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Yelp speaks to new market

Clones of yellow pages have flooded the Net, but a little-known directory called Yelp is trying to carve a niche with its multilingual search engine.

Clones of yellow pages have flooded the Net, leaving few unexplored gimmicks. Yet a little-known business directory called Yelp is trying to carve a niche with its multilingual search engine.

There are hundreds of online business listings but only a few multilingual search engines, and most browsers come in a handful of languages. But Yelp combines these features, letting users search a database of about 12 million businesses in ten languages, mostly in Canada and the United States.

Although most Netizens speak English, according to a survey of 15,000 users released earlier this month, Yelp is banking on a proliferation of foreign tongues on the Net. The directory can be searched in French, Italian, Dutch, Japanese Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, German, and Vietnamese.

With the majority of its listings from Canada and the United States, however, Yelp might not tap its potential market.

The Yelp site was launched in February, and it lists a company's name, phone number, and address for free. Posting a business card-sized listing, which includes email and a home-page link, costs $85 a year. While it worked out kinks and expanded its database, Yelp has held off publicizing its search engine, said Brenda Watts, director marketing and communications.

"We will promote it in around two months. We have 200 to 300 advertisers and get around 50,000 hits per week, which is pretty good considering that we haven't told any one yet," she said.

So far, Yelp's competition is slim. It includes European Yellow Internet Pages, which displays business listings in various European languages, as well as personal home pages.

One analyst pointed out that publishers of hard copy non-English yellow pages have found little success in the United States, with the exception of a Chinese directory distributed in the San Francisco Bay Area. An online directory in many languages has value because the Net is used internationally.

"All of these yellow-pages directories are using similar databases for their services," said Peter Krasilovsky, vice president at Arlen Communications. "Yelp is taking advantage of important business segments in the ethnic and international markets as they develop."

A small but definite market exists for Yelp's product, he said. "Were seeing about a million Hispanic households online in the United States alone," Krasilovsky said.

Expanding linguistics on the Net has been the aim of many Web developers. And along the way some, such as Internet search engines, have run into trouble when search returns translated incorrectly.

Multilingual Internet search engines include: Yahoo, Infoseek, Europe Online, and Euroseek.

Among the browsers: Alis Technologies created Tango, which enables most browsers to be seen in 15 languages; Netscape Navigator can be viewed in ten languages and more than 30 with Accent Software International multilingual plug-in for Navigator.

Yelp plans to include more U.S. listings by the end of 1997, as well as businesses in Mexico. After next year, it will add Europe.