Local Search

Public Transit Generating More Engagement with Foursquare

In October of 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) partnered with Foursquare to promote public transit use:

Bay Area Rapid Transit has become the first transit agency to partner with the location-based mobile network Foursquare, with the goal of encouraging public transit use. . . .

"A lot of BART riders are already having fun with this game," said Timothy Moore, BART website manager. "We hope this partnership will encourage them to check out different stations and neighborhoods, and will show people who aren't already BART riders some of the great things to do that are easy to get to on transit."

The agency released the results of a consumer survey (1/10 - 3/10, n=446) conducted earlier this year. It appears to be creating more "fun" and engagement around public transportation for the riders using Foursquare:

  • 23% percent of respondents . . . said they had earned a BART frequent rider badge; 7% said they had become "mayor" of a BART station.
  • 38% of respondents said "it's more fun to ride BART" as a Foursquare user
  • 17% said they had used Foursquare to connect with friends on the train or at the station
  • 43% had used Foursquare to recommend a destination near BART in the past three months
  • 19% had used BART because of a Foursquare recommendation

Finally:

Nearly a third of respondents said they typically ride BART five days per week; a third also said they check in regularly on Foursquare at BART stations. Fourteen percent said they're riding BART more often because of their interaction with Foursquare.

So the experiment and unlikely partnership appears to be a success. With more riders, hopefully BART can hold off the relentless fare increases. 

New Look for Google Mobile Results

Google has updated the look of its UI on the PC, with new search options. There's also been a corresponding change in mobile. It makes search options/filters more prominent and easier to access. They're also more colorful. According to the Google Mobile Blog:

When you go to Google.com in the US on your iPhone or Android-powered device, and enter a search, you can now tap on the button to the left of the search box on the results page to see a new search options menu. Then, selecting any item in the menu will refine your search. For example, if you are looking for recent results for "Mother's day gift", simply tap the "Past week" option.

Here are a couple of screens I just pulled on a search for "camera." On the left is the default view. The right shows the new, more colorful search options, which you can access by tapping the ">>" icon to the left of the search box:

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Not all the same tools and filters appear to be available in mobile as online. You can, in my example, find local stores that carry cameras and currently have them in stock (at least via big boxes). In order to do so, you need to select "products" and then the "in stock nearby" link associated with particular, desired item in Google Shopping. 

There was reportedly also supposed to be a "reviews" filter, which would be very useful on the go. But that isn't in this version of the rollout. 

AR Browser Maker Launches 'Paid Layer'

Netherlands-based Layar has launched an "app store" of its own -- a "paid layer" on Layar. The augmented reality (AR) browser says it has 1.6 million users. In a bid for more usage and a business model, the company has announced that it will offer users the ability to unlock paid apps or content that can then be viewed within the AR browser environment:

The Layar Payment Platform is setup to support multiple payment providers and multiple currencies, ready to serve the different local markets. Layar deals with legal, administrative and tax rules enabling the publisher to focus on their core activities: creating valuable experiences. The first payment provider is PayPal, supporting payments to residents of United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. More countries, currencies, payment methods and payment providers will be added regularly . . .

The first publishers to seize the opportunity include among others:

Berlitz City Guides: Berlitz helps people experience the city’s highlights: the best attractions, coziest restaurants, most comfortable hotels, coolest places to shop and most fashionable nightlife.
Mouse Reality for Disney World and Disneyland: Helps find and navigate all attractions, shows, shops, dinning, transportation, and more in Disneyland and Disney World.
EyeTour: Explore Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage through exclusive video content of historical sites, museums, restaurants, parks and more.
UK sold prices: ‘Sold House Price Data 2010′ – Check the latest UK residential Sold Price information as recorded by the Land Registry while on the move.

Here are a couple of screens from the Berlitz city guide app within an app:

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This makes great sense for the company and may help it offer something different vs. competitor Wikitude and eventual competitor Google (Goggles). The challenge here is to have high quality, unique and/or branded content that is not readily available otherwise. Otherwise, free content and local information on other apps will prevent this from really taking off.

AR will have a future as a quick way to get access to more information or content about a place, product, person or object (e.g., a painting or building in front of me) vs. keying in or speaking a query. But today it remains mostly a novelty and not a daily utility. 

Six Months Later Apple Buys Siri

That was fast. After launching its iPhone app late last year, barely six months ago, and raising approximately $24 million in funding word now comes that Siri has been acquired by Apple. Siri is an "artificial intelligence" platform that manages speech and text input and connects "natural language" requests to actions such as buying movie tickets, getting taxis or making restaurant reservations.

The Siri technology comes out of SRI with funding from DARPA and exists “in the middle,” between the speech recognition and the back end, tied to the third party APIs. There’s a very sophisticated “engine” and algorithm there that enables the service to understand queries and commands such as:

  • “What’s going on for kids this weekend?”
  • “Get tickets for 2 to Avatar in 3D IMAX  tonight”
  • “Remember to contact Jay tomorrow about coffee”
  • “I need a cab”

It seeks to move beyond "search results" to their ultimate objective: getting some task accomplished. Indeed in some respects it is/was the ultimate local-mobile application. Now Apple owns it.

In the growing myopia of "Google vs. Apple" coverage people can only see the acquisition as part of some larger "war" between the two companies or an effort to block or thwart the other. However, Siri's technology independently could well have broad application to the iPhone and iPad regardless of the existence of Google or its mobile ambitions. But it doesn't hurt in that horse race either.

Dan Miller has some insightful thoughts and perspective in his post

Google Mobilizes Place Pages

Place Pages is a cornerstone of Google's stepped up local strategy. As part of that the company has now created a mobile-friendly version of Place Pages.

