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Sites and services go local

Yahoo's localized efforts are joining America Online and a crowded marketplace for providing audiences with community news and events.

You may never leave home again. After all, why bother when you can simply go places online?

Yahoo reported today that it is launching Yahoo Los Angeles, joining the online feeding frenzy to give surfers a cyberhome away from home.

If you don't live on the West Coast, don't sweat it; there are virtual cities popping up all over the country. Yahoo's announcement comes on the heels of America Online's announcement earlier this week that it was launching Digital City San Francisco. They both provide the same type of content: sites complete with news, features, and of course, entertainment listings.

But neither company is the first to provide this service. Both AOL and Yahoo have other cybercities, and it's hard to tell which site, service, or bulletin board started serving localized audiences with content and listings before the idea model caught on.

Yahoo, for instance, not only has Yahoo Los Angeles, but it also hosts a San Francisco site, the second in a series of regional sites, according to the company.

"Yahoo LA is a localized extension of the information and service we already provide for the Los Angeles area on the popular main Yahoo site," said Jeff Mallett, senior vice president of business operations at Yahoo. "Using input from individuals and groups within the area, Yahoo LA is published by the people, for the people and truly offers a service specific to the needs of the region."

The sites provide one-stop shopping. If, for example, you want to take in a movie, you can find out about it on the site. If you don't have a date to take to the movie, you are likely to find that on the site as well.

Bill Gorman, AOL's "mayor" of digital city San Francisco said San Francisco, in particular provided an attractive market for an online city with its high percentage of computer-owning households.

But what AOL is really interested in is capturing the potential local advertising dollars that can be generated by specialized sites aimed at local people. "There's a huge portion of the advertising and transactional business that's only done on a local basis and it's an effort to be part of that," Gorman said.

America Online has already launched Digital City Boston and Washington on its proprietary service, with others in the works for this year.