Following in the steps of Google, print directory publishers, and a host of startups, AT&T (NYSE: T) is trying to challenge Yelp’s dominance of the local business reviews space — and the ad dollars that come with it. The company is launching Buzz.com, a site that promises to help users find the “best places to go or businesses to call” and which will be a companion to AT&T’s existing YellowPages.com site. According to a report in Forbes, users will be able to write up short, positive comments about businesses and share their recommendations.
The pitch appears to be that Buzz will specialize in personalizing its business recommendations by letting users “tap (their) social net for business recommendations from the people you trust most — your friends and family.” (That sounds similar conceptually to ALikeList, another Yelp wannabe that raised venture capital funding recently and which is also trying to differentiate itself from the competition with its more personal reviews).
AT&T says it’s launching the site in order to attract more ad dollars by making its local business searches “deeper and more relevant.” You have to ask, though, if AT&T wouldn’t just be better off buying Yelp instead of trying to replicate its success — something which won’t be easy. Yelp, after all, has indicated it is open to selling out, seriously entertaining a $500 million buyout offer from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) just a month ago. With $6 billion in the bank, AT&T could easily top that.
Yelp, though, is now rumored to be in the midst of raising a big funding round. That, however, doesn’t necessarily rule out a sale. Mint.com, after all, raised a $14 million round last August — and then turned around and sold itself to Intuit a month later.