Local Search

SpotRank a Game-Changing Location Tool

Last week in my discussion with Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan he told me about today's launch of "SpotRank," the company's aggregated data about location and local activity, now being made available to third party developers. According to the company's release:

SpotRank data is based on hundreds of millions of anonymous location lookups processed daily through Skyhook’s Core Engine. This location platform powers positioning requests on tens of millions of devices and applications around the world. Skyhook continually mines this data to create detailed behavioral intelligence profiles for over half a billion 100 meter “spots” around the world. Providing brand new insight into the movement of crowds through out urban areas, these profiles are based on historical trends in location lookup volume and time of day.

Developers using SpotRank will be able to add surprising and game-changing new dimensions to their apps. Public transit or traffic apps could use SpotRanks to suggest new routes based on predicted traffic volume at a specific location. Music apps could suggest playlists based on activity in an area, with upbeat songs at peak hours. Social networking apps change up venue promotions based on the typical number of people in an area at a given time of day.

Skyhook's servers see 300 million location lookups every day. All of this data, captured anonymously, is now available for third parties to use and mash up in any way they see fit.

The applications and implications are many and varied. The most obvious of which is predicting crowds and movement, with traffic patterns being the first and most obvious. But equally one could imagine OpenTable or other restaurant apps using this to make recommendations about when retaurants are likely to be less crowded. Alternatively one could predict for example which days of the year a favorite amusement park, say Disneyland, was least crowded and make travel decisions accordingly.

Morgan and I discussed several hypothetical scenarios like this but he said he was frankly waiting for the creativity of developers to be unleashed on the data. It's interesting information with all sorts of practical (and potentially marketing) applications -- and it's all real, behavioral rather than predicted or modeled based on sampling.

I realize "game-changing" is something of a cliche and in fact it's used in the language of the release itself. But this is a massive new dataset to bring to mobile developers. Individual versions of this are also starting to appear in Foursquare's history for example. 

Verizon LiveSource Adds Enhanced Search to 411

Verizon's LiveSource DA service has added the ability to search by intersection, landmark and neighborhood to its capabilities. The database that enables this is from Call Genie. 

While this is a nice enhancement comparable capabilities have existed for some time on competing services. DA services in general face double-digit usage declines at the hands of smartphones and most DA providers are scrambling to answer the question: should we simply manage this business as a "cash cow" or compete aggressively with new features and capabilities?

A majority of the market still consists of non-smartphones and on these handsets there's still an opportunity to grow usage. 

Smartphone Owners Eager for Deals

Again and again survey data show that smartphone owners are especially interested in money saving deals and promotions. Compete's latest smartphone report simply confirms this.

Our previous survey data show that even larger numbers (43%) are interested in offers from local merchants. And there's data going back two years or more that show similar interest in deals and coupons in mobile.

The issue now is getting the coupon or deals inventory to people on those handsets. However that "infrastructure" is quickly evolving and developing.

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The other piece of public data released by Compete shows daily usage patterns among smartphone owners:

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Note that the concentration of smartphone usage is at home and during "downtime" or waiting, as well as during shopping. In short people are using these devices throughout the day. But these data suggest what people have been saying for quite some time that smartphone usage largely complements PC usage.

At some point dayparting will play a larger role in mobile advertising as more usage data become available and some "best practices" start to emerge.

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Related: Mobile buying site Groupon launches an iPhone app

Yell Offers Augmented Reality in iPhone App

Directory publisher Yell has added augmented reality (AR) to its iPhone app. Superpages' Android app also features augmented reality, as does Yelp, among others (Layar, Wikitude). While there are some use cases where the current incarnation of AR makes sense -- you're in front of a location and want reviews or additional information about the business -- it remains a novelty more than a feature that would be used on a daily basis.

Still it adds some "sizzle" to the yellow pages app. The Yell implementation looks like a thoughtful version of the current mode of AR.

