Multiple merchants (up to 10) are dialed simultaneously when a consumer seeks a plumber (the example Rosen uses). One of the historical challenges with SMBs is getting through to them. Call connection rates can be as low as 20%, which poses volume challenges for PPCall. Rosen was partly seeking to solve that problem with the system he developed for FastCall411.
FastCall411 is not using a PPCall model however. Calls are free to merchants, who are told that FastCall411 is delivering the call. Those who accept become sales prospects.
What's also interesting is the way that this system helps clean up the local data. FastCall's algorithm boosts the rankings of vendors/merchants who pick up the phone and are most responsive. That indicates that they're still in business for one thing. That's arguably the "secret sauce" (now not so secret) in the model.
Rosen has taken his understanding of the calls segment from CallSource and Jambo and rolled it up into FastCall411.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Nokia is in talks to buy Navteq:
With a $7.61 billion market capitalization, Chicago-based Navteq is one of the world's leaders in electronic mapping, which enables in-vehicle navigation devices and a new generation of mobile-phone applications used for shopping, emergency services and advertising.
The two sides have been in deep discussions over the past few weeks, said the people familiar with the matter. It was still possible those discussions could crumble over a series of last-minute issues. A Navteq spokesman didn't return a request for comment. Nokia representatives were unavailable for comment.
Nokia's interest in Navteq represents a vigorous move into the mobile-services arena, where Nokia has already been building a suite of products around games and music. These types of services have been in development for years by mobile-phone makers like Nokia, as well as by telecom service providers. Around the telecommunications world, there is a growing sense that these services are finally ready for wide-scale consumer adoption.
TomTom bought Navteq's chief competitor TeleAtlas for $2.5 billion. Nokia has pushed into mobile content and services as a growth area for the business, most recently buying mobile ad network Enpocket.
One of Nokia's big content initiatives is to bring local search content onto handsets through partnerships with directory publishers. In the U.S., however, that strategy is thwarted by the carrier control over the deck and related content.
To promote its forthcoming conference, the Kelsey Group has put out some new mobile user numbers. Without having seen the underlying data (research with 500 U.S. users), the findings reinforce what is generally recognized: usability is lacking, people want better mobile Internet devices and consumers want local content on mobile devices.
From the release:
InfoNXX, the owner of 118118 in the U.K. and 118218 in France, has quietly launched the local search site 118.com in the US. InfoNXX is also on track to buy Deutsche Telekom's directory assistance business for almost $800 million.
The blog Google Operating System reports that Google has acquired a mobile service called Zingku, which had been in private beta. Around since 2005 the service uses text messaging and picture messaging to provide a platform for (what appears to be) entertainment and events-related communication but also has commercial potential. Zingku also integrates the desktop with mobile. Below are some excerpts from copy on the company's website:
With Zingku, things you wish to promote or share, can easily be created and fetched via mobile, instant messenger, and web browser. Our service integrates your mobile phone with a personalized web site so that you can easily move (zing) things back and forth between the web and and your mobile as well as powerfully connect with friends and optionally their friends.
Zingku services are also being made available to "merchants" who wish to reach an audience. Merchants create "mobile flyers" and then publish/email a "zing-code" to their customers who opt to pull the flyer to their mobile phone. The customer can then zing it to those friends who they think may be interested. Our mobile flyers are interactive, can take a recipient through a mobile text and picture messaging journey. As such, 18 - 28 year olds, who have tuned out of email and are tuned in into their mobile, respond far more actively than traditional marketing media.
Because only a few people have used the service to date everything is speculation in terms of how Google might integrate this service into other mobile initiatives. Dodgeball, one of the first mobile-social services, acquired by Google in 2005 has so far not yielded much for Google. Zingku would appear to supersede it in a way.
There are a few things interesting to me here. One is the desktop and IM integration, which is important and will be a feature of more and more mobile offerings. (AOL is making a big push to integrate the desktop with mobile.) Also, Google is one of the few companies that can instantly monetize a service like this with contextual advertising (AdSense for Mobile). It's likely however, that Google will seek to build usage and observe that usage for some time before doing so.
Text messaging is where the volume of data users is right now and it's not really being used as an ad medium by many. Companies such as 4Info , the newer MoVoxx and 118118 in the U.K. are actively monetizing text messaging with ads. But most advertisers and ad network providers are looking "beyond" text to WAP where the environment is considerably richer though far less developed in terms of adoption.
When I saw Zingku the thing that first popped into my head was a mobile version of Craigslist (on the commercial side), although I'm sure that's not exactly right or how it will play out. As with many Google acquisitions I'm sure the company saw potential to use the service in a variety of ways on both the consumer and advertiser sides.
What may also happen is that Google may just take the capabilities, get rid of the Zingku brand (since nobody knows it), and fold everything into an uber Google text platform and suite of services that integrates aspects of Dodgeball, Google Maps, etc. There's also considerable potential to integrate this with the newly redesigned Orkut (which should probably be renamed) and differentiate that service from other social networks. However, MySpace and Facebook are actively involved in "mobilizing" their networks.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed (but the money can't be much given the prelaunch status of the services) and Zingku is only available in the U.S. currently. However, Google will expand the platform or integrated capabilities globally over time.
Clearly Google can do a number of things with Zingku. The questions are: precisely what and how soon? Though I hate to use the term, "mobile social networking" will be a large segment (probably focused on text in the near term, eventually to be multi-modal) and there will be something of a race to gain widespread usage.
Mosio, which I have yet to write about, is a very interesting mobile-social search service that is now live that leverages the desktop and uses text messaging to offer a Q&A service ("social directory assistance") to its users.
