Microsoft updates local search service

Where am I? What can I buy here?

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Microsoft has expanded its Windows Live Local service, adding enhancements to its local search tools.

The new service is powered by the company's Virtual Earth database, adding a new locator and directions tool. Available at http://local.live.com, Windows Live Local uses maps and images from the Virtual Earth database, creating a mapping service that includes online local search functions, directions tools and a bird's eye view of the location.

Users will now be able to search Windows Live Local for local businesses and map the results through the service, getting directions to the particular business or viewing its location on an aerial map. The original Virtual Earth service, launched by Microsoft in July, allows users to switch between maps and photos, and includes software to pinpoint your location using nearby Wi-Fi networks to triangulate your position. The new Live Local service replaces Virtual Earth.

The Live service, launched in November, comprises a suite of new online tools, including Windows Live Messenger, which integrates e-mail, instant messaging, file-sharing, photo-sharing and VoIP.

Live Local includes new 45-degree views of certain US cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Las Vegas. The new viewpoint was gathered by taking images from low-flying planes, and then using road and satellite maps to create panoramic images.

However, the service has yet to include European cities, so for the time being Irish users will have to be content with a bird's eye view of their holiday destinations.

The new service is a challenge to Yahoo and Google, both of which have their own local services. Yahoo was first out of the gate with the addition of maps to its local search, followed by Google in March.

Local search has become a buzz-word in the online business, with more and more companies turning to it as they realise its potential benefits. With an increasing number of people relying on the internet to search for information on products, local search can prove surprisingly lucrative for businesses who incorporate it into their marketing strategy. The mapping services take it one step further, bringing consumers right to the storefront.

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