, "it's an 'iterative process.'"
I'll write more on this, together with my thoughts and impressions of AOL's Local product very soon. (The fact that the Internet was down at the SES conference hotel about 70 percent of the time thwarted my ambition to get something out sooner. Here's a good general overview of the Google Local upgrade.)
There's an emerging consensus, I believe, around a feature set that defines (or will define when all the pieces are in place) a good local search user experience. All the major search players (eventually MSN too) are moving or will move in that direction. That doesn't mean it will be easy to execute in an elegant way.
It's less clear to me right now how IYP will evolve, either independently or in response.
There's considerable local content that has little to do with buying anything and, arguably, should be included in results (Google does do that). But there's a gray area around community (e.g., a mother's group that might involve a mix of commercial and non-commercial advice). Sites like Judy's Book are working toward this sort of thing.
But in terms of a staight commercial app, the product feature set involves basic business contact information, as well as relevant business details (which may be vertical specific). Also on the list are ratings and reviews (editorial and user-generated), dynamic mapping, local product search (i.e., where can I buy that Pinot Noir or Toshiba TV or iIPod in my area), classifieds and offers/coupons. There are some other "bells and whistles" items that may belong on this list, such as RSS functionality.
I'm sure I've left some things out (hey, it's late). But my point is that we will see a good deal of product similarity eventually, probably mirroring the trends in general search market (parity of results quality).
But as we've so far seen in general Web search, that doesn't always translate into equal market share distribution.