Social Networking Meets Local Search

Want some free Starbucks coffee? How about a free iPod? Simply write some local business reviews. Fifty reviews snag you the iPod.

You should be rewarded for your contribution! After all, you’re part of the movement to integrate social networking and local search.

Some question the integrity and quality of incentive-based local business review and rating aggregation strategies.

The visionary companies that currently propagate these strategies, however, already know their limitations. They take refuge in the ideals of their noble end game. For the time being, they’re just planting the seeds. Seeds take time and nurturing to grow.

Skinny Lattes and Coldplay simply help that process along.

Once the seeds grow, the flowers that spring forth won’t wilt. They’ll procreate and perpetuate a nexus of trusted participants with mutual interests and common needs. They help form a social network, a community of trusted local search advisors.

Local search is about augmenting the local behavior and consumption patterns that are virally manifested in our everyday lives. It’s with our local circle of friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances that we share our experience and opinions. Whether you’re talking about finding the best sushi, this weekend’s street fair, or a reliable handyman, local consumption and communication are personal and, in many cases, originate from trusted sources.

On the Internet, local business information is readily available, but it’s often static, impersonal, and removed from the characteristics of traditional local communication patterns.

Now, new breeds of local search providers are seeking to mirror the social aspects of traditional local search online. Companies such as Insider Pages and Judy’s Book provide robust local search utilities, along with ratings and review structures, while connecting circles of trusted individuals.

These factors combine within a trusted social networking environment to further qualify the accuracy of search and the validity of business reviews. It’s a natural checks and balances on the aggregation of opinion-based, user-generated content.

For these forward-thinking companies, local search is more than a business lookup. It encompasses content, community, relationships, opinion, and comparative business search formats.

Many in the local search community believe the bridge between business information search and trusted-information gathering must be crossed to realize the full potential of the Internet in our daily lives.

Sharing trusted opinions isn’t new. For some time, local search companies have sought to provide trusted business information to searchers. In Citysearch’s own words, it “empowers users to make informed decisions about where to spend their time and money by delivering more than two million editorial and user reviews and ratings of local businesses.” Ask Jeeves and Google currently pull Citysearch reviews into their local search results because of their depth and editorial quality.

Yet the major search engines and other large local search properties don’t connect people nor leverage personal relationships within the confines of their core local search utilities.

They do have much of the infrastructure that will enable this to take place. Several of the majors have already achieved two critical components to integrating social networking in local search: a significant number of loyal users and their detailed registration data. What they don’t already have, they’re acquiring.

Google recently announced the acquisition of Meetroduction; a location-based social networking utility. Add this to its other social networking assets, including Dodgeball and Orkut. Yahoo’s robust social networking assets include My Web 2.0 and Yahoo 360°.

Ultimately, the majors will consolidate and integrate these disparate assets. When that happens, directional media will again face a powerful and disruptive movement.

To compete, the social networking pioneers will have to work together. They’ll need to create standardizations for personal profile sharing across platforms. They’ll need to be comfortable sharing content and advertisers across competitive destination platforms. Technology alone won’t drive a critical mass of users that can compete with the majors.

Regardless of the outcome, many of us applaud the manner by which the pioneers of social networking are currently utilizing Internet technology to enable local search and integrate it deeper into our daily lives.

Simply put, combining social networking and local search makes sense.

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