Amazon To Blend Streetscapes With Local Search Listings

Melding street scenes with search, Amazon.com Thursday announced the introduction of a local search service that displays quaint stills of the store next door. The online retail giant, boasting 20 million shop-front photos in 10 major U.S. cities, is billing the new service as a boon to local businesses as well as would-be patrons.

For the service, Amazon's subsidiary A9 combed the country--digital video camera and global positioning system in tow--capturing the necessary images. The company currently offers photos from 10 metropolitan areas: Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Denver; Los Angeles; Manhattan; Portland, Ore.; the San Francisco Bay area; and Seattle.

"This service is meant to break down the barriers between on- and off-line retail so that users feel as comfortable online as they do on Main Street," explained Barnaby Dorfman, director of product development at A9. The service's "block view" feature--which gives users a peek at neighboring stores --offers previously unavailable information about businesses, such as parking availability, handicap accessibility, and a general sense of the area surrounding the business, said Udi Manber, CEO of A9.

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In September, Amazon's A9 launched a search engine that users can customize; most listings are provided by search giant Google. A9 technology currently powers search on Amazon.com and other Web sites. Amazon allows businesses to list themselves and upload their own pictures to the directory for free, and does not generate revenue from listings.

Last month, A9 drew just 819,000 visitors, ranking it 30th among search engines; by comparison, Google drew over 71 million unique visitors.

Both Google and Yahoo! recently began offering localized search, not to mention a slew of local newspapers and telecoms that offer online business directories. Several months ago, Google bought Keyhole, a digital-mapping company that provides digital street photos.

In other local search news, Yahoo! Thursday officially offered up a service that allows users to send search results from their PCs directly to their mobile phone via text message. The service is available across all major wireless carriers--Cingular/AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Sprint/Nextel, and T-Mobile--at no charge for consumers. (Wireless carriers may charge fees for receiving the text message on a mobile handset.)

Yahoo! Local was the top directory/local guide destination on the Web in December, according to data from Nielsen//NetRatings. Yahoo!'s latest offering builds upon its launch of Yahoo! Search for Mobile and Yahoo! Local for Mobile across several major U.S. carriers in late 2004. Yahoo! offers a free and enhanced paid service similar to A9's, which can be found at listings.local.yahoo.com.

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