Niesenholtz: Still No Winners in Local

Peter Krasilovsky at the Local Onliner mentions some noteworthy comments Martin Niesenholtz made at the Yellow Pages Association conference yesterday in Las Vegas.

The digital chief at The New York Times called local “a huge untapped opportunity in the directories arena that no one -– including the portals –- has yet tapped.”

The ultimate victors in local “could come from many different directions: from the social networking side; from information businesses; from search; from startups; and, of course, from the directory players. So far no one has truly tapped and structured the input from local audience’s. When that happens, it will be a game changer. I have very little doubt about that,” he said.

Clearly the VC money agrees, since we’ve seen no shortage of new local plays launch in recent months. And the constantly shifting alliances of newspapers and portals support Niesenholtz as well. It’s a bittersweet message for the directory players, which have steadily rolled out feature enhancements and platform upgrades but failed to capture the imagination or clicks of Internet users on the scale they might’ve wished. Of course, the same goes for the field of craigslist killers — remember them? — local search players, local service directories, and citizen media platforms as well. In other words, for YellowPages.com and company it’s not too late.

One area where the directory players continue to excel is in mobilizing their sales forces on behalf of Web platforms eager to reach local audiences. On Monday, Jingle Networks’ 1-800-FREE411 struck a deal with a several groups of certified marketing representatives (CMRs, often run by Yellow Pages and other directories) to offer audio ad placements on its free directory assistance line. While not a mobile/traffic media victory, these deals help the directories maintain their grip on small business sales channels. In that scenario, they become the hub on a wheel that includes the various local digital outlets. Of course, mom and pop will only be willing to listen to so many options.

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