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Amazon search adds virtual yellow pages

Amazon.com launches a local Internet search service that allows users to virtually walk streets and see photos of businesses.
/ Source: Reuters

Amazon.com Inc. launched a local Internet search service on Wednesday that allows users to virtually walk streets and see photos of businesses, a move that could help it better compete with established search providers such as Google Inc.

The local “Yellow Pages” service from Amazon unit A9.com Inc. marks the first major addition to the A9 search engine launched in September.

Other Internet search companies, such as Google, Yahoo Inc. and Ask Jeeves Inc., have already rolled out local search services as a way to boost advertising revenues, traffic and market share.

A9’s so-called block view allows users to see storefronts and virtually stroll the streets of 10 cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the company has collected more than 20 million photographs.

It took a few days in each city to gather the images using trucks equipped with digital cameras, global positioning system receivers and proprietary software.

“You can virtually go to an area, see the business and walk around the block,” A9.com Chief Executive Udi Manber said of the service in an interview. “You get a feel for the neighborhood.”

Web search has moved to the forefront at companies like Yahoo, Amazon and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN unit in recent years after Google offered new ways to find information on the Web and popularized search-related advertising that drives revenues.

Amazon’s A9 gives users access to Web and image search results from Google, book pages stored on Amazon.com, movie information from the Internet Movie Database, and reference information from GuruNet.com.

While the service is the latest salvo in the cut-throat sector dominated by Google, analysts have said A9 would have its work cut out to change the competitive landscape.

Yet A9’s Manber hopes that additions like voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology that lets users call a business with a click of a button will draw more people to the local search service.

He added it takes just a few days to capture an entire city and that the eventual goal is to eventually add as many places as possible across the country. Other cities currently available are: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.