Below is a video that shows a demonstration of the app in action:

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Related: Canada's Canpages also offers augmented reality

One Year Out, Foursquare Now at 500K Users

One of the hottest trends in location and mobility is local-social gaming: Foursquare, GoWalla and MyTown, with a couple of others not far behind. Accordingly, the most recent report I wrote for Internet2Go clients is "How ‘Geo-Social Gaming’ Is Changing Local Mobile Search":

It’s very tempting to dismiss “geo-social games” such as Foursquare, Gowalla and MyTown as fads. Yet doing so would diminish how these apps alter the culture of local mobile search and even location-based “advertising” in potentially significant ways. Recognizing the challenge, Google and Yelp have already responded. But other local media companies hoping to succeed in mobile may not clearly see the threat – or opportunity – in emulating, buying or partnering with these emerging players.

And here's the conclusion of that document:

Our view is that many of the features that have crystallized in geo-social gaming are likely here to stay:

--Check-ins/location sharing

--Real-time syndication of presence and location-based content on social networks (comments or tips about locations/business)

--Consumer competition over local deals tied to status (as both incentive and reward)

Media companies and publishers in the local segment must take a careful look at this emerging phenomenon and figure out how to smartly respond in one or more of the ways discussed above. They should not, however, dismiss it as a fad or something exclusively for college students or “geeks” and early adopters. That same type of bemusement and scorn were the prevailing attitudes that also greeted Twitter when it first launched. 

Here's Foursquare by the numbers on its first birthday, the eve of the SXSW conference/festival at which it launched last year:

Over 500,000 users 
Over 1,000,000 badges have been awarded
Over 1.4 million venues with 1200 offering specials
Over 15.5 million checkins

… and last Friday we had our biggest day ever, weighing in at 275,000 checkins over the course of the day.

MyTown has more users and GoWalla has raised more money, but Foursquare is squarely the one in the spotlight right now . . . perhaps until Facebook launches location sharing.

Google Bows "In-Stock Nearby" for Retailers

Google promised to bring local inventory data to online and mobile shopping and the company has started to roll the program out. According to a post on the Google Mobile Blog today:

if you're searching for a product that is sold by participating retailers, including Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, or West Elm, you can just look for the blue dots in the search results to see if it's available in a local store. If you see a blue dot, you can tap on the adjacent "In stock nearby" link, and you'll be taken to the seller's page where you'll see whether the item is "In Stock" or has "Limited Availability" near you. You'll also see how far away the stores are from you -- as long as you've enabled My Location or manually specified your location.

(Emphasis added)

It's big boxes and major retailers for now, but Google is inviting any and all retailers to participate. This is the "killer app" for Google Shopping, which has generally been a lackluster destination. 

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This is currently available only for mobile and on high end mobile devices, specifically iPhone, Palm and Android. It's also US only.

There are others that already do this in the marketplace, including Krillion and its various distribution partners, Milo.com, NearbyNow (although its model has changed) and Channel Intelligence (for a few retailers). It's very much a feature consumers want and will use so this is a smart move that will send Google's major competitors scrambling to match it. 

Update: I've spoken to Google about this and have a more detailed post at Search Engine Land. 

Target to Mainstream Mobile Coupons

Mobile couponing has been something of an exotic and unfamiliar beast to both retailers and consumers until fairly recently. However, now, just like American Idol mainstreamed (if I can use it as verb) text messaging for US users a couple of years ago, Target is potentially going to do the same for mobile couponing.

The company has launched what it calls the "first-ever scannable mobile coupon program." The announcement has been widely covered, but the release explains the mechanics of the program: 

Guests can opt-in to the program on their PC at Target.com/mobile, on their phone at m.target.com or by texting COUPONS to 827438 (TARGET). After opt-in, guests receive a text message with a link to a mobile Web page that contains multiple offers, all accessible through a single barcode. Offers are single use and expire on the date listed.

Issues with the POS and redemption, which have historically plagued mobile couponing (outside SMS), have reportedly been resolved with a technology upgrade that permits the retailer to scan barcodes at the register:

Target's point-of-sale scanning technology makes mobile coupons possible, and Target is the first major retailer with the ability to scan mobile barcodes in all of its stores. 

Retailers are on the vanguard of mobile marketing and finding success in early trials with advanced, as well as integrated, digital marketing approaches. Witness also Placecast's geofencing SMS marketing program with retailers. 

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Perhaps no other retailer, save Wal-Mart, has the kind of clout and visiblity to push mobile couponing quickly into the mainstream. Target it must also be said is not a mainstream retailer from a digital marketing perspective. The company has been very systematic and progressive in developing digital strategy, including mobile.

