Services & Software

Google brings maps, local search to U.K.

Among other features, Google now lets searchers type in words like "sushi" and "Soho" and get a list of eateries and a map.

Google UK has introduced local-search and mapping tools that were launched in the United States earlier this year.

Beta versions of the two services--Google Maps UK and Google Local UK--were revealed late Tuesday. The mapping service allows searchers to get directions, and the local-search service provides listings of businesses, such as restaurants, and indicates their positions on the map.

For example, users in Soho, London, searching for a bar in their neighborhood can enter the keyword "bar," plus their postcode or "Soho," and Google Local UK returns 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,

Local search is believed to be one of the key growth areas for online advertising, because it encourages small- and medium-size businesses to invest in marketing on the Web.

The Kelsey Group, a U.S. research company, estimates that the local search market will be worth $3.4 billion 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, and Ask Jeeves add features in an effort to grab a larger share of Internet users and, more importantly, advertising revenue.

Kate Burns of Google UK said that the company remains focused on its own products but that 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.

Google recently bought satellite imaging company Keyhole, but Burns declined to comment on whether the technology would be integrated into the U.K. mapping services in the same way it is in the United States. "I wish I could say yes, but we have nothing to announce at this stage," she said.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.