Yahoo! Local Redesign – Did you notice the ‘neighborhood’ info?

Yahoo! recently redesigned their local search portal and made some significant improvements. (I find the user comments on the redesign entertaining. Users are always upset after a redesign – “I can’t find [insert the one thing you used] anymore.”

There are plenty of reviews (here and here) of the new site, so I won’t waste your time simply recapping what they’ve already said. Instead, I want to focus on the integration of “Neighborhood Groups”, which is easy to overlook. If you missed it, you can find this new feature near the bottom of the Yahoo! Local page after entering in your location info.

Neighborhood Groups

After a cursory review, the Neighborhood Groups feature looks to be somewhat of an afterthought (I’ll explain why shortly), but I think that it indicates the direction that they’re likely to take their product as local social networks blossom.

The idea is to get local people talking to each other about local business listings like restaurant reviews, vendor recommendations, etc. For example, one neighbor talking to another about the incredible (or not so incredible) restaurant that they ate at last night.

Why is this cool? Relevance and trust. My neighbor’s review about a restaurant is much more relevant to me than a review from someone I’ve never met. I know and trust my neighbor so when he says that the restaurant was great, I believe him. Or maybe I know that I have different tastes than my neighbor, which is also valuable to me, and I’ll be sure to avoid what he likes. Either way, the review is more valuable to me. And the same goes for my neighbors’ lawn care company, real estate agent, dog sitter, handy man, etc. 

But is this how it works? No, not today. Not yet.

If you visit http://local.yahoo.com/, under “Neighborhood Groups” the site asks, “Need a recommendation? Ask a neighbor in a local group”. So I clicked on “Search for groups near you”, you’ll get a list of groups, not neighborhoods, located in your area. When I did this, I typed in zip code 80027 as my location, and came up with the Louisville Runner’s Club, a group located in Louisville, Colorado.

Even though I didn’t get a list of neighborhoods, I was actually pretty excited at this point. I was expecting to find reviews from members of the Louisville Runner’s Club about the New Balance store nearby that has the cool machine that measures your foot for the perfect fit.

I didn’t find that review, which didn’t really surprise me, but what did surprise me is that I didn’t find any reviews from this group. Even more surprising was that there is no vehicle that allows me to do this.

So when Yahoo! asked me if I needed a recommendation and suggested that I ask a neighbor in a local group, what they’re really saying is, “hey, wouldn’t that be cool if you could do that?” Yes, it would. It would even be better if I could sort reviews by my friends, neighbors, and so on.

I’m pretty sure that Yahoo! has some of the data needed to accomplish this; they’re just not leveraging it yet. But it will be extremely valuable to businesses and consumers alike when this concept is further developed.

Local News and Content Innovations

Yahoo Local redesigns their interface adding all sorts of cool content controls and useful features for discovering local news and events.

By partnering with MenuPages, CitySearch has added extensive menu content to their restaurant profile pages. Awesome! Now I can find out ahead of time if there is a kid’s menu.

Google is now allowing users to comment on stories (that they appear in) on Google News. Still wondering how Google will verify that people are who they say they are…

To Sale Or Not To Sale

A recent Facebook application launched from Buy.com called Garage Sale. I think it’s self-explanatory — sell your stuff to your friends on Facebook. Theory is that they know and trust you, so it’s like a “garage sale” at your house.

TechCrunch thinks this type of closed system of selling won’t work because in this scenario, sellers don’t have access to a large customer base (like on eBay), or for that matter like on edgeio.com (the TechCrunch-backed classifieds site).

I thought about this for a while especially considering our success with classifieds in the eNeighbors neighborhood sites. For instance, if eNeighbors grew to the point of millions of users, how effective would our inter-community classifieds be? Would we be able to truly replace the newspaper classifieds? Or would someone like eBay ultimately win out?

The offline print classifieds are still successful to this day due to their ability to give you the “local” view of what people are selling. All you have to do is drive over and get it. Additionally, I know that some people (like my mother) love to go hunt for hidden treasures at garage/estate sales. Putting this experience online just wouldn’t translate.

In the end, I think the answer will be whatever website your average “non-techie” internet user knows about will be the one he/she uses. Additionally, that website needs to be easy to use and not intimidating to newbies. We are doing everything we can to make eNeighbors.com be exactly that.

Does Local Search Equal A Trillion Dollars?

How many times have you gone to Best Buy to buy a new camera/TV/computer/printer and were carrying a bunch of printouts of product reviews you got from researching online first?

More and more of us are now researching purchases “online” and then buying “offline” in our respective local communities. In fact, Yahoo just released a study that confirms this behavior, and even more specifically outlines how online advertising affects offline purchase behavior.

