Google UK launches maps and local search

Google UK has finally introduced the local search and mapping tools that were launched in the US earlier this year.

Revealed late on Tuesday, Google UK Maps and Local Search are two services built around an interactive map. The mapping service allows users to get accurate directions between two UK destinations while Local Search provides listings of local services, such as restaurants, and indicates their position on the map.

For example users in Soho, London, searching for a bar in their neighbourhood, enter the keyword "Bar", plus their postcode or "Soho" into the search fields and Google local search produces a list of nearby bars. Each result is accompanied by a phone number, street address and links to related sites. Users can also search by street name, London Underground station or airport. The local business information is supplied through a new partnership between Google UK and the online arm of the Yellow Pages, Yell.com.

Local search is believed to be one of the key growth areas for online advertising as it encourages small and medium businesses, which traditionally have a limited geographic range, to invest in marketing on the Web. US research firm the Kelsey Group estimates that the local search market will be worth $3.4bn in five years.

The new services are a further example of the arms race currently being waged in the search arena as players such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Ask.com add new features in an effort to grab a larger share of Internet users, and more importantly advertising revenue.

Google UK MD Kate Burns said that the company remains focused on its own products but overall the competition in the market is a good thing for Internet users. "It's encouraging that search is being taken so seriously by so many top brands and it can only be good for the user at the end of the day," she said.

Not content with merely offering interactive maps, some search companies are now beginning to integrate satellite images into their localised mapping services. Google recently bought satellite imaging company Keyhole, but Burns refused to comment on whether the technology would be integrated into the UK mapping services in the same way it is in the US. "I wish I could say yes, but we have nothing to announce at this stage," she said.

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