BuzzD: Part Cityguide, Part Social Network

New mobile "city guide" and social network BuzzD has launched. The text-messaging based system is aimed squarely at a youth audience. It combines elements of local search and social networking.

The site also seems to be offering a technology back end that turns more traditional publishers into local mobile search sites and social networks.

The combination of local search on mobile devices, with one-to-many social networking elements could become a kind of "killer app" for mobile. There will be many companies eventually in this segment, trying to combine community and local search -- for example, Mosio and Whrrl, among others, as well as more traditional desktop companies, such as Yelp.

Here's some additional information from RCR Wireless News.

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With its acquisition of Ingenio, including the Keen part of the business (minus the adult content), there's an interesting opportunity for YellowPages.com to create a new type of mobile Q&A or distributed directory assistance style business along the lines of AQA or Texperts.

Android Prototype Spotted

From Gizmodo, with screenshot:

Our source, a Giz reader, had some feedback to add to the prototype, which he used for a day: Even in early form, it's light and fast, much faster than the desktop emulator at times. And as a longtime programmer, he thinks it's a lot more put together than Window Mobile 5 on the back side of things.

We'll see how quickly these phones (or a phone) makes it to commercial release. HTC will likely be first to market with a working device. As some of the comments in the Gizmodo post suggest, the handset leaves quite a bit to be desired aesthetically.

'Point and Shop' With Nokia

Nokia phone

The U.K.'s Sun covers a plan by Nokia to use camera phones -- Nokia is the largest digital camera seller in the world (via phones) -- to allow consumers to take pictures of items in the real world and immediately find the same item online for the best price, etc. (As an aside, Nokia may want to buy a shopping engine to really indulge this plan.)

The article says "a prototype is being kept under wraps and will not be launched for about three years, according to the firm." Why? This technology has been around for some time and is already in use in Japan.

Expect similar camera-phone shopping to be introduced in the U.S. next year. Companies such as GeoVector, NeoMedia, Mobot, SnapTell and a couple of others already have this capability in market to varying degrees. It's just a question of introducing it to mainstream U.S. and EU consumers. (Phones with cameras will represent 40% of the digital camera market worldwide, next year, according to LGERI.)

One of the interesting things to contemplate about camera-phone "point and search" or "point and shop" scenarios is that they're like voice search in a way: potentially mass market tools that don't require much in the way of behavioral change from users. As such, this camera-phone technology represents something of a wild card in the market in terms of potential consumer adoption.

Jingle-comScore Data on Free 411 Awareness, Usage

I received an email from Jingle CEO George Garrick criticizing my recent survey post about mobile usage and 411 as misleading because of the tiny sample involved, despite my disclaimers and qualifying remarks. (Accordingly, I want to reiterate that the survey was totally informal and cannot be generalized to any larger population.)

Garrick supplied me with comScore survey data, commissioned by Jingle Networks, on free 411 awareness and usage. The research was conducted this year in three waves. In each wave there were 1,000 respondents representing a cross section of online users (striving to be a surrogate for the US population more broadly). I'll report only most recent data ("wave 3"); the waves are all fairly consistent and responses are within a couple of points of one another:

Have you called 411 directory assistance at least once in the last 30 days?

  • Yes -- 34%
  • No -- 64%
  • Don't know -- 1%

Are you aware of any "free directory assistance" services where you get 411 for free by dialing an 800 number?

  • Yes -- 27%
  • No -- 66%
  • Don't know -- 7%

Have you actually called any "free directory assistance" services in the last 30 days?

  • Yes -- 15%
  • No -- 82%
  • Don't know -- 2%

1-800-GOOG411 -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.

  • Never heard of it -- 91%
  • Have heard of it -- 7%
  • Used in the last 30 days -- 2%

1-800-FREE411 -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.

  • Never heard of it -- 73%
  • Have heard of it -- 17%
  • Used in the last 30 days -- 9%

1-800-555-TELL -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.

  • Never heard of it -- 93%
  • Have heard of it -- 6%
  • Used in the last 30 days -- 1%

1-800-YELLOWPAGES -- Please tell us which of the following "free directory assistance" services you have heard of or used in the last 30 days.