Greg Sterling, interestingly enough, calls this behavior “Local Search” by way of his definition:

“Local search is a process where users conduct research online but with the ultimate intention or result being an offline transaction. It’s about the Internet influencing real-world buying decisions.”

In my mind, this means that “local search” really means “local buying” due to the fact that these two actions are merely steps in the traditional commerce process. In other words, you aren’t going to search for a service or product outside of your geographical vicinity if you intend to buy it offline.

Here’s the other part of Greg’s post that got my attention:

The phrase, The Trillion Dollar Marketplace, comes from recent Jupiter and Forrester e-commerce/retail reports that predict the Internet will be influencing a trillion dollars of offline (local) spending by either 2010 or 2011.

Personally, I think this estimate is a bit overly optimistic (1999 flashback, anyone?), but the point is that we spend most of our buying dollars in the physical community in which we live. You can’t buy food out of state and have it shipped (I guess you could, but it wouldn’t be hot). Most of us still like to try our clothes on before purchasing, and there’s no denying the joy of instant gratification (or less hassle of returns) of picking up that shiny new gadget toy from your local electronics store today (rather than in 7-10 business days). And if I want any type of service or repair for my house or car, guess what, it’s going to be local.

More and more, it’s becoming important for online buying guides to provide very relevant and very accurate local retail guides. Innovations like alerts to local sales and special offers or service referrals from your in-town friends and family are going to become imperative for the bricks and mortar lot to compete for those dollars that are not spent in the online channel.

Will Newspapers Survive?

There’s an excellent article in this month’s Wired by Jeff Howe about the impact the internet is having on the newspaper industry. The story centers around Gannett and their efforts to thwart the decline that the entire news world is experiencing.

Having worked for the Kansas City Star at one point in my career, I can personally vouch for the ingrained behavior of the news publication process. The internet is definitely a disruptive technology, and this article paints a very insightful picture on what the news companies must face to continue to operate in the overly saturated information age.

Towards the middle of the article, some of the details of Gannet’s new approach are presented:

At the heart of the plan lie two Big Ideas that are sweeping through journalism circles nationwide: Involve the reader in every aspect of the process, and take a so-called hyperlocal approach to news coverage. In recent years, Gannett’s Cincinnati arm has gone from producing one metropolitan newspaper to producing 270 niche publications, including suburban papers, neighborhood Web sites, and regional magazines. The readers — their thoughts, their half-baked opinions, their kids’ Little League scores — are at the center of them all.

This is the exact same result we have seen with the eNeighbors service. People really do want to know about the stuff that’s just down the street. Yes, it doesn’t matter to anyone else (so there’s no profit in it for the newspapers), but the internet now allows us to focus on a much smaller demographic and still remain cost-effective.

The voice of the masses is definitely getting heard these days. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues or if we will eventually tire of the barrage of average talent and ultimately rely on the professionals for the information that matters most.

National Neighborhood Day

Do you love your neighborhood? Are you the one that always hosts the block party? Do your neighbors constantly help each other out?

Show how much you appreciate your community by celebrating on National Neighborhood Day, September 16, 2007.

The mission of National Neighborhood Day is to inspire, build, and sustain the neighborhood relationships that provide the foundation for civic action and the building of stronger, more caring and effective communities.

Also, be sure to check out the short film contest winners from 2006. The three films are very different from each other, and they give a great insight to the wide spectrum of community that exists across our country. The comments from the contest judges reflect this as well.

Visit the National Neighborhood Day website for more info.

Local Content: Year 2017

There’s an interesting article from Online Journalism Review about how newspapers need to adapt to survive in the new web-centric news world.

How important is community-based media? Are the days of reading the paper over coffee and toast coming to an end with the aging of my parents’ generation?

Fast-forward ten years… picture this:

My seven year-old son is now seventeen. For breakfast, he pours a bowl of Lucky Charms and flips through his iPhone IMs, checks the weather and browses the programming schedule for the latest episodes in his friend’s local reality show (which is about to be picked up by MySpace Productions).

Next he checks to see which classes are “video-broadcast only” today so he can plan his Xbox gaming time accordingly. He also sees that the high-school football game tonight starts at 7pm, and the opposing team’s record is 6 and 2.

As he walks out the door, he calls back to me, “Dad, I just got a text from eNeighbors that the city council approved the proposal to build the Starbucks on that corner lot. Looks like your coffee addiction is going to be even harder to kick — ha, ha… see ya later.”

So I ask, what does true local content integration look like? It’s not about technology. Web-publishing has been around for over a decade. It’s about the right tools for the right people. And it’s about the right people believing in something bigger. Something new and not based on “what we’ve always done” in the past.

What will the true voice of local content sound/look/feel like?