Venture Firms Put $8 Million into Pudding Media

Opus Capital (not affiliated in any way with Opus Research) and BRM Capital (an Israeli company that invests in early stage companies) are providing $8 million in series A funding to Pudding Media. Recall that Pudding Media burst on the ad-supported phone call scene last September. It demonstrated how its brand of voice over IP (VoIP) supports origination of free phone calls from Web browsers that then scroll advertising messages, links and other content based on the content of the phone conversation.

Pudding Media's founders highlighted their view that the approach does not differ ostensibly from Google's GMail, with its habit of lining an individual's inbox with tile ads that key off of the content of received messages. They also observe that by visually scrolling content (which can include Web pages, video and other information) during phone conversation has a direct impact on the dialogue. People change what they're saying based on the messages the see on the screen.

It's about promoting serendipity. Though it is not well-suited for mobile subscribers, the founders see an important role for Pudding to play for individuals who are discussing dining plans or other local activities. They have observed first-hand the influence that material on the screen has on real time conversation.

They are correct to observe that people tend to multi-task while carrying on phone conversations. Nonetheless, my friends, family and business associations can always tell when I'm reading e-mail or otherwise distracted while I'm talking on the phone. We're also unclear about how Pudding intends to build advertising inventory that guarantees both local and immediate relevance. Now the question is whether $8 million will provide enough runway to see if this proposed change in common VoIP user protocol will fly.

Dial Directions White Labels Service to Ask Mobile

Ask has tapped Dial Directions to offer a voice interface for obtaining driving directions. Beside the "Directions" link on the mobile Ask (WAP) site there's a new "Voice Entry" link. That sends users to the Dial Directions phone number (347-328-4667) or initiates a phone call from the device. Users hear "Mobile Ask powered by Dial Directions" and the service basically works exactly as Dial Directions does, except that results are returned on a WAP page with a map vs. in text messaging form.

Currently the new Ask service doesn't include some of the other Dial Directions features such as "meet me" or directions to events.

Ask is the first of the major engines to offer WAP-based voice-search for directions. Live Search for mobile (the downloadable application) offers embedded voice for local search, but not for directions. InfoSpace FindIt (now part of Superpages) has voice output for turn-by-turn directions; so does the Mapquest Navigator client.

I would expect Dial Directions to attempt to "white label" its service more broadly to others in the future.

ChaCha Goes Mobile with Text-Based Answers Service

I've written up today's release in some detail at Search Engine Land.

The service allows users to text ChaCha (242242) and to essentially ask any question about any subject, which makes it more flexible that the current crop of free DA services. ChaCha's many human guides respond in the same way that they do on the desktop. However, in mobile, you get a single answer (via text).

I asked the following questions in testing out the new service:

  • What are the hours of the Getty Center museum (Los Angeles)?
  • How far from LA to SF?
  • Who won the 2006 Oscar for best actress?
  • What's the highest rated Sushi place in SF?
  • How do I get from 91306 to Palo Alto, CA?

Overall it performed generally well in response to these questions. There will be a client advisory coming out shortly with more detail.

TextChaCha Transcends Deskbound Search

picture

Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
Amid the fanfare surrounding various efforts to improve algorithmic search with human input, Indiana-based ChaCha launched with the promise of "human-guided search." At the time, September 2006, the site provided both conventional search and the ability to interact with one of the company's numerous "guides" who performed searches on behalf of users, making it a cross between Yahoo! Answers and About.com. Today, the company introduces a mobile variant (textChaCha) in an arena far less entrenched than desktop search with the opportunity to exceed what's offered through enhanced DA.

Featured Research is available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an I2G client, please contact Pete Headrick (pheadrick@opusresearch.net).


Thomson/GE Speed Dials GOOG411 at CES

One of the featured products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show introduces simplified access to free directory assistance from a fixed line telephone. A GE-branded cordless home phone (model # DECT 6.0) features single-button, speed-dial access to GOOG-411 (normally accessed by dialing 1-800-GOOG411). This is a hardware-based, preemptive strike resulting from a partnership between one of the leading providers of cordless phones and the undisputed leader in Web-based search.

Google introduced GOOG411 roughly a year ago as its brand of speech-enabled mobile search. It has not yet added the sorts of audio-based advertising that provide an obvious revenue model around category search and location-based marketing. Instead, Google is still in development mode, introducing a trialling a multiplicity of access methodologies for its local search service. The button is hard-wired into the GE handset, but it could just as easily be rendered as a soft-key or widget on the touch-sensitive screens of forthcoming smartphones.