  • Never heard of it -- 69%
  • Have heard of it -- 28%
  • Used in the last 30 days -- 3%

When calling a "free directory assistance" service rather than a standard service where you pay a fee, how important is it to you that a live operator be available if the automated system is unable to answer your request?

  • Not important -- 5%
  • Preferable -- 36%
  • Very important -- 58%

When calling a "free directory assistance" service rather than a standard service where you pay a fee, how important is it to you that the system be able to give you residential numbers rather than just business numbers that you are looking for?

  • Not important -- 9%
  • Preferable -- 36%
  • Very important -- 56%

1-800-Free-411 (Jingle) is clearly the market leader in this segment, but interestingly 1-800-Yellowpages benefits from the "brand equity" of yellow pages. I don't believe the high number of people who indicate awareness of the offering, which isn't yet nationwide. I would guess the number "seems" familiar and people are responding to that perceived familiarity.

We've just conducted an online survey with Greenfield Online about 411 user behavior (n=671) and Jingle's 1-800-Free-411 is by far and away the most used among the free 411 alternatives. Jingle received a 66% response when consumers were asked which service they'd actually used. All the others were in the low single digits.

Clearly awareness is the challenge for all these services. But it's our belief that once consumers become aware and try them they don't return to traditional 411.

Sprint to Link to MySpace Mobile

Mobile social networking will be one step closer or, more accurately, fewer clicks away, when Sprint provides its mobile subscribers direct access to MySpace Mobile when it is generally available next year. When it rolls out, it will not be necessary for subscribers to open their Web browsers and enter the cumbersome URL: http://moible.myspace.com. Instead they will simply click on a link in Sprint's mobile Web portal.

Call it the iPhone effect. It is now an empirically-observed truth that ease of use translates into more frequent use. If past is prologue, MySpace will see stepped up access from mobile devices, and a corresponding increase in relevant - meaning local and immediate - feedback from fellow MySpacers.

For its part Fox Interactive Media (FIM), MySpace's parent company, is aggressively expanding the mobile footprint of its other properties by simplifying access to Sprint subscribers. These include IGN, FOXSports.com on MSN, RottenTomatoes, AskMen, and a network of myFOX sites with content from local TV affiliates.

Swedish Newspaper Links Local Sales to Cell Phones

Agence France Press reports that Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, is selling Nokia phones with direct links to its mobile content. DN subscribers can purchase the Nokia 6120 3-G phone on the paper's Web site. Then, after signing up for a 199-kronor ($31-dollar) monthly plan, they will be able to surf the daily's mobile Web site by simply pressing a special "DN" button on the faceplate.

The offer highlights the lengths that so-called "dead tree" media have to go to stay in the call flows of their local audiences. A newspaper spokesperson simply said that it is a matter of "removing obstacles" to subscribers accessing content on the mobile Web.

Medio Expands Ad Network to Europe

Medio Systems announced this morning that it was expanding its MobileNow ad network to the UK, as well as other countries in Europe and beyond next year. These ads generally appear on its publisher network "off deck." Publisher partners include various CBS mobile properties and mobile sites for the The CW TV network.

According to the release issued this morning, Medio is already serving ads in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, Australia and South Africa. The roll out in these countries will continue in 2008.

Medio provides mobile search functionality and advertising to partners. All of the ads in the system are performance-based and the company says it has achieved conversion rates of "up to 15%" across its network.

The rate of conversions in a mobile environment is all over the map, based on our conversations, with some companies claiming rates north of 20% and others saying it's in the low single digits. Of course it depends on ad quality and context. Over time mobile conversion rates will go down as more users come into the mobile Internet. Google has said generally, regarding mobile conversions, the "performance of these ads is excellent."

Medio began life as a white label search vendor for carriers to help them compete with Google and Yahoo in mobile search. However, the ad network, launched in March of this year, is a wise diversification strategy that will take the company farther than if had limited itself to its original model.

