AT&T Tests as Challenger to Yelp

In what may lead to consolidation of local players such as Foursquare and Yelp, AT&T has weighed into the battle with its own fresh approach to locational based queries with, and we need to ask, are dot-com brands back in fashion?

The point about using your existing networks and social graph to link users does make sense, as AT&T doesn’t have the expertise or time to build a new social network, so is this just a new mobile app or something fresh with its social recommendations?

In an interesting move, a number of leading tech websites such as Mashable, Techcrunch and CNET appear to have been left out of the initial alpha test, leaving Forbes as the exclusive reviewer. The initial test appears to be small in scale but does have a contact form to express interest in being part of the expanded beta program, due to launch later this year, so fingers crossed I get an invite soon and do a complete review. There is also no app currently available in the iTunes store which means that it is still being developed, or AT&T has joined Google in building a web-based native app that allows their service to bypass the delays and restrictions in the Apple app approval process.

Some of the sample questions seem very similar to what you might see on Twitter or Facebook status updates, and you would think might be useful if associated with local business listings.

  • Who’s your favorite Florist in Houston?
  • What’s your favorite Record Store in Memphis?
  • What’s the best Maid Service in Indianapolis?
  • Who’s the best Insulation Contractor in Louisville?

These types of questions seem to suit the type of traditional business who just use Yellow Pages and word-of-mouth promotion to grow their business and may never have the time or resources to advertise online. It may also be suited to the audience who is typically happy with using Yellow Pages, but would appreciate some reassurance from social networks that they have picked the right business.

Since the website is very new and has a very weak online presence in search rankings, it is likely that a majority of the traffic and hype will be driven by paid placement and traditional AT&T sales channels. AT&T also need to understand that to reach the Yelp/Foursquare audience they should be working with some of the technical blogs and not building a wall around the product.

So how does this change the marketplace? Should Yelp be focusing on forming strong partnerships to maintain their lead? Would you consider using AT&T to buzz news about your favorite local business?