Much more to come on this topic.
Yesterday, Palm unveiled the Centro, a $100 smartphone (with a two-year contract) intended to push Palm beyond the business consumer market. A few reviews I've seen say the phone is unremarkable beyond the price. The phone is being exclusively offered by Sprint for 90 days and then it should be more broadly available.
The phone uses the Palm OS, rather than Windows Mobile.
If the phone catches on it could put pressure on others to offer low-end versions of their smartphones. The mobile Internet experience on a smartphone is considerably better than smaller Java phones and the penetration of smartphones is tied directly to mobile Internet adoption and usage by their owners.
In terms of ad-supported mobile search, carriers in continental Europe continue to stay ahead of North America's mobile operators. The latest example is Telefonica in Spain. Working with white-label search and advertising facilitator, JumpTap, Telefonica has successfully rolled out mobile banner advertising on the its "movistar emocion" portal, as well as sponsored search links embedded in the "Games", "Images" and "Music" channels.
In a press release, JumpTap was pleased to report that, in its first few months of operation, it had twice sold out the portal's entire inventory of display advertising with messages from Sony Ericsson, Warner Music, Gameloft, Vivendi Games Mobile, Coca-Cola, Buongiorno, Terra, Barclays Bank, PrisaCom and BMW. While none of these "brands" is inherently "local", its safe to say that both carriers and advertisers are finding favor with the process of targeting mobile media.
This is one of those instances when scarcity will create demand. Real estate on mobile screens has always been a scarce commodity and there is incentive either to use pricing mechanisms to curtail demand (meaning higher CPMs) or (more likely) to create more inventory through geographic targeting of delivery mechanisms. In that case, scarcity will create localization.
After launching its #Taxi service in the U.S. to Boost Mobile subscribers at the end of 2006, CellWand Communications Inc. is ready to expand nationwide to multiple carriers. It is turning to Call Genie and its expertise in voice-enabled local search to expand both geographic and business category coverage. Call Genie's role is to provide the technology to "assist #TAXI callers looking for location specific responses."
CellWand has had some success building call volume among wireless subscribers in Canada, through Bell Mobility, Fido, Rogers Wireless, TELUS Mobility and Virgin Mobile. Working with Call Genie provides them with access to a database of local businesses throughout the United States. In return, Call Genie will receive fees for "implementation, hosting and call automation ."
Last week AOL quietly relaunched its mobile portal. (MSN did this not long ago too.) The site boosts mobile desktop integration and boasts an improved user experience. This comes a few weeks after AOL upgraded the search experience on its WAP site. AOL intends to use desktop integration and promotion -- you will be able to access and/or send lots of online content to mobile -- to build awareness for and drive mobile adoption. The company also plans to emphasize personalization and simplicity.
Personalization will eventually become an important part of the mobile Internet experience for many reasons. Although, on the desktop, people have been generally unwilling to so it very much. In mobile, however, there are functional reasons: for greater accuracy, relevance and efficiency of content and search results. But a mix of incentives to get users to personalize and "passive" personalization will need to be employed to create the best overall experience given the mixed track record of personalization online.
Stepping back, the new AOL WAP portal is a nice mix of structured content, browse and search functionality that might be called a "Wapplication" -- a WAP experience that starts to approach the depth and usability of a rich client.
Unlike the Internet where search can be the starting point for all navigational or content queries, and consumers can perform repeated desktop searches without difficulty, mobile search right now is highly awkward. Mobile providers need to offer structured content for the most common or important categories. Search can then be used, not as a regulation navigational tool, but as a way to find new or additional information on the go. That's unless or until voice or other usability upgrades make mobile search as easy to use as on the desktop.
On the advertising side AOL's recently acquired mobile ad network Third Screen Media is going to be integrated into the company's "Platform A" initiative, which is aimed at providing a one-stop-shop media buying opportunity for agencies and brands. In the near term ads will be mostly from large brands, which may have limited success (absent offers/coupons or high levels of targeting). Indeed, "banner blindness" will be even more pronounced on mobile phones.
A couple of years ago AOL was often criticized as being too simple or too basic by some: "training wheels for the Internet." However, that legacy of simplifying and reaching out to mass audiences will serve company well in thinking mobile.
MoVoxx rose from the flames of failed free DA provider Infreeda to become a mobile couponing company working with newspapers. But working with newspapers is challenging and often very slow. Accordingly, the company has recently reinvented itself (again) as an SMS ad network.
Most agencies and companies are ignoring SMS because, like search, it's not a sexy ad medium. Most mobile ad networks, agencies and advertisers are looking beyond text to WAP where there's more room for creative. However, text messaging is where the overwhelming volume of mobile data usage is today. In the U.S., anywhere from 50% to 70% of mobile users -- the numbers skew higher in younger segments -- are using text messaging. Numbers are higher in Europe. But there are few companies trying to monetize it beyond the carriers through subscription revenues.
4Info is one such company, which is positioned both as an ad network and a platform for third-party development.
MoVoxx's strategy is to piggyback on existing text messaging traffic and usage, offering a revenue share for largely impression based ads that appear at the bottom of, say, United text messages to travelers. That way it doesn't have to pay for the SMS traffic and doesn't have to create a destination or brand to acquire users directly. In my example, United underwrites what would otherwise be a cost center and MoVoxx's advertisers get access to specific audiences (e.g., affluent business travelers). The company has many such relationships. Accordingly, it's building content and demographic targeting capabilities into a network that has grown quickly and impressively.
The company is out now looking for an A round to fund growth and further development of its network.