Where Launches 'Hyper-Local' Ad Network

uLocate, which operates popular mobile site/app Where, has launched WHERE Ads, which it's positioning as a new "hyper-local" ad network. Last week I spoke to Where marketing kingpin Dan Gilmartin about it.

Gilmartin told me this initiative grew out of the company's (and it's users') frustration with conventional mobile display advertising and third party networks that too often supplied ad inventory wasn't very relevant, he said. The company has thus created its own solution and is going to make it available to third parties. As part of that Where also distributes local ads from other networks and sites (e.g., CityGrid).

The ads are geographically and usually contextually relevant. They appear at the bottom of pages, fairly unobtrusively -- one might even argue almost too unobtrusively:

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The release says that "Click Through Rates (CTR) on WHERE Ads has exceeded other mobile ads by as much as three times." Gilmartin discussed this better performance during the trial period with me fairly extensively during our earlier call.

I'm narrowly avoiding the cliche that relevant ads are "content" when I say these ads don't appear to be "ads" because of their immediate relevance to the category and location. Although they're not contextually relevant all the time. (I don't recall if there's behavioral targeting going on however.)

The more relevant the ads the more consumers will respond; it's pretty simple.

The general challenge has been getting the LBS inventory to provide enough fill. Now, networks such as CityGrid, V-Enable and Where are providing more specific LBS ("hyper-local") ad inventory, beyond the more conventional geotargeted inventory from traditional mobile ad networks. 

Dan Gilmartin will be on my panel on LBS monetization at Where 2.0 on April 1. Also on the panel will be Google, Placecast, de Carta, and Citysearch

Survey: iPhone 'Addicting' for Some Students

A Stanford University anthropology professor conducted a survey of student iPhone owners (n=200), most of whom (70%) had owned the device for less than a year. Many of these student-repondents expressed the idea that the device had become indispensable to the point of "addiction" for some.

Here are the top-level findings: 

  • Nearly 85 percent of the iPhone owners used the phone as their watch
  • 89 percent used it as their alarm clock
  • 75 percent admitted to falling asleep with the iPhone in bed with them
  • 69 percent said they were more likely to forget their wallet than their iPhone when leaving in the morning
  • 74 percent said the iPhone also made them feel cool

Ranking the addition on a five point scale, "with five being addicted and one being not at all addicted":

  • 10 percent of the students acknowledged full addiction to the device
  • 34 percent ranked themselves as a four on the scale
  • 6 percent said they weren't addicted at all

And among those who didn't consider themselves completely addicted:

  • 32 percent expressed worry that they would become addicted someday.
  • 15 percent of those surveyed said the iPhone was turning them into a media addict
  • 30 percent called it a "doorway into the world"
  • 25 percent found the phone "dangerously alluring"
  • 41 percent said losing their iPhone would be "a tragedy"

Next up: iPhone Anonymous

AT&T Renews Big Mobile Campus Challenge

This is the second year that AT&T has run what it calls Big Mobile on Campus Challenge. Essentially students develop mobile apps and AT&T owns them.

The winner or winning team gets $10K. Runners up get $5K and devices of their choice. This is very smart because AT&T gets lots of free/cheap development for mobile apps by a very mobile-savvy population. The company gets good PR and the winning app(s) may actually be useful and capable of implementation.

 Here's video of last year's "Rover" local-mobile app winner:

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Google Should Integrate Latitude and Buzz

There's an article in eWeek that discusses the potential integration of Google's somewhat controversial Buzz service with the pre-existing Latitude friend finder:

[Google PM Steve] Lee said that while these features showed how Google is "pushing boundaries in terms of sharing location," they are hardly the last stop for innovation with Latitude. "We're still investing in Latitude and we think it's extremely important. You'll see more and more great stuff around Latitude."

"Down the road, there might be points of integration between Buzz and Latitude, but they are separate products and have different use cases." Lee declined to provide specifics, but noted, "we're thinking of what apps we can build that have certain compelling use cases and how can location enhance those apps."

Google now has many location-oriented "point solutions" (Buzz for mobile, Local for mobile Web, Maps & Street View, Navigation, Latitude, etc.). As Lee says Buzz and Latitude are different offerings with different use cases; however the company should find a way to combine them into one or at least cross-pollinate them.

