Amazon Enters Local Search Fray

NEW YORK has stepped up its challenge to Google with the release of a local search tool that allows consumers to see street-level images of businesses.

Amazon’s search unit said it has built a database of 20 million photographs by driving around major cities with a camera mounted on trucks. It used a satellite-based navigation system to match the photos to local businesses in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and seven other U.S. cities.

Searchers can access local business information, including photos and maps, through Yellow Pages, a local search service that can be used to find information on restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Yellow Pages allows users to create reviews and get recommendations for 14 million businesses. The local search engine also gives its own suggestions of businesses, based on previous user site behavior and location.

Google, Yahoo and AOL offer competing local search services. Amazon launched A9 in September 2004 as a search engine that uses prior search and Amazon behavior to craft personalized search results based on Google’s index of Web sites.

A9’s BlockView technology puts it a step ahead of search market leader Google, which has operated a local search service since March 2004. Google in October 2004 acquired Keyhole, a digital mapping company with three-dimensional satellite images of locations worldwide. Google has not said if it will integrate Keyhole with its Google Local service. Yellow Pages also includes a click-to-call feature that allows searchers to contact businesses through Internet telephony. A9 routes the call to the business and connects it to the user’s phone. The service is free. A9 carries text advertising through a partnership with Google.