Medio started as a white label search provider to help mobile carriers compete with branded search sites like Google and Yahoo! but is increasingly putting emphasis on its mobile ad network.
Jingle's 1-800-Free411 has been relying on Nuance's speech recognition for some time. Today the two companies put out a formal release announcing a strategic, long term relationship:
As part of the long-term agreement, Jingle will use technology and services from Nuance to enhance the overall consumer experience for 1-800-FREE411 callers. This agreement, which extends and deepens the previously announced relationship between the companies, also includes Nuance referring and marketing the Jingle Ad Platform to its customers for additional audio ad-serving needs.
If the recognizers don't recognize and can't fulfill the query, Jingle will forward the call to a live agent. Competitors such as Goog411 and Tellme, don't use live agents. That's a strategic differentiator currently, but as speech recognition improves the need for a live agent will diminish.
Right now, Jingle is the brand leader in the "free 411"segment, but there's a lot of competition coming very quickly. And as I suggested earlier competitors will be more than free DA providers; they will include a broader range of speech-enabled local search offerings.
CallGenie announced an expanded geographic scope for its Enhanced Voice Directory solution. According to the press release:
This release provides coverage for all of North America, allowing Call Genie to offer its customers and partners a local mobile search solution that covers over 350 million people in the United States and Canada. In addition, this release of EVD allows Call Genie's customers to offer their callers the ability to further refine their business search by referencing landmarks, neighborhoods, and intersections in all markets with a population larger than 300,000. This capability is built on the subtleties of voice search and specific to the underlying grammars related to how people really speak when asking for information.
Jingle Networks uses CallGenie for category search. CallGenie also powers Yellow Pages Group's mobile application Hello Yellow in Canada and has inked a deal with Verizon to provide enhanced DA services.
Correction/clarification: I was informed by CallGenie that they never in fact were providing category search for Jingle. The companies had been in discussions and some tests but that a deal never took place. Thus, the perception that CallGenie was displaced by this deal (as has been conveyed by some reports) is inaccurate.
I'm on vacation this week, but here's the release:
Whether traveling in their hometowns, or on the other side of the country, Alltel Wireless (NYSE: AT) customers will have access to WHERE's state-of-the-art location-based service (LBS) application. WHERE, created by uLocate Communications, provides detailed and customized information including maps and directions for thousands of locations, directly to Alltel phones. The application is available for download in Alltel's Axcess Shop for $2.99 per month. The application will initially launch on five phones: The Wafer, the Alltel Hue and u520 by Samsung, as well as The Wave and AX8600 by LG.
Alltel Wireless customers who download WHERE on their GPS-enabled phones will be able to easily locate gas stations, shops, restaurants, hotels, parks, golf courses, ATMs, hospitals and schools. WHERE also provides up-to-date information on local events and allows customers to customize the application by providing local weather, news, traffic conditions, directions, ski reports and more.
This is the second carrier (Sprint is the first) to offer the Where application. Here's my previous write up. Where is a platform for third-party development and mobile deployment:
The carrier relationship provides "on-deck" distribution (through Where) for the third parties and enables all widgets to benefit from GPS functionality.
From their release:
Annual U.S. revenues for advertiser-sponsored directory assistance, also referred to as free DA, will grow from $14 million in 2007 to $462 million in 2012.
This is considerably smaller than the Opus Research forecast, although the segments and definitions differ. But the relatively small size of the Kelsey projection suggests a loss of confidence in the growth potential of the market.
I met the other day Amit Desai of Dial Directions (347-328-4667). In my two conversations with Amit (the former CTO of Voxify), he's made some very strong claims about the sophistication of the startup's speech platform and capabilities. He also gave me some "roadmap" information that may take the service way beyond "free DA." But for now that's what the service is, with point-to-point directions (not to diminish it or the Free DA category in any way).
I decided to informally test GOOG411 vs. Dial Directions across category searches and a few name-in-mind searches to see how they comparatively performed. The outcome was something of a split decision.
Dial Directions doesn't have as extensive a local database as GOOG411, which is speech-enabling its Maps database. Dial Directions works well for chains/franchises and some other categories of local businesses but it's otherwise incomplete. For its part GOOG411 can't deliver point-to-point directions or provide the closest business to an address. You can call GOOG411 from a landline (or cell); Dial Directions only works for mobile phones.
Using GOOG411, you can ask, for example, for "San Francisco, Peet's Coffee" and what you'll get is eight results that have nothing to do with your precise location. If you do a category search for "cafes" or "coffee houses" you can say an intersection or enter a zip to narrow the search. Once a business is identified, you can be connected or receive a text with the contact details. However, there are no directions.
Dial Directions can't get you to all the listings that GOOG411 can, but it does a couple of things that GOOG411 cannot. It can give you the closest (type of business, with limitations) or business name in relation to where you are and provide directions via SMS. You can provide an intersection or an individual address and get that information. However, the limited local database (currently) makes it less valuable that it would otherwise be. A San Francisco search for "Mexican Restaurants" near "First and Folsom" on Dial Directions yielded a bunch of chain locations but no independent restaurants. A similar category search on GOOG411 (with an intersection) will provide a broader array of choices. But, again, there are no directions.
