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3/31/2009
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MySpace Launches Local Business Directories

The social networking site kicks off a trial version of a service it ultimately plans to offer nationwide.

MySpace is going local with small-business directories featuring user-generated content.

The social networking site has joined Citysearch to launch MySpace Local in private beta. The online guide will empower MySpace users to access social directories of small businesses and to write reviews, provide ratings, and share content. MySpace plans a national public beta launch next month. Eventually, MySpace plans to expand the service to go mobile, increase the number of categories, and stretch beyond the borders of the United States.

The move represents "a defining moment in MySpace's emergence as a social portal," Chris DeWolfe, CEO and co-founder of MySpace, said during a news conference Tuesday.

"MySpace is about the discovery of content and culture through the lens of your friends," he said. "Building on the success of music and video, MySpace Local represents both an evolution in social discovery and a revolution of our larger content strategy."

DeWolfe called it the "first-ever social directory for local businesses" and said it's a significant step in outlining MySpace's global strategy. Although sites like Yelp offer similar services, they do not have the user base, vast engagement, or personal ties between users that MySpace boasts, MySpace representatives said.

"If content is king, then context is queen," Jeff Berman, president of sales and marketing for MySpace, said during the news conference.

He said that the best way to spread the word about goods is through conversation, which worked among cavemen and among housewives in the 1950s. "Word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of marketing -- today we're putting the 21st century version of social discovery in the hands of every local business," he said.

Berman said the feature will benefit large advertisers and will facilitate "hyper-targeted ads." The social networking site is still working on monetization and details, he said, and there are several ways the site could monetize activity around some 20 million small businesses in the United States.

The feature would provide small businesses with a free way to reach more than 70 million local MySpace customers, Berman said.

MySpace Local will tap into Citysearch's database of major cities throughout the United States and provide listings on three categories right away: restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Eventually, they could include more categories such as auto mechanics and other service providers.

Users will be able to search by neighborhood, category, or cuisine type and browse business photos, menus, videos, maps, hours of operation, and reviews from friends and celebrities. They'll also be able to add the business to their profiles, share the listings, and bookmark the businesses. MySpace Local also will display coupons on local business listings.

Users' reviews will show up on their "Friend Updates." Those seeking recommendations can filter results. For example, they could search for reviews from friends only.

Citysearch CEO Jay Herratti said he views the partnership as a way to expand Citysearch's user base. When asked if MySpace Local would cut into Citysearch traffic, he said he sees it as a completely new channel.

"This social marketplace will transform the way small businesses find new customers using MySpace, and Citysearch will then help them further extend their reach across the Web," he said. "Together, we'll represent a great marketing strategy for small businesses."
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