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For the past year, most of the Web's giants and a good many upstarts have each created specialized search sites that target local businesses. On Jan. 27, Amazon.com will strike what could be the biggest blow yet.
That's when the Web retailer's search subsidiary will debut A9.com Yellow Pages, offering a 21st century version of the household staple for 10 top U.S. cities. The move hikes the stakes on local search, which is widely viewed as Web search's next big frontier.
If you search "sushi," for instance, the site -- which knows where you live from your Amazon account or deduces it from your computer's network address -- brings up a list of nearby sushi outlets along with a map showing where they are. You can also click a button to call the business using a free Internet phone service.
It's when you click on a particular business that the most innovative feature comes to the fore. The sites for the business listings contain photos of each section of the entire city block in which a particular business is located. That makes it easier to find it, determine if parking is nearby, or simply get a feel for whether a restaurant, say, looks romantic or funky.
"The ability to 'walk' up and down the street via horizontal scrolling is what's powerful here," says Amazon A9 Chief Executive Udi Manber. "People are local, and connecting people closer to their communities is a big deal."