Local heats up, starts to get ugly

Everyone who follows tech and web news today knows that local is the hottest battleground right now. It’s one that I’m intimately engaged in as part of Canpages, one of the leading local search sites in Canada.

The battle just turned up a few degrees.

Today Yahoo! announced their new local focus “neighborhood mix”, now in beta … a combination of local news, events, and – you guessed it – deals. That’s following hot on the heels of Groupon, the poster child for local commerce deals, which recently turned down a $6B takeover deal from Google. And Google of course just announced Hotpot recently, a recommendation engine to add to Places, Google’s hyper-local search/commerce engine.

I haven’t even mentioned Yelp, or Facebook Places, or the entire location-based networks such as FourSquare and Gowalla, or Bing Local. But that’s not what made the battle hotter.

TripAdvisor is the company that turned up the temperature.

TripAdvisor, of course, is the company you turn to in order to find out if the hotel or restaurant you’re going to is any good. They have hundreds of thousands of reviews, most from ordinary people who have gone to the location and reported their findings. I never pick a hotel without checking TripAdvisor first.

Befitting its status as a search engine, Google has always provided easy access to TripAdvisor reviews, ranking them high in search engine result pages (SERPs). But as a local destination and review engine in its own right, Google is not neutral anymore. It’s not even, really, a frenemy. The coopetition is now pretty much competition. And TripAdvisor has decided to stop feeding the troll.

Google Places works by aggregating web content about a location in order to present a searcher as complete a picture as possible (with some restrictions, as they don’t work with Facebook or – now – with TripAdvisor). They’ve had problems before as content providers and creators such as Yelp have felt they are getting cheated as Google essentially uses their content for free. That’s always been the case, of course, but now with Google Places, users may not ever feel the need to click through to any of the other sites to get a fuller picture. Places, in other words, pushes Google over the line from partner and source to direct competition.

And so TripAdvisor has blocked Google Places from showing full reviews. Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land has a great post showing the exact implications of this blocking.

This is a devil’s deal, of course: you’re protecting your interests but also harming them. While protecting their content, TripAdvisor is risking their traffic. They can probably do it – their brand is strong, and their direct-in traffic and repeat traffic is probably also strong.

The question is: will more content providers start doing this as well?

 


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