ylocal.gifIt’s been interesting over the last year and half to watch Paul Levine and his crew at Yahoo build out their local searching services. We wrote a story back in March of 2004 about Yahoo integrating its mapping tool with its Yellow Pages, movie listings and other sources of local information. Since then, the local search team has been methodically beefing up the product.

Tonight, Levine, the GM of local search for Yahoo, delivered what he called “his baby.” They’re local neighborhood- or city-based web pages that feature restaurant reviews, event listings and recommendations from users on other services such as dentists or nail salons. Yahoo has teased out local data for many of its other services, also, such as HotJobs and movie listings.

“It’s a great way to get a feel for a place for a neighborhood,” Levine said today.

It’s far from complete. But it may soon match AOL’s City Guides, for breadth, and it’s probbaly easier to use in some respects.

There’s more to come, too. We asked about Yahoo Groups, which have been one of the more popular ways for small communites such as PTAs to communicate. Those may be integrated in the future, along with message boards and Flickr, Levine said. There will also likely be a marketing push to encourage users to submit reviews and recommendations to build out the robustness of the sites.

What Yahoo and all the other big Net players have going against them in the local space is their national or global brands. Newspapers, for example, along with hyper-local sites such as the Berkeley Parents Network, have spent years cultivating local relationships and brands. Sites like Yahoo and Google have not traditionally been seen by the vast majority of people as the go-to place for local information, let alone community watering holes where people can swap experiences about their favorite burrito shops or bookstores.

But that’s quickly changing. The number of local seaches that people are performing at the big search engines is growing daily, helped in particular by the technological improvments in mapping.

“They don’t have a natural affinity to local in terms of brand,” said Greg Sterling, of the Kelsey Group. “But Yahoo does a good job of combining different types of content. It’s an impressive product.”

It’ll be interesting to see what Google and others do to match this.

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