Dial Directions has some impressive functionality and the speech recognition was very accurate in my informal test. Also the management is thinking very creatively and expansively about what's possible with voice search. Desai and his crew also recognize that a "multi-modal" solution is much stronger than a pure voice-in/voice-out approach.
AAA just released a mobile application (for Sprint). It requires a download and costs $9.99 per month. It offers directions, points of interest and AAA ratings and discounts. But for all the competition (already) in local mobile search it might be a nice service. My sense is that the AAA brand and value add isn't strong enough to drive acceptance of the $10 per mo. fee on top of the carrier data fees. Where/uLocate and InfoSpace FindIt! and Ask Mobile are all $2.99, I believe.
In addition, free services (voice, text, apps and WAP) are good enough -- and getting better -- and are broader and more usable than the AAA offering. Thus I think this will have very limited adoption. It makes good sense for AAA to get into the local mobile search game, as a travel resource. This is another "bite at the apple" after they largely blew it online.
But the service will need to be much better than it appears from the online demo and/or cheaper to get consumer adoption or attention. It should probably be offered for free on a trial basis to get people to adopt it before asking for any subscription fees. It could also potentially be a way to drive additional conventional memberships, but that doesn't appear to be something they've thought through.
Given its current approach and positioning, AAA is probably overestimating the strength of its brand among consumers.
M:Metrics released numbers on mobile social networking in the US and Europe. Here's their data:
The American audience for mobile social networking sites was the largest, with 7.5 million, or 3.5 percent, of mobile subscribers. Italy follows, with 1.3 million or 2.8 percent, then the UK with 1.1 million, or 2.5 percent, Spain with 751,000 (2.3 percent), Germany (1.9 percent) and France (1.7 percent). MySpace garnered the most mobile users in the United States and United Kingdom whereas MSN was the forum of choice for mobile Web 2.0 users in the other geographies surveyed.
MySpace and Facebook are the top two social networking sites accessed via mobile in both the U.S. and UK. MySpace attracts 3.7 million U.S. and 440,000 UK mobile users. In America, Facebook's mobile audience is about 2 million, and in Britain, about 307,000. Rounding out the top three is YouTube in the U.S., with 901,000 mobile visitors and Bebo in the UK, with 288,000.
We anticipate that mobile social networking functionality (to varying degrees) will be popular and mainstream and move beyond mobile versions of online social networking sites. It will be a layer of many mobile applications (contacts integration, presence awareness, etc.). Ask Mobile offers this and so does uLocate's Where and Loopt, among others. Indeed, mobile IM (if it becomes inter-operable and widely available) could also eat into text messaging usage over time.
Related: Facebook just released an iPhone application that is getting rave reviews.
Here's MediaPost's related article on the M:Metrics data.
Dan Miller and I were briefed yesterday on uLocate's Where mobile widget platform (the description doesn't really do it justice). The company is building relationships with operators/carriers and then extending itself to third parties as a development platform for mobile distribution. The recent ShopLocal mobile launch is an example. But there are many companies and brands that are already on the platform, which enables rapid development and deployment of a mobile capability. It effectively compresses to days what otherwise take more than a year of negotiation and development to create.
The carrier relationship provides "on deck" distribution (through Where) for the third parties and enables all widgets to benefit from GPS functionality. ZenZui has a similar strategy (as well as look and feel), but doesn't have the carrier relationships to extend GPS capability. uLocate currently has two U.S. carrier relationships (Sprint, Alltell) but expects to have a majority of North American carriers soon.
Right now the revenue model is a $2.99 monthly subscription (unlimited widgets) with an ad model anticipated in the not-too-distant future.
There are also very interesting social media elements to uLocate/Where, as well as a nice "drag and drop" desktop integration: widgets can be added to the mobile phone simply by dragging them on the site to an image of the user's phone after registration.
The value proposition (vs. traditional mobile search) is a better user experience with more structured information from favorite sites and brands. There's essentially no reason for sites and publishers not to develop on the Where platform which can be done in parallel with other mobile strategies (i.e., SMS, WAP, voice).
uLocate's CEO is Walt Doyle, who was formerly at MapQuest.
Newspaper publisher and TV station owner Gannett is rolling out local news oriented mobile sites for its 84 dailies and 19 (or 23) TV stations. It already has a mobile site for its flagship USA Today. MediaPost has more:
Users with handsets and data plans that allow for Internet browsing can access the sites for free by entering an 'm' before an existing Gannett site's URL (such as http://m.tennessean.com), via links from the home pages of all Gannet newspaper and broadcast Web sites, or by texting a unique daily short code to 59523. The short codes are being promoted through Gannett's print, online and broadcast news presentations.
The sites have traditional news and entertainment content with links to USAToday. The challenge will be broadening out the experience to meet user needs/demands for non-news local information, directions and so on. If they fail to do so they will have limited usage.