Sidewalk guides are currently available for nine cities, and until now have focused on arts and entertainment. By yearend, Sidewalk's expanded content will also allow consumers to shop for services like home painting and products such as camcorders through local listings and online merchants, said Matt Kursh, the Web service's business unit manager.
Sidewalk will be able to alert consumers to "who carries the Sony 8mm camcorder with the flip-out screen, and who has a sale on it," he said.
Microsoft's latest move means more competition for newspapers, Yellow Pages, direct mail, local Web sites and other local media.
"Now local advertisers [will be able to] target consumers when they're ready to buy something," said Peter Atkins, director of ad sales. "Sidewalk is offering better targeting for consumers who are actively looking for information on what to purchase."
Sidewalk will provide editorial content, such as product information, advice and tools to help consumers select a product. Microsoft will develop some content itself and partner with others for other content, Mr. Kursh said.
Cendant Corp., Sidewalk's local ad rep, will continue to handle local ad sales. Sidewalk will both sell ads and create Web content for advertisers. Microsoft will not share in revenues generated through Sidewalk, said Mr. Atkins.
With its existing local sites, Sidewalk claims ad deals with more than 5,000 local advertisers, as well as regional or national ad agreements with United Airlines, Barnes & Noble and BMW of North America.
AHEAD OF FORECASTS
Media Metrix, a Web tracking service, said Sidewalk in January was accessed by 0.7% of Web users, vs. 0.6% for rival CitySearch.
Mr. Kursh said Sidewalk is ahead of internal forecasts in usage and ad revenue.
While he said Microsoft hopes to partner with more local media, he downplayed concern it is looking to dominate local ad markets.
"I don't think we're the people with local media monopolies," he said. "We think the online market is a new one. There are a lot of people playing in that space. We're just going to try to do the best thing we can for our customers."