After a trial run in four markets, Yahoo has just launched Neighbors nationwide. Neighbors is an interesting and potentially very strong addition to Yahoo Local’s offerings. It’s been around since November 2007, when it debuted in two California markets. More recently, it’s been available in the San Francisco area, New York, Chicago, and Dallas. There’s no formal announcement of the service yet, just a lone tweet posted earlier tonight from the Yahoo Real Estate account. But don’t let that distract you from what could become a successful local effort, particularly in larger cities with a larger concentration of users.
Neighbors exists as a new, fourth tab on Yahoo Local. It’s essentially a local bulletin board for every community in the U.S. On the surface, it looks like a combination of Yahoo Answers and Yahoo Local, and it could serve to cover up one of the main shortcomings of Yahoo Answers: a lack of local question-and-answer opportunities outside of major cities. (Answers has a Local Businesses category, but it only covers 30 U.S. cities.)
Yahoo has developed Neighbors with a number of smart features. It has all the basics such as categories — like “Business Recommendations,” “Environment,” and “Kids and Schools” — and a topic search engine. Topics can be filtered by location and sorted by either Most Recent or Most Active. But there are also a number of smaller features that should help make Neighbors more “sticky.” Even without participating, users can sign up for email updates of all activity in their area. There’s also a comprehensive RSS feed for each area, separate feeds for each category, and even RSS for each topic. You can also send any topic to a friend via email. About the only things missing are the almost obligatory “Tweet this” and “Send to Facebook” tools. But instead of those, Yahoo is focusing for now on offline marketing — Neighbors offers a print-quality, PDF “flyer” customized for every town that can be downloaded and shared around the neighborhood. (image at right)
I should also mention one more similarity with Yahoo Answers: The topic pages are obviously built with SEO considerations in mind. The content in active threads on Yahoo Neighbors could quickly rank highly in search results for local businesses, local events, and a lot of other local keywords. Yahoo Answers is an SEO powerhouse and ranks very well; I won’t be surprised if Neighbors follows suit.
Will Neighbors Become A Spam Magnet?
Yahoo positions Neighbors as a tool for community improvement, but by placing it inside the Yahoo Local environment, its primary use may be for Q&A about local businesses, recommendations from neighbors, and the like. That means spam — or at least business owners and marketers trying to get local visibility — is sure to follow. Questions like this, for example, are just begging for replies from hair stylists all over San Francisco:
The Yahoo Neighbors posting policy begins with a warning that “unsolicited commercial postings (including those from local small businesses) are NOT allowed,” and a similar message appears in a pop-up window when you click to create a new topic. Yahoo says comments are moderated (how will that scale if Neighbors takes off?), but — and this is very similar to the way Yahoo Answers works — it’s okay to include helpful links in replies:
“Links of value to readers are welcome, but please use them sparingly — distribute spam and you’re banished forever.”
If something slips through the cracks, there are also “Report Abuse” links on each topic and all replies.
Yahoo Local has been relatively stagnant for a while now. Sure, there have been a few minor improvements here and there, but it’s been a while since they’ve rolled out anything as innovative as Yahoo Neighbors.
Yahoo is promoting Neighbors right on the main city guide/home pages — see the right column on the San Francisco page, for example. As usage increases, Neighbors will surely be promoted elsewhere as part of the company’s effort to bring its properties together and “create community from isolated sites.”
Will it work? I think Neighbors has more potential for wide success than many of Yahoo’s recent products. It taps into Yahoo’s biggest strength — its millions of users — and shouldn’t be impacted by any search-related changes that arise if the Yahoo-Microsoft deal is approved. There’s no question that local and social are colliding, and Yahoo Neighbors could become one of the more interesting hybrids in that space.