Conversation with JumpTap: Of Androids and Trojan Horses

White label mobile search and ads provider JumpTap is arguing that Google's Android platform is a "Trojan Horse" that ultimately seeks to siphon off carrier customer relationships and potential ad revenues. Here's one version of that story from Adam Saroca, JumpTap GM, on Search Engine Watch.

I believe some version of that future is possible but what I would call "the reality" is more complicated. Accordingly, I had what I would call a more nuanced conversation with Jorey Ramer, VP of Corp. Dev for JumpTap. We had the "Android is a Trojan Horse" conversation but also spoke about the ways in which the psychological shake-up in the market caused by Andriod -- psychological because there are not yet any phones out -- could benefit JumpTap and accelerate their business.

We also talked about how opening up of the market benefits all players in theory. Even if everyone (read: carriers) gets scared and starts doing deals and focusing more on mobile content, ads and search it's a good thing for the industry and JumpTap. While the carriers might want everything to remain as it is for the indefinite future, it will not. The truth is: the iPhone and Android have done the overall market in the US a great service by waking people up and motivating them to act.

It is true that if Android is widely adopted and phones ultimately reach consumers, and are not locked by carriers, the monogamous relationship between user and carrier will be weakened. Any way you slice it, however, the carriers' collective position in the US is going to get weaker, with a growing emphasis on devices and mobile content.

One of the most interesting things that Ramer pointed out, which I hadn't focused on, is how Google Checkout might become the basis for a mobile payments system and direct billing relationship with the end user. I think that's a fascinating prospect.

Google Checkout has struggled to make inroads against PayPal, which is already offering mobile payments. But a second opportunity might come in mobile, provided Android gains market acceptance.

Competition from Google and Yahoo! is good for JumpTap's business and they can "sell against" the Google threat, which is clearly what the company is doing. And like everyone else, JumpTap could write on top of Android too.

The bigger challenge for JumpTap is differentiating itself from Medio Systems and vice versa.

Can Apple Save Palm, And Will Motorola Break Up?

Jon Rubinstein, Apple's former head of hardware engineering, often dubbed the "Podfather" because of his early shepherding of the iPod, is now in charge of Palm. The question is can he revive the sinking fortunes of the company?

As this WSJ article points out, the company is banking on the low-end Palm Centro to become popular and gain market share among younger users. However, despite widespread marketing and an aggressive price point, the Centro is not likely to be the hit Palm had hoped. And product development cycles are such that it may be a couple of years before any Rubinstein-inspired handsets make it to market.

Over at Motorola, the WSJ speculates, the company may be preparing for a sale of its troubled handset division, which hasn't had a hit since the wildly popular Razr. But the market is fickle and the Razr was "yesterday's handset." Motorola's CEO Ed Zander was bounced in an effort to inject new blood and energy into the company. He is being succeeded by company president Greg Brown.

Worldwide market share of smartphones, based on Q2 shipments of approximately 30 million units:

  1. Nokia -- 46%
  2. "Others" -- 29%
  3. RIM -- 9%
  4. Sharp -- 8%
  5. Fujitsu -- 5%
  6. Palm -- 4%

Source: Garnter (numbers are rounded and so exceed 100%)

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Related: CNET reports on forthcoming layoffs at Palm. Silicon Alley Insider suggests that Palm could create a great user experience and revive by adopting Flash as a developer platform.

Mobile Ad Forecasts Too Rosy?

BusinessWeek offers a broad look at the mobile ad environment and climate for acquisitions of startups in mobile. The article is measured but bearish in tone, arguing that the mobile forecasts in the market, specifically Gartner and Strategy Analytics, are too aggressive at $11 billion and $14 billion by 2011, respectively.

The article cites low consumer adoption of the mobile Internet to date and the challenges of the US mobile marketplace more generally as being a drag on ad growth.

The article quotes Nokia VP Mike Baker as saying "it will take at least five years for the industry to surpass $10 billion in annual revenue." It's not entirely clear what is meant by "revenue," presumably advertising on a global basis.

Our forecast is $5.08 billion in mobile ad revenues by 2012 in North America and Europe.