Google, in its quest to find even more treasure troves of advertising revenue and close the distance with local-search rival Yahoo, has combined its online map and local search offerings, at the same time taking Google Local out of beta in the U.S. and Canada, the Associated Press reports. The hybrid offering, available at either maps.google.com or local.google.com, blends addresses, phone numbers, maps, driving directions and other information, such as user reviews and credit card information, as well as satellite mapping, which provides aerial views.
Search engines are striving to help visitors find information about local businesses as more consumers turn to the web instead of the Yellow Pages. The Kelsey Group expects the trend to generate $3.4 billion in local advertising sales by 2009.
Google's edge lies in the popularity of its APIs (application program interfaces), which let third-party developers build applications that use the map data, writes InternetNews, which quotes Kelsey Group analyst Greg Sterling: "What they've done with the APIs has helped to differentiate that product. They've given third-party developers the ability to create 'mash-ups' that help build awareness of Google Maps and create new interesting uses of the maps that might not otherwise have existed."
Google Maps has quickly made inroads since its beta launch early this year. By August, it was attracting 14.3 million unique U.S. visitors, second behind AOL's long-established Mapquest, which drew nearly 39 million visitors, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, which stopped tracking Yahoo's maps after the company combined its navigation tools with its local search.