I imagine that Google's view is that these are effectively all "layers" within Google Maps and so they are integrated in a sense. I would also imagine -- though Google won't share specific numbers -- that Latitude has lost some momentum to newer rivals in the market: Foursquare, et al. Indeed, Yelp, Foursquare and the other location-aware mobile offerings have both a way to notify friends of your location and also see what others have said about the particular location or business. 

Google also now owns Aardvark, which offers a real-time advice or recommendations channel and has a very heavy local or real-world dimension. How the company will integrate that (or not) into these other layers remains to be seen.

Google has a kind of embarrassment of local riches but it needs to bring more of these capabilities together in an elegant and useful way. 

Mobile Becoming Focus for Social Networking

According to data released by comScore, 30% of US smartphone users access social media sites via mobile browser (they're not counting access via apps in the data). Facebook says it has 100 million are "active" mobile users around the globe. That number is destined to grow, as is the number of mobile Twitter users. 

Here's the top-level comScore data:

In January 2010, 11.1 percent of all mobile phone users accessed a social networking site via mobile browser, an increase of 4.6 percentage points from the previous year. Much of this growth has been driven by smartphone owners, 30.8 percent of whom accessed social networking sites on their mobile browsers, up more than 8 percentage points on the year. By comparison, just 6.8 percent of feature phone users accessed social networking sites on their mobile phones.

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Here's Nielsen's parallel demographic view of US mobile social networking (in the aggregate):

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Note that the female audience is larger and that older users comprise more of the mobile social network user base. The largest single group is over 35 (probably owing to the economics of mobile data plans). However what's very clear is that mobile devices are becoming a primary tool for social media access and status updates for ever larger numbers of people. 

AT&T Subs Yahoo! Search on Android BackFlip

AT&T's first Android phone will be the Backflip, made by Motorola. It's basically a CLIQ, with a few tweaks.

The interesting twist is that the carrier is making partner Yahoo! the default search provider on the handset and not Google. This appears to be a first, certainly in the US. There's apparently also discussion that some of the native Google apps (e.g., GMail) could be stripped out as well. 

This type of substitution was certainly contemplated for Android. The thing is it hasn't happened in the market until now. Will others (OEMs, carriers) see this and make a similar move? AT&T and Google are intense rivals over net neutrality. And Google is creeping into AT&T's turf as an ISP with its "dark fiber" broadband "experiment." 

How Broad Is Google's Location Patent?

VentureBeat surfaced a patent that Google was awarded last week: "Determining and/or using location information in an ad system." The original application was filed in early 2004. The patent appears to cover using location as a primary factor in determining the relevancy of advertising served.

It's not specific to the PC or mobile and would presumably cover both areas. My non-technical reading of the patent suggests that this covers ranking ads based on the location of the user and/or proximity of the user to the desired object/site/product. 

Here's some of the mind-numbing discussion in the application itself:

Different geolocation information may have different scope, and some geolocation information may contain other geolocation information. Generally, for purposes of determining ad relevancy, a match of more specific geolocation information (e.g., town) may be weighted more heavily than a match of less specific geolocation information (e.g., country). Generally, for purposes of ad scoring, the most specific geolocation price and/or performance information that matches will be used. That is, if an ad has price and performance information for both San Diego and California, if the request geolocation information indicates an end user in San Diego, the San Diego price and performance information will be used. If on the other hand, the request geolocation information indicates an end user in Sacramento, the California price and performance information will be used. If the request geolocation information indicates an end user in Omaha, Nebr., neither will be used.

There are many different ways to score ads. Some examples include (a) using a distance between a presence of the advertiser and the end user, (b) using a local availability of an item sought by the end user, (c) using an advertiser attributes (e.g. a location of the advertiser's closest retail outlet), etc. Ads can be ordered and/or priced using language criteria (e.g., query/display language, information derived about user or advertiser's language such as location of user in Japantown).

Although some examples above used geolocation information as a current location of the user, the geolocation information may be a location that the user is interested in. For example, if a search query includes a zip code, it may be inferred that the user is interested in a location defined by the zip code, or located within in the zip code. If the search query includes a city name, region name, and/or a state name, it may be inferred that the user is interested in a location defined by such a name(s). Thus, for example, a user may be interested in an area which may be the same as, or different from, the current area of the user. The targeting, scoring, content, and/or performance tracking of ads may be affected using a location of interest. 

