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Web Search is More Local and More Diverse

The Times (UK) reports that Google's emergence as the dominant internet company in the past five years would seem to provide an easy answer to a basic philosophical question about how people use the net: mostly they are looking for something in particular, and the easiest way to find whatever it might be is to type some words into a search engine. That simple Google box provides a front door to the web itself.

Yet a number of recent developments indicate that this question is not so settled after all. For one thing, Google itself is quickly evolving into much more than a pure search service. It rolled out an online calendar, which follows on the heels of Google Finance and the Google video store. Google is becoming a portal � an internet site that offers a broad menu of products and services, rather than one that helps you find things elsewhere on the net and sends you on your way.

And nowhere is the continuing flux more apparent than in the large but amorphous arena known as local search. Every day, many millions of people are looking for things in their local communities � a good plumber, a good restaurant, movie listings, jobs, garage sales, local news, school lunch menus, and on and on. Traditionally there were two sources for most of these things: the Yellow Pages for static directory information, and the local newspaper for real-time information such as news, show times, and classified advertising.

While newspapers are certainly feeling the pain as people rely increasingly on the internet, the truth is that local search has proved to be a much more complicated problem than one might expect. Newspapers and the Yellow Pages remain by far the dominant source of local information for most people. But, for how much longer?

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