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Yahoo's Neighborhood Watch

Yahoo invited the community to Yahoo Local, with a redesign that includes forums for people to weigh in on neighborhood businesses.

On Wednesday, Yahoo's 181 million registered users can narrow their searches to particular neighborhoods and focus on recommendations made by people in their networks.

A new "search by neighborhood" feature lets people narrow their searches to a neighborhood within a city. That information now includes listings of events in the district and surrounding areas.

Paul Levine, general manager of Yahoo Local, said that city neighborhoods were defined by a third-party database. Neighborhoods and places automatically link to relevant content from throughout Yahoo.

In the redesign, a map appears immediately along with the results of local search. Via AJAX coding techniques, the map expands to a street-by-street view when moused over.

"We wanted to make the map more prominent in the interface but not crowd out all the content," Levine said.

Interactive maps that link to content have proven popular with consumers. According to Internet audience measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings, MapQuest was the most highly trafficked Internet map site in June 2005, with 39.2 million users who spent an average of 13 minutes and 3 seconds each on the site. Yahoo Local saw 22.2 million visitors, who spent around 8 minutes, 24 seconds each; Google Maps lured 13.3 million visitors spending approximately 6 minutes, 57 seconds each; and MSN Maps & Directions saw 4.6 million visitors spend 10 minutes 38 seconds each.

There are several new ways for people to discover information in the new Yahoo Local: A city-by-city list of top searches for the week can uncover important local information, while a Local Recommendation Showcase highlights recent recommendations from others. Users can subscribe to recommendation updates via RSS feed, and they can elect to view recommended businesses on Yahoo Maps.

In March, Yahoo launched Yahoo 360, a blogging/social networking platform. Among other features, it let registered users view listings that had been rated or reviewed by their friends.

Deeper integration with Yahoo 360 lets users access reviews written by people in their networks from Yahoo Local as well as from 360. If a business was reviewed by a buddy, a friend icon appears next to it. By clicking on the icon, users go directly to what friends wrote.

Local business ratings and reviews came from content already generated by Yahoo registered users. "Usually, even with obscure towns, we see a significant amount of user content submitted," Levine said. "Now that we created this framework and structure, we expect that we'll see a skyrocketing of content." Yahoo will continue to encourage reviews and ratings through both Local and 360.

"We're increasing the promise of user-submitted content," Levine said. "We've done a lot of work to bring more prominence to the content users have already submitted to Yahoo Local."

He said the Yahoo Local content shows the business value of designing the product as a platform that consumers and third-party developers can build on. "The old model for generating city-based content was to hire ten editorial folks in 10 or 20 major cities," Levine said. "The new model is to hire 10 really good engineers."