There are a number of location-oriented patents that have been awarded online for consumer search and in mobile. Companies such as Microsoft, Geomas (patent troll), Local.com and JumpTap, among a couple others, all hold local or local-mobile patents of one sort or another. One day some of these folks will be compelled to duke it out in court to determine whose patents trump the others. 

This one is quite broad however. 

Report: Facebook Looking at Loopt

Loopt has been scrambling to reinvent itself and gain traction -- despite its longevity in LBS -- in order to not be made totally irrelevant by more visible competitors: Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare and mobile couponers. While it's still possible that Loopt would find the right mix of offerings or the right formula to succeed as an independent company that train has probably left the station.

TechCrunch, which loves to report rumors and tech gossip that also often turn out to be correct, is saying that Facebook is doing due diligence on Loopt. Facebook is the dominant mobile social network and a general force to be reckoned with. I recently speculated that it was only a matter of time before the company became a mobile ad network or platform. 

I had previously predicted that Facebook would buy Foursquare but that looks less likely now because of Foursquare's deals with large media companies. It still could happen. But if Facebook were to buy Loopt what exactly would it be buying? It would be potentially getting some mobile development expertise and some technolgy as well as some carrier relationships (but it already has those). 

It wouldn't be getting and doesn't need mobile users, with 100 million active mobile users of the site. Thus the price is likely to be a big sticking point. Loopt has raised just under $20 million. Loopt's investors will likely want something approaching or exceeding $100 million. My guess is that what Facebook gets from Loopt won't be valued at that level. We'll see. 

Loopt will ultimately have to sell itself because I think its time has come and gone. I could always be wrong of course. 

Opera: Google Owns Mobile Search

According to the latest State of the Mobile Web report from Opera, Google enjoys mobile search dominance in numbers generally consistent with its lead and share on the PC Internet. Yahoo!, however, is stronger in mobile than it is on the PC. Bing has a tiny presence by comparison.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these data are drawn from Opera Mini users and don't capture the iPhone and most activity on the other smartphone platforms. However I can tell you that directionally it's the same on most smartphone platforms.

Below are the customary data from Opera on top sites and handsets. The search share data are at the bottom. The full report is available here.

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Opera has developed a version of its mobile browser for the iPhone and will be submitting it for approval shortly. It was demonstrated at 3GSM in Barcelona and received rave reviews. Apple will have a potential anti-trust issue in the US and Europe on its hands if it declines to allow third party browsers on the device. 

Placecast Launches Geo-SMS 'ShopAlerts'

Placecast was recently featured in a piece in the NY Times about "geo-fencing" and retailer The North Face. The company was using Placecast's system to send SMS alerts and marketing messages to users (already opted-in) who were within a certain proximity to a North Face retail outlet.

Today the company is broadly announcing the availability of this capability, which has been in trials with a number of US retailers:

Placecast's ShopAlerts service is a retailer marketing solution. Retailers leverage the technology to create their own version of the service; then consumers choose the brands they love, and may opt-in through many ways - at the store, online, via text-message, mobile website, or social network (like Facebook). Once ShopAlerts is activated, consumers go about their day and the service automatically alerts them when they are near a location that they are interested in or when the brand is offering sales and specials.

Unlike many new mobile advertising innovations available only as applications on smartphones, ShopAlerts works on any phone, which is a benefit for retailers who wish to reach the 196 million Americans who do not own smartphones but are interested in such shopping deals . . .

Four retailers are on board at launch: SONIC, American Eagle Outfitters, and REI. Here's a video that explains and demonstrates the service: 

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This is the "Starbucks coupon" scenario that people have been talking about for years. The difference here is that people opt-in to receive these alerts so they're not mysterious spam. But they are transmitted when you're within a certain distance from a store. As a result they're relevant in at least two ways:

  • These alerts represent content (deals/offers) that people are interested in -- they opt-in so response will be much higher
  • They're locally relevant because you're within a reasonable distance (that can vary) from a store 

This is location-based marketing but it's not "advertising" in the sense that nobody's bought an ad placement on a network or website. This is the blind spot in most of the mobile ad forecasts out there. SMS and direct marketing services delivered to your phone are often not considered in the major mobile ad forecasts in the market. However this will be a huge area for both retailers and other local businesses as well as consumers.

