"Happy, Jan!" The Australian version of Google Maps has gone live with a local version of the 'local search' feature (think: Yellow Pages, only built on details parsed from Google's web data, not from the Sensis telephone salesforce screwing you royally for a display ad in a dead tree directory every year.)
Adding local search ability to Google Maps is a great example of 'network effect'. Not only does Google Maps get more useful as Google's search indexes more Australian businesses, but the local search feature leverages the other features already in Google Maps, such as geocoding, map rendering, geocoding, driving directions, and of course, a good search engine. It also makes Google Maps for Mobile a more worthy proposition, since being able to search for, say, a restaurant from your phone is a real benefit when you're out and about.
In my testing, Google's depth of local business data still has a way to go to match the Sensis product in detail and accuracy but it's still very usable, and if you think there are no errors and ommissions in the Sensis product, think again! If you want to improve the quality yourself, then add your street address details to your business' website and also submit your business' details directly to Google Local Search today - it's free.
update: Since first posting this, I've read that the core business listings data is provided by truelocal.com.au and this may be part of a broader strategic alliance with News Digital Media here.
Certainly Google Maps wins hands down for speed of loading and clean, tidy interface (sometimes you'd think www.yellowpages.com.au was a display advertising business rather than a business directory it carries so many banner ads).
There are two other local contenders of note. Yahoo! Local Search suffers greatly from being buried at the bottom of a list of marketing priorities at the entertainment and television-focussed Yahoo7, despite being quite a useful product. If I hadn't worked at Yahoo! in the past I wouldn't know it existed. It lacks driving directions, its bitmap image graphs aren't as clear as vector graphic maps, but it has good categorisation (a Yahoo! traditional strength) and it's fast to use.
Truelocal.com.au, the other main local contender, was a startup acquired by News Ltd's News Digital Media. It is doing the heavy lifting of building a directory from scratch while relying on a telephone salesforce selling the listings in competition against Sensis' dominant product. It also has poor mapping interface and display and wastes too many Kb by stating that it is "powered by" several free local newspapers of the type most of us see only on the short walk from the front lawn to the paper recycling bin.
Because Google Local Search integrates with what Google knows about a business' own website rather than solely paid directory listings, it is also potentially a competitor to lifestyle guides such as Citysearch and Eatability.com.au. At the end of the day, more competition in the online business directory market is a good thing for us, the consumer, though in years to come it might be tough for those competitors grown fat and inefficient on their lengthy market dominance... Yes, Sensis, I'm talking about you...