AOL Adds Local, Multimedia Search

Long trailing in the search race, America Online introduced local and multimedia search features yesterday.

AOL Search now includes a local search function that lets users get results tied to a geographic area. The “In Your Area” function lets AOL members find information on things such as local plumbers or pizzerias.

The local search works by integrating search listings from various AOL properties. For example, it returns restaurant and entertainment listings from AOL City Guide, movie information from Moviefone and business listings from AOL Yellow Pages. In Your Area uses an AOL member's ZIP code as the default geography.

“The thought is bringing all those pieces together and putting it in an area that makes sense,” said Gerry Campbell, general manager of search at AOL. “It's really powerful stuff.”

AOL's local search feature lets it leap ahead of search giants Google and Yahoo. Google, which provides paid listings and algorithmic search for AOL, has experimented with a local search capability. Yahoo's Overture Services also has tested a system that would match advertisers with queries tied to a specific location.

For now, Campbell said, AOL will focus on making local search as useful as possible rather than on generating revenue. The local search results include Google paid listings as well as paid listings from the yellow pages results.

AOL also added multimedia search through the acquisition of Seattle-based search company Singingfish. AOL Search will integrate Singingfish's technology, which lets users refine their searches to audio, video and streaming content. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Singingfish's database of 45 million multimedia files forms the backbone of AOL's audio and video search, but AOL content is also included. Soon, Campbell said, Time Warner assets will be used. The multimedia capabilities will help push AOL for Broadband, which the Internet service hopes will make up for its declining dial-up subscriber base.

Singingfish operates on a paid inclusion model, charging entertainment advertisers to be included in its database, though search results are determined by relevance. It licenses its database to Web media players like Windows Media Player and Real Networks' RealOne.

The search features join a news search feature recently introduced, as AOL aims to be a player in the search space. The Internet service mostly has relied on partnerships for its search services, in contrast to other portals, like Yahoo and MSN, which have moved to control all facets of the lucrative revenue stream. According to a Merrill Lynch research report issued in July, paid search listings will account for 33 percent of AOL's revenue by 2007.

Despite its low profile compared with rivals, AOL is a leading search destination. According to comScore's qSearch service, AOL is the third-most-popular U.S. search destination, drawing 19.1 percent of searches in August.

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