Meanwhile, because automatic connection is baked into GOOG411, it should not be long before DECT 6.0 owners begin to use the button as an intelligent speed dialer. The good news is that the original query is through a tool free number and, thanks to IP connectivity, Google provides call completion for free.

Single button access, offered by Google and others, are poised to change long established user behaviors, like dialing 411 or longer, toll-free access numbers. This is a major threat to incumbent, fixed line DA providers that generated something like $3.5 billion in highly profitable revenue from roughly 4 billion calls last year. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the fact that Google has yet to attach either connection fees nor promotional charges to its service, advertiser supported, "free" DA services generated less than $20 million in top line revenue.

The partnership with Thomson/GE shows that Google will pursue a number of avenues to generate more call origination. No firm has been better at converting activity to revenue and profits.

Two Views of the Coming Year

I've posted an outlook on 2008 as a "CAT Scan" for the Opus Research's Conversational Access Technology program. It's called "Get Ready for Vox Ex Machina" as we all look for that unexpected factor that will meld voice processing, mobility, advertising support and open networks/devices into viable service offerings.

Meanwhile, Greg has published his expectations for 2008 at Screenwerk. You will note that we have decidedly different views (not to mention writing styles), but expect the year to bring more multimedia mobile services thanks to the expansion of broadband wireless and more cooperation up-and-down the solutions stack.

Happy New Year!

Nokia Siemens Puts a Price on Fixed/Mobile Convergence

By agreeing to by subscriber data specialist Apertio for $205 million, Nokia/Siemens highlights the importance of real-time access to a flexible database of subscriber data to telephone carriers introduce and support services that cross customary boundaries between fixed line and mobile communications. Red Herring considers the price to be a hefty premium over previous assessments of the firm's value.

A Spokesperson for Nokia/Siemens noted that the companies have already worked together for a number of years and that Apertio already has Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, and O2 as customers and is testing Apertio's technology with at least three U.S. carriers

Nokia 'Internet Tablet' Mobile Device Doing Well on Amazon

The Apple MacBook is number 1 on the best selling computers list on Amazon. While that may come as a surprise to some, the bigger surprise is the fact that the Nokia N800 device is number 3.

The N800 isn't a phone; it's a small WiFi-enabled Internet access device. Here's my write-up of the 810 from CTIA when I got my hands on it for about five minutes.

The surprising showing on Amazon indicates the demand for larger screen mobile devices and that non-phone mobile Internet devices may have a future.

Yahoo! Readying Search Ads for Mobile

Earlier this summer I spoke with Yahoo!'s Lee Ott (here's a video interview with Ott [not by me]), director of product marketing for Yahoo! mobile, who indicated that Yahoo! was not going to hastily follow Google's lead a distribute its paid search advertisers into oneSearch results or elsewhere on the mobile Web. It was concentrating on banners and brands for the time being. (AOL and MSN are essentially doing the sample, although AOL has access to JumpTap's mobile index and search advertisers.)

The basic reason Ott offered was that the search marketers themselves weren't ready for mobile and the result would be a generally uneven or poor user experience for the consumers, as click-throughs would often go to pages that weren't intended for mobile distribution. Google, which has moved very aggressively to extend its desktop search franchise into mobile, recently introduced a hosted mobile landing page option for marketers that seeks to remedy the problem that Ott identifies.

Now this article (subscription required) says that Yahoo!'s paid search platform Panama is being readied to support mobile and that mobile and desktop search ads will be "integrated" in Q1 of next year.

Search has emerged as a critical consumer behavior in mobile already and Yahoo! is apparently preparing the way for the paid search monetization of its myraid distribution deals, which now are exclusively focused on display advertising.

Yahoo! Japan Selects MCN for Vertical Search on Mobile

Mobile Content Networks, Inc. (MCN) was selected to power music search on the Yahoo! Japan mobile site. This is the first of several vertical search channels to be launched on Yahoo! Japan. The MCN search box and channels are independent of general, "horizontal search" on the Yahoo! Japan site.

MCN competes against JumpTap, Medio, Fast/InfoSpace and, in fact, Yahoo! with carriers. But marketing SVP Stephen Burke stresses that the company can work with any number of players, including those competitors and can integrate and "federate" their content and/or advertising. Think of it as mobile "meta-search."

Burke says MCN does mobile search better and cheaper than anyone. However, unlike other parties, the company doesn't offer a mobile index. Instead MCN taps directly into content sources, which it characterizes as "federated search." Burke said the company abandoned its mobile index approach a few years ago after discovering that it was "too expensive" and couldn't accommodate all the mobile content being developed.

Burke also told me that there will be a number of announcements coming in the next several weeks and months.