Amazon Launches Local Yellow Pages with Photos, Reviews

In a move to compete in the growing market for local search services, Amazon.com today launched “A9.com Yellow Pages,” a new local business search directory complete with photos and user reviews. Analysts said if the concept takes off, it could expand the world of e-commerce.

Amazon’s “Block View” technology aims to bring Yellow Pages to life by showing a street view of millions of businesses and their surroundings. Block View allows users to see storefronts and virtually walk up and down the streets of currently more than 10 U.S. cities using over 20 million photographs.

20 Million Photographs

Using trucks equipped with digital cameras, global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and proprietary software and hardware, A9.com drove tens of thousands of miles capturing images and matching them with businesses and the way they look from the street.

“It took integrated GPS receivers, digital cameras, sophisticated geocoding software and a lot of driving,” Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said. “But 20 million curbside photographs later, A9.com Yellow Pages lets you see where you are going before you get there.”

A9.com Yellow Pages is search ala Amazon. Personalized recommendations for businesses and services are a hallmark of the technology. The service uses features on Amazon.com that allow users to review, rate, provide more information, create lists and get recommendations on more than 14 million businesses across the U.S.

To find a business, A9.com Yellow Pages users simply type its name or category into the search box on the A9.com homepage, click “go,” and select Yellow Pages on the right side of the page. A list of local businesses with an interactive map that shows their locations will appear.

Clicking on a business takes users to a comprehensive detail page for the business, which includes Block View. A9.com Yellow Pages will also feature click-to-call, a technology that phones both the user and the business at the same time.

Lot To Gain

“Yellow Pages have not changed much in a hundred years,” said A9.com CEO Udi Manber. “With our innovative Block View technology, we are bringing them to life.”

John Battelle, a media consultant who is writing a book on the rise of online search, told the E-Commerce Times that A9 Yellow Pages is clever, compelling and redefines the search experience. Amazon, he said, has lots to gain and little to lose in the venture.

“If it works well and people take to it, then it could auger an expanded approach to commerce that goes past electronic commerce and into the mediation of demand, which has traditionally been the realm of the telephone,” Battelle said. If it flops, he added, then it is hardly the end of the world because the cost of online innovation is light.

However, will customers appreciate photos, or will they resent slower-loading pages? Battelle is betting visual cues will prove useful, particularly for searchers who are going somewhere for the first time.

“The Web has become the look-up mechanism that the Yellow Pages once were,” Battelle said. “Whether or not Amazon’s approach turns into an important new development remains to be seen.”

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