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I’m at the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose all day. The conference setup is a singular track of rapid fire sessions —many of them 15 minutes in length involving a single speaker with trusty Power Point deck in hand.

The focus of the show mostly involves underlying technology and how the many moving parts of mapping applications (geo-referencing, geospatial technologies, UI, underlying data, content layers, etc.) are coming together. Given the short session lengths, there has been little time to talk about business models or user experiences.

One session of particular interest was given by Yahoo!’s Paul Levine, who discussed the local opportunities surrounding mapping. Yahoo! Local, Levine suggested, will continue to go down the path blazed by Yahoo! as a whole, leveraging user-generated content and community to create value added content.

This could involve integrating Flickr, mapping and Yahoo! Local to allow users to contribute rich media, ratings and reviews to build content around business listings and local navigation. This will also include the ability of businesses to contribute content about themselves that is geospatially presented. Panama, Yahoo!’s new SEM platform, in fact has pioneered features that allow businesses to have control over the regions of the country where there text-based paid search results appear. Advancements in mapping and Yahoo! Local could (my speculation) push this concept further by having advertisers bid on map real estate in addition to keyword. Competitors Google and Microsoft (Windows Live Local) have suggested they are interested in a similar strategy.

This then leads to an important concept that Levine touched upon (he fit a great deal into the 15-minute allotted spot), which we’ve also been paying closer attention to. That is the efforts in the marketplace to bring more small businesses online. Levine presented a slide that showed that there are 25 million U.S. businesses; 3 million of them are online; and 200,000 are e-commerce enabled. Bringing the vast majority of businesses online will be a major effort by portals and SEM players.

There are many sales channels in place to do this: Newspapers are beginning to work with online players to utilize their existing sales channels to appeal to more businesses with newer price points for online interactive advertising. There are also retail outlets such as Costco that are working with interactive advertisers and hosting companies such as Affinity to bring their existing small-business customers (think restaurants) online. There are also the online portals that have shown success with a self-provisioning strategy and will try to push this further with rapid feature development and opportunities that Levine touched upon today.

There is a lot of business out there for online advertisers, but it is very fragmented meaning that forming and executing sales strategies will be a major challenge to growing market share and will be an interesting area to watch. It is clear, however, that mapping will be a feature increasingly demanded by consumers and increasingly used by online ad providers as a feature to bring in new advertisers.

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