In an effort to match rival Google and Yahoo offerings, MSN has launched a beta of its local-search function, integrating mapping and satellite image technology to help searchers pinpoint the locations they want to find, CNET writes. The new tools will offer up White Pages and Yellow Pages directory information from specific cities and regions. Each search result will come up as a numbered pin on a map from Microsoft MapPoint Web Service, and TerraServer-USA aerial images will also appear, if available.

Microsoft said its local search offering will eventually incorporate a technology called Virtual Earth that will allow results from multiple searches to be layered atop a single map, the AP reports.

Localized information can make online search more practical for consumer and will therefore drive online ads from local smaller businesses - and larger ones, too, of course.

The local-search market is lucrative and relatively untapped. Sales of local online advertising is expected to grow to $5 billion by 2009, with $3.4 billion of that from search engines, the Kelsey Group has forecast. That compares with $670 million in 2004, with $162 million from search engines.

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