Yahoo today launched a beta version of Yahoo Local, a service that provides neighborhood-specific news and other local content. Limited in this initial launch, Yahoo Local supports 30 neighborhoods and cities in the U.S., including San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale, Calif.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Royal Oak, Mich. Instead of building an app for this rich, highly focused content, Yahoo opted to create it as a web app for both Apple iOS and Google Android devices as well as desktops: users can simply point their browser to http://beta.local.yahoo.com.
Although I don’t live in one of the supported neighborhoods, I gave Yahoo Local a spin on my Nexus One and walked away relatively impressed. Of course, I live in an area filled with cows and farms where the biggest news is typically along the lines of a smashed mailbox, so I’m a pushover when it comes to exciting happenings. But it is downright refreshing to see news from various local sources, including user created content, mixed in with nearby entertainment options and money saving deals from commercial businesses in the area. Yahoo is smartly courting local content creators to help build neighborhood information for residents:
When it comes to the best local news and information, we’re delivering relevant hyper-local neighborhood and city content created by the community, local publishers, and Yahoo! editors. We’re featuring content from the best local blogs and newspapers. And through a completely open ecosystem, we’re making it possible for any local publisher to be part of the new Yahoo! Local. By leveraging the power of the Yahoo! Contributor Network, the entire community can participate and publish stories on topics that matter to them. Individuals and organizations can also add events that are relevant to the local community.
While the concept of delivering hyper-local content at the neighborhood level surely brings value to area residents, this is more about Yahoo’s play for hyper-local advertising revenues. Yahoo has no check-in service like Facebook, Foursquare or Gowalla, although it does offer geo-location developer tools. So it has limited services to effectively attract potential advertisers looking to target highly focused consumers in specific places. And although in March, Yahoo said it was laser-focused on bringing local brand advertising to its content, the company hasn’t discerned how to crack the local ad market just yet.
Indeed, Yahoo’s press release explicitly calls attention to this, suggesting that the company is still trying to figure out the best way to use its brand and content, saying “[W]e are fundamentally changing how users will interact with local content, including advertising. As we build out the experience, we’re exploring and experimenting with various advertising solutions that will enable our advertising partners to reach their target users.”
It sounds, then, like Yahoo Local is a beta both for users in 30 neighborhoods as well as Yahoo itself, which is trying to stay relevant as upstart location-based services threaten advertising revenues from web pioneers.
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