Location Matters at Local Matters

By Adena Schutzberg and Joe Francica

In the latest round of clashes between the search engine giants, you might think that location technology has the world at its feet.Each player is vying for more market share and advertising dollars, pinning its hopes on geography.But just remember that "content is king" in local (and many other) matters.And who better to remind the search world of that fact than Local Matters, the recently announced merger of three companies.Aptas, Inc.("Aptas"), Information Services Extended, Inc.("ISx") and YP Web Partners, LLC ("YP Solutions") came together as Local Matters to focus on delivering rich content, beyond what you currently see or expect in typical Internet searches.The fundamental premise of this merger is the understanding that local search is accelerating very rapidly.The recent enhancements from Yahoo and Google validate that idea.

The company believes that the search experience should be more intuitive with a "rich ontology" for a better search product."Without a broad base of well structured content, you don't get the consumer's confidence.We tackled that by going back in to the yellow pages industry to retrieve that content and convert it from unstructured to Web-structured content," explained Perry Evans, CEO of Local Matters.

Evans was the impetus behind the merger.He has held numerous positions with Internet start-ups including one as the founder and president of MapQuest Publishing Group.Prior to that, he was responsible for interactive yellow pages at RR Donnelley, the company that gave rise to MapQuest.

Enhanced Directory Assistance
Evans believes that businesses are poorly represented at the local level.The lack of good information about the products and services of these companies (think Mom and Pop stores) hampers the credibility of not only the search engine but the company itself.Local Matters wanted to focus its services around what you do every day in a yellow page search.Superior content is key to fixing the problem.That in turn powers enhanced directory assistance (EDA, see for example Sprint's offering.The objective is to build content around a multi-category buying experience.For example, if you were looking for a dentist, you may also want to know the hours of operation as well as the types of insurance accepted.In the case of wedding planning, you want to see a list of cake designers, dress stores, limo drivers, etc.In short, you want "the ability to work in a structured search for a truer shopping experience," says Evans.

Local Matters believes that the portal model of linking websites does not serve the customer because companies do not update websites regularly.Most small businesses, says Perry, do not have a website and if they do, it's very likely to be three years old.Local Matters offers what it calls "content transformation" which helps local yellow page providers "by combining its large and continually updated database, patent-pending tools, and the expertise of its Ontology team to help customers extract, refine and organize content for use in new Local Media publishing applications." Said another way, Local Matters extracts and organizes legacy content for today's modern searches.In many ways, it's not that different from moving Mylar maps into GIS.

That sort of extraction taps in the "long tail" of the Internet.The "long tail" essentially says that while there's lots of action around popular things (blockbuster movies, best sellers) there's still a lot of money to be made on those that are not so popular (the odd foreign film or the only book on a lost language).So too with local search.While there are many, many Starbucks (and the company does a fine job to be sure you can find them) there are also substantial numbers of independent coffee shops, which, whether they know it not, need to be found in local searches.And, argues Local Matters, there's money to be made by the company, the search portal and the independent store owner, in the process.

In the same way that interacting with a Mylar map and interacting with an interactive digital version are quite different, interacting with local search in today's environment will be very different than one enhanced by Local Matters.In today's local search you find 10 barber shops within a certain distance from your house.You know (typically) just the crow flies distance, an address and a phone number.If you want to find the hours of operation, you must plow through each website yourself.If you want to find out if they have accommodations for small children, again, you must do the searching.If you want to know if they provide other services, another search.By pulling out this sort of information, Local Matters expects to make it possible to compare the local establishment with just a click or two.

"The map is a great foundational element," said Evans.He believes that you need to move the user experience from one of being "point-centric" to that which better approximates "the life experience." Evans says that "you shouldn't have to go to MapQuest to get a map; then go somewhere else to find a place to eat.There is no retention in those searches you make or the maps you draw."

Perry also is realistic about what search engines can and cannot do.He notes that "You don't go to Google to book an airline ticket, right? You go to a specialty travel site [like Orbitz or Travelocity]." The same he said is true of real estate and job searches, where specialized sites, with specialized data and specialized tools make these experiences more successful.He envisions local search needing that same sort of specialized tool.

Business Model
Local Matters does not want to compete with the Google or MSN, but would rather "private label" its technology.The company already works with more than 40 customers in 18 countries, including Dex Media, British Telecom, R H Donnelley, Sensis Australia, Telecom New Zealand, SBC, Fonecta France Telecom, Eniro, Belgacom, TELUS and DasÖrtliche.The company offers that it can "leverage the convergence of the Internet, voice and mobile services" and provide EDA services to all types of telecommunications or Internet search companies.The company also hopes to assist traditional media publishers because they tend to be weak in technology infrastructure for Internet consumer publishing and local info services industry.

What does this convergence mean to your traditional big yellow book? Evans expects that yellow page directories will be whittled away by Internet local search.

Published Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg and Joe Francica

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