Local Search

Chris Schroeder of The Washington Post Co. offers a contrarian view:

I believe the problem for local search is only partly technological, and partly a data acquisition issue. Both the essence and opportunity of real local search is and has always been, even in print directories, nuance.

Nuance means sensitivity to geography (Reston, VA is NOT Washington, DC). Nuance means a sensitivity to qualitative factors (Is the restaurant romantic, or for kids? Is the doctor really good at neurosurgery or other trauma? Are there reviews available from reliable sources? Or at least by people like me?) Nuance means sensitivities to price and value comparisons (What is the best deal, or the most I can afford?) Nuance means countless things to countless people, location by location.

Searches of the massive, unstructured data world that is the Internet cannot do any of this in any kind of useful Web experience at the moment. And, interestingly, where the search engines are weakest here, quality local publishing and commerce sites are strong.

So who might actually be best positioned to win here? Here’s an argument for the often forgotten local newspaper sites. Local newspapers and their sites generate page after page of local content based on the nuances of each city. They have the feet-on-the-street relationships with local merchants. They have-in areas such as classifieds, entertainment listings, merchandise listings, personals listings-a long head start in useful, comprehensive and deeply local structured data. And they are sitting on one of the richest, untapped databases of retail goods for sale embedded in their display advertising (think definitive destinations of what is on sale in any city). With some investment, they can create structured data base after structured database of plumbers, doctors, lawyers, wedding planners, and so forth. As importantly, such Web experiences could not only be comprehensive, but “smart.” They would not just offer search results, but make them nuanced. They would add related links to “meta-content,” articles and reviews, including self-published community commentaries a ‘la eBay and Zagat, and add price comparisons and booking capabilities. Through permission-based registration information, as well as smart cookies and behavioral targeting, they could have powerful knowledge of their users and what their needs are. This all adds up to an online destination that does not exist, and is not easily replicated.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.