Has anybody seen Google today? It may have its holiday green on for St. Paddy's Day, but it has also rolled out something else new: its local search function, simply named "Google Local." It's integrated into the regular Google search interface already, with little fuss or fanfare.

I checked it out. Because the new service is integrated, it's hardly overt. Just like a regular Web search, enter in what it is you're looking for (say, compact discs), with a city and state, and the local results will appear as a link at the top. Click on that link, and there you have it: a listing of hits, with addresses, map options, and related websites. Nifty.

This product extension is, of course, not in the least bit unexpected. There have been rumblings that Google was working on local search, especially after rival Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) announced its SmartView product on March 9. (Yahoo! has long enjoyed some degree of advantage with its Get Local products, which have been around for quite some time. Using a similar search on Yahoo!, I gathered what looked like more complete search results, though, the Google Local function is, admittedly, still in beta.)

Other important Internet properties also include local views of events and commerce. For example, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online unit also offers Digital City local guides. Remember when the way to search for local commerce was to let your fingers do the walking through the mammoth telephone book? Verizon (NYSE:VZ) recently lived up to the telephone book's tradition by launching SuperPages.com.

There's no arguing that "local" is an important aspect of Internet search. According to the Kelsey Group, local search makes up 25% of Internet commercial activity (more than double the previous prognostication of 10%). Meanwhile, the research firm believes the market for local paid-search advertising will reach $2.5 billion by 2008.

Not so long ago, Google was considered to be behind more than 70% of all searches, a figure that included its serving up results for partners like Yahoo! and AOL. Now that Yahoo!'s branching out on its own, the playing field's more level, with many Internet monitoring firms now reporting the Google/Yahoo! search rivalry as neck and neck. However, Google could give Yahoo! and the rest grief on the local front, if the new service gives users one more reason to just Google it. Regardless, with IPO plans a popular topic of discussion, it would have been remiss for Google not to address a space that is touted as an essential element of search, not to mention a key revenue driver.

Is Yahoo! in hot water, now that Google's gone local? Is the space big enough for all the local search players? Spark a conversation on the Yahoo! discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.