Local search has been a very interesting challenge and alot of old and new companies are taking a stab. Lets look at this entire continuum and where each player sits. Radical idea is to find information that is geo tagged. This information can be as granular as lat-long or as coarse as a city name. So when you setup a shop to solve local search, first question is how do you collect & tag this information? How do you present this informaton so that it creates the most wholesome experience? How do you make money from this high investment business?
You can start with smart-crawling the web. I call it smart crawling because you dont crawl everything like a general purpose search engine. You need to identify and extract local information given a webpage. Dedupe listings that occurs on multiple pages. Lets says you write a kickass neural network that labels & classify this information. How does it know which one is real address? How do you verify the information you have is correct? You start thinking about this and realize that there are directory listing services that is accumulating such information forever. So you get feeds from yellow pages. There is a problem of matching different feed formats along with crawled information. This is where most of the current search engines are today. Google/Yahoo/Live/Guruji can do “crawl + feeds” using existing infrastructure.
Maps are an important feature to make this expeience wholesome. You search for your panwala and you can find directions displayed on a map. MapmyIndia is here. And other players can get a map control from them or develop their own. But what if you still did not cover the panwala that you visit so often? So you provide an interface for panwala to enter his information. Sites like Onyomo.com sit here. They even have people in the field gathering information for them. Not every panwala is literate so you ask users to enter information for him. Also what if there are multiple panwalas in your locality, how do you know which one makes the best pan. So you decide to provide community driven interface where people can interact with each other, enter their favorite panwala and also write reviews. This can explode like a social network and you accumulate valuable review information. Now you have to support a complicated website that supports a huge social network. Burrp, tolmolbol and ilaaka have such community portals.
You can go one step ahead and include classifieds, events and local blogs and pretty much everything about your city. This can be done using content mashup like yahoo’s ourcity or with full portals like Sulkeha and Sify. You must have SMS integration for SMS search & to send the address you found on the web to your mobile phone. You may develop a mobile app to display maps. You can provide “click to call” the business you surfaced for the query. You can even choose to provide a 3D exprerience. Different players have taken a different spot and now growing towards each other. I think multiple players is a boon for end user as they are collecting information in parallel and soon we will have good amount of digitized local content covering various localities. We will see interesting integration between these providers. Like Google today provide user reviews from Yelp and citysearch in US. I expect Guruji to be able to identify reviews from Burrp & tolmolbol and have interesting mashup. When these players go national, infrastructure cost will make it a really huge bet. We will see winner takes all leaving handful of players.