America Online Inc. took a few more bricks down from its subscription wall Thursday by introducing a local search service open to anyone, not just AOL members.
The new site (localsearch.aol.com) provides information about businesses, movies and other local activities, sorted by geography. It pulls listings and articles from an assortment of AOL sites and services -- including AOL Yellow Pages, CityGuide, MapQuest and Moviefone -- and presents them in one spot. Also aggregated in the search results are listings from commercial partners, such as event tickets from Ticketmaster and local store sales from ShopLocal.com.
Users can save several different locations -- home, work or any city they frequently visit -- for quick access to movie times, restaurant recommendations and event listings in those areas.
Why a site just for geographically focused queries? "About 20 percent of all our searches in AOL search are local in nature," said Dariusz Paczuski, vice president of marketing for AOL search.
Web search leaders Google (www.google.com/local) and Yahoo (local.yahoo.com) already offer sub-sites with more advanced localization options. Both, for example, make it easier than AOL to limit searches by distance.
AOL's local search, however, does include a lot of local editorial content pulled from its city guides that may appeal to tourists, business travelers and residents.
Coming soon to AOL local search, Paczuski said, will be two new features provided by partners -- a geographically based index of local Web sites, and a database of local news sorted by Zip code.
Google Goes to the Movies
Googlespeak has a new dialect -- a new syntax to use when typing a search at the Web site to pull up showtimes and reviews for flicks. Typing in "movie: man of the house," for example, produces information about the new Tommy Lee Jones film, "Man of the House." Add the word "review" to the end of that query if you only want reviews. Add a Zip code to the query, or save any local address on Google, to see movie showtimes and directions. Don't know what you want to rent, but have a mood in mind? Try "movie: bikini beach mystery" or "movie: tornado disaster" and see what pops up. Or if you're in a hurry for a date and haven't a clue what's playing, type "movie:" followed by your Zip code or city and state to get a page listing titles and showtimes of everything playing nearby, with links to reviews.
Bringing Billboards to Life
Advertising is going everywhere else, so why not on human skin? The idea of human billboards grabbed media attention last month when a bunch of people auctioned temporary tattoo space on eBay. Now, a new Web site aims to make a market in body tattoos.
"I've had a lot of interest from college students looking to make a little extra money to pay for their school or spring break," said Melinda Tucker, creator of BodyBillboardz.com, where people pay fees to list body parts available to "rent" to merchants. Tucker said she got the idea after seeing people auction tattoo space on themselves through eBay. (A man who sold 30 days of space on his forehead to a snore-prevention company is running a similar sale again, while writing about it at his own site, HumanAdspace.com; another, who rented tattoo time on his arm, is trying to launch a service similar to Tucker's at LivingAdSpace.com.)
In the three weeks since BodyBillboardz went online, more than 1 million people have stopped by to take a look, causing bandwidth problems at times, Tucker said. When the site was accessible Friday, only 17 walking-billboard spots were listed, including one from an expectant mom in California who wanted $1,000 to show a tattoo on her belly.
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