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Local Guides Launches Beta

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Local Matters yesterday announced the launch of their new site, LocalGuides.com, which mashes up Local + Social + Vertical content and utilities. The site is really strong with some compelling features, so I’ve kicked the tires and have a few technical comments.

The press release they sent me contains the following quote from their CEO, Perry Evans:

New Local Guides Beta Launch“Consumers want more involvement with local information. While some progress has been made in a few entertainment categories, the search industry has failed to give consumers useful tools for personalized local information and opinions. LocalGuides.com fills this void by creating a relevant and engaging shared-consumer experience, while also helping local merchants find new ways to connect with their local audience. This is a big part of what has been missing in Local Search.”

The UI is beautifully clean and quite attractive. I can easily imagine that the simplicity and carefully local-oriented design would be readily adopted by users.

The conceptual format, which allows users to build out their personal local guides, is very, very strong. Just clicking into their “Explore Guides” link allows one to view custom local directories created by other users. One for Oxford, Mississippi immediately caught my eye, because it’s located very near where my grandmother used to live, and I’m quite familiar with the small town.

The creator, Joey, assembled a few of the memorable places that are well-known in that town, and his notations all seem dead-on. This is such a great tool for telling someone about a local area! I’ve written up recommendations for things to see and do, and places to eat and stay in my city, and this would’ve been the perfect tool for doing that! They even allow you to keep the guides shared or unshared which reminds me of the photo sharing settings in Flickr – this setting is useful, since I might make a guide specifically for friends or family members, with comments that I’d prefer to not publicise widely.

One oddity I noticed with the Oxford Guide above was that it had an alert in the upper right sidebar: “This guide has been flagged as inappropriate by 1 user.” I scanned the page to try to see why, and I’m not sure why someone would’ve considered the content to be inappropriate. I think it could be because the user added in some history about his hometown church and its grounds:

“Since Generals Grant and Sherman occupied the church during the Civil War, it’s not unusual to find such things. Behind the church is the graveyard, and behind that graveyard is the slave cemetery. The Union soldiers buried on the grounds lie adjacent and intermingled with the slave graves. The slaves buried at College Hill were slaves at the Buford Plantation, one of four major plantation holders in the area during the heyday of slavery. Recently the slave cemetery has been restored and the graves marked with white crosses, which is good; it was a tangled mess before and wasn’t easy to find out where people were even buried.”

This raises an interesting question: what is the criteria for “inappropriate” on the site, and will this local guide get pulled out of circulation if a certain number of users flag it? I think the particular text isn’t offensive, but any references to historical details on slavery are things that people are highly sensitive about. I think that this particular user wrote with a neutral voice and didn’t say anything inappropriate, though perhaps someone objected to the casting of the slave cemetary in a positive light as being objectionable.

I started creating my own guide of Top Madison Places. I was delighted to see that they allow you to add in a photo from Flickr, so I added one of mine of the Wisconsin State Capital Building — which is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Madison. I’m an established fan of Flickr, so this integration is very compelling to me. They also offer the ability to add YouTube videos to the guides.

Also check out this guide to Fabulous’s BBQ haunts in Dallas, and this guide to Great Live Music Joints (also weirdly flagged as “inappropriate” – why?!?).

What I’d really like to know now is how can one get one’s guide to appear in the Top Guides on the “Explore Guides” page! I hope they will also add something like a category and location hierarchy of links on this page, so users could just click to browse through all the guides. They have prepopulated a set number of guides in all locations for launch I see, so I’m guessing that they may allow more clickable browsing of guides once users have built out more content.

Search marketers may be interested to know that users can add bare hyperlinks into their custom-built guides, which is really, really cool! Local Matters may have to come back around and police users a bit in the future, lest the always-pesky spammers come through and misuse this feature.

The drag-and-drop features allow you to move your guide elements around, so you can design the layout with some flexibility.

Registration/sign-in was a bit faulty for me, because I first searched for restaurants, and then tried to “add to guide”, and the on-page registration/sign-in widget didn’t seem to allow me to complete registration. But, it’s not unusual for a freshly-launched site to have a few kinks to work out, so I expect they’ll get this resolved.

For YP content, I see that they’re delivering listings ads from my old company, Superpages.com, as well as sidebar ads from Overture.

It’s not immediately apparent to me how they’re ordering business search results. “List View” is apparently not in alphabetical order, and there’s no visual indicator as to why particular listings come up first, second, third. I’m suspecting they’re using Superpages’ proximity ordering from listings closest to the location centerpoint to those further out, and if so, it’d be good to state this and/or display the distance from centerpoint values.

A few of my recommendation to the Local Matters guys for future enhancements to Local Guides:

  • Add in local weather! You can actually use the Superpages weather I developed for free. Also, Superpages actually has a weather XML api that they might let you use since you’re a partner, if you don’t like the icons that come with the standard widgets.
  • Provide widgets code so that I can grab and display lists and content from My Guides and other public guides on my blogs and websites!
  • Allow me to add/control a bit more content about myself on the Author Profile pages. Gives me an incentive to do a quality job, since I could get some public exposure out of it.
  • Ability to rate businesses would be great!
  • Let us know what it takes to be in the Top Guides. This might get users to compete in building out the info.
  • Create a group on Flickr that will allow contributors’ pix to be used by anyone for guides on LocalGuides. As part of the rules of the Flickr group, you could state that adding pix to it automatically allows you to display the pix on pages throughout LocalGuides.

Overall, Greg Sterling is right — LocalGuides is one of the most interesting and helpful new local sites out there! Truly a best-in-class implementation that avoids most of the baggage of traditional IYP designs. It’s so freakin’ awesome, I wish I’d designed it myself!

Also check out Perry Evans’s blog entry about the new service. Matt at Small Business SEM also thinks the Local Guides service is pretty impressive.

Local Guides Launches Beta
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About Chris Smith
Chris formerly headed up the Advanced Technology Department for Verizon Superpages.com (later spun off under Idearc Media), where he worked for ten years, specializing in patent-pending work in mapping, local search, analytics, and SEO. As the natural search optimization expert for Idearc, he founded and chaired the company's SEO Council. Chris is currently a Lead Search Strategist for Netconcepts, a search optimization firm. Chris is a regular columnist for Search Engine Land, covering the 'local search' beat. He also blogs for Natural Search Blog, and speaks at industry conferences such as Search Engine Strategies. WebProNews Writer
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