Placecast conducted a survey among consumers who participated in the ShopAlerts trials and found the following:

  • 60% of participants found the location-triggered messages to be cool & innovative
  • 79% said it increased their likelihood to visit a store
  • 65% made a purchase as a result of a ShopAlerts message
  • 73% of participants would definitely or probably use the service in the future

Profile of North Face Local-Mobile Ad Campaign

The New York Times offers a really interesting piece about how the outdoor equipment retailer North Face intends to use proximity based marketing (via SMS) or "geo-fencing" to promote sales and products to consumers within a particular neighborhood area.

According to the story in the Times:

For now, the North Face will send texts about promotions, like a free water bottle with a purchase, and new arrivals, because the company’s gear is heavily seasonal. A text message would say, for example, “TNF: The new spring running apparel has hit the stores! Check it out @ TNF Downtown Seattle.”

1020 Placecast is the platform/enabler behind the campaign: 

Placecast created 1,000 geo-fences in and around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, cities where the North Face has many stores and areas that get a lot of snow or rain, so the company can tailor its messages to the weather. In urban areas, the fences are up to half a mile around stores, and in suburban areas they are up to a mile around stores.

The North Face campaign is an opt-in SMS campaign, which are relatively common today. The novel element is the fact that location will trigger delivery of the message when people enter one of the zones that Placecast has set up. 

These types of campaigns will be highly successful by their nature: people have opted-in and the highly local aspect will very likely drive people into stores. Placecast has an even more sophisticated notion of how to combine geography, demographics, context and time of day. But as you do more targeting you narrow your audience -- greater precision and response but smaller reach. 

Mobile marketing and advertising is a potentially much more precise and specific instrument than online (from a push standpoint). It will be very interesting to see how this campaign turns out (if North Face will allow Placecast to share that with the world). 

How Long Before FB Is a Mobile Ad Network?

There's a nice summary (and video) of Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya's speech at the Mobile World Congress (via TechCrunch) in which he discusses Facebook mobile growth and engagement and makes a pitch to work with carriers. Facebook says it already has relationships with 200 carriers globally (compare to Yahoo, which says it works with roughly 80 but with the potential reach of 800 million).

Here are some quick facts from the talk:

 Palihapitiya pitched carriers on the idea that Facebook would help them grow data revenues. 

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Facebook's mobile usage and growth are nothing short of amazing. But let's talk about what may be coming sooner rather than later: Facebook as a mobile ad network and one that offers location (and potentially demographics) as part of that proposition. 

There are currently no ads on Facebook's apps, mobile websites or SMS. I would almost bet my life that's going to change in the near-to-medium term. Facebook will be clever and careful about integrating advertising into mobile, mindful of the potential to alienate mobile users. However the mobile ad opportunity may be at least as big for Facebook as it is on the PC. 

Facebook is about to make $1 billion in ads on the PC; however neither I nor anyone I know pays attention to and/or clicks on them. However I do hear from marketers anecdotally that Facebook ad targeting does work. But offers and mobile advertising from SMBs and brands tied to location is a potentially huge opportunity for the company. 

I think it's just a matter of time before we see Facebook start to roll out an offering. And, on arrival, the company would be as large or larger than any existing mobile ad network. 

Loopt Still Struggling to Find Identity

Loopt, an early friend finder and mobile social network, has been totally eclipsed by Facebook in the latter category and is suffering at the hands of fast-growing local social gaming newcomers, FourSquare, GoWalla and MyTown, as a friend finder.

Recognizing its inevitable defeat as a pure social network it next tried to become Yelp. But Pelago's Whrrl already tried and failed at that. Yelp is doing a great job of being Yelp in mobile. 

Seeking other, alternative ways to gain traction Loopt introduced Loopt Mix (dating) and Pulse (feed aggregation + recommendations). Loopt is on all major carriers but the company is still suffering an identity crisis and trying to find its way as the market shifts quickly around it. 

Loopt recently did a deal with couponer Mobile Spinach. And now it's done a deal with food and wine email publisher Tasting Table to add high-end "foodie" content to Loopt. I'm afraid this isn't going to help much either.