These information-rich pages are conceived partly as consumer-facing information but also as complete website alternatives for local businesses. Toward that latter objective Google provides analytics and various promotional tools on those pages, including coupons. The company is trying to encourage SMBs to utilize Place Pages as promotional and CRM platforms:

Holding a special event today? Want to post a coupon for 5-7pm tonight? Have a new product in stock? You can now get the word out by posting to your Place Page directly from your Local Business Center dashboard. Once you've logged in and are on your business' dashboard, post an update and it will go live on your Place Page in just a few minutes . . .

Here's a "triptych" of a new mobile-optimized Place Page: 

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Here's a video demo of the new Place Pages:

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YPMobile Gets Voice Search

AT&T Interactive has added voice search to its YPMobile app. The speech technology comes out of AT&T Interactive labs, which previously released the quasi-experimental "Speak4It" local search app.

In my brief testing this morning I found the app does well with traditional business name and category queries. There were no mistakes. But it doesn't do well with "semantic" queries such as "What's going on this weekend for kids?" That sort of search is the specialty of "personal assistant" Siri, which does a good job with unstructured queries. 

In fairness to the YP Mobile app, most people have been trained to use voice search to do a version of directory assistance-style lookups. And for those it will do fine. There are now at least 10 voice search-driven local apps in the iTunes app store from Nuance, Google, Vlingo, Microsoft, AT&T and others.  

Voice search will at some point be a mandatory part of any local-mobile search tool. 

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I also expect that at some point AT&T will offer a Buzz.com mobile app. It would be intriguing and useful if voice were integrated into that hypothetical app.

Motorola Replaces Google Location with Skyhook on Android Handsets

Like other folks this morning I received a press release from Skyhook Wireless PR that said Motorola was replacing Google's core location services with those from Skyhook Wireless:

Skyhook Wireless, the worldwide leader in location positioning, context and intelligence, today announced that Motorola, Inc. will deploy its Core Location across much of the company’s portfolio of Android-based mobile devices.  Skyhook-enabled Motorola smartphones, which will begin shipping later this year, will have the ability to better support a new wave of location-aware applications by leveraging Skyhook’s precise, reliable, and fast-performing location engine.

Reportedly some Android developers are not entirely satisfied with Google's accuracy. In my casual observation and usage I've never found Google location positioning to be incorrect or bad. But I'm not a developer. Let's assume that greater accuracy is what Skyhook can offer Motorola. 

I don't know whether or how this will affect Google services like Navigation on future Motorola phones. That's an interesting question for another more technically inclined person to answer. Reportedly it won't affect Android developers.

This would appear to me, however, to be another statement of independence from Motorola vis-a-vis Google in relation to Android. I infer from this as well as other moves that Motorola wants to prevent its brand and handsets from being totally subordinated to Google or becoming simply a vehicle for Google-branded services. 

I've reached out to Motorola for comment about the rationale. I may not get a response but I would imagine if I do it would focus on Skyhook's accuracy or the quality of the service rather than say anything inflammatory or controversial. 

A Bidding War for Foursquare?

Foursquare is a little over a year old and it seems that it is now looking at $100 million buyout offers from a range of players that are rumored to include Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook. I had long ago predicted that Facebook would buy Foursquare, but Facebook probably doesn't have to if it does location right.

Facebook was also rumored to be looking at Loopt, which is now the equivalent of the Palm of LBS services.

We previously wrote "How ‘Geo-Social Gaming’ Is Changing Local Mobile Search," and Foursquare is the most visible of the companies in the segment. Foursquare would be a tremendous asset to Yahoo or Microsoft, but would they be able to keep its momentum going? That's not clear. Large companies that buy startups often sap the vitality of those smaller companies over time.

It would probably be a different matter at Facebook. But, as I said, Facebook likely doesn't "need" Foursquare, especially if its Open Graph strategy succeeds; it will have more valuable local information than any other player in the market. It could then do a wide range of things with that data. 

Foursquare has recently started paying more attention to the (small) business side of its services. But winning in the SMB market is a tough, long-term slog. It also has a number of high profile deals with cable TV companies and publishers. Those are more promising in terms of near-term and maybe even long-term revenue. 

But the temptation for CEO/co-founder Dennis Crowley is to take the money and run vs. try and build Foursquare into a sustainable business. I can tell you that if I were him I would probably take the money.

Yelp declined to be bought out by Google and instead took a $100 million round of financing. Yelp told me that will partly fuel international growth and engineering hires but a large chunk of that will be devoted to salespeople, needed to obtain ad revenues from SMBs.

If Foursquare continues on as an independent entity it will be going up against that very same Yelp, yellow pages, Google, (maybe Twitter), newspapers and eventually Facebook, among numerous others. Just getting SMB attention is a big challenge, let alone selling anything to them. 

While it's tempting to argue "we don't know how big Foursquare could get" and take a big round, I would bet there will be an acquisition.

MMA: LBS Ads Perform Better

The Mobile Marketing Association has released some pretty compelling survey data about location-based services and advertising. The survey was conducted among 1,071 US adults in March; 91% of the survey sample had a mobile phone. Here are some of the top-level findings (nearly verbatim):

  • 26 percent of mobile phone owners have used a “map, navigation or some other mobile phone service that automatically determines your current location.”
  • 48 percent of those who noticed any ads while using location-based services took at least some action. This was a significantly higher rate than for those who noticed advertisements while sending/receiving text messages (37 percent) and almost twice the rate of those who saw an ad while browsing Web sites (28 percent).
  • 10 percent of the cell phone owners surveyed use mobile location services at least once a week; yet 63 percent of Apple iPhone owners use location services at least once a week. Adults ages 25-34 are frequent users of location services, with 22 percent using them at least once a week.
  • Respondents said they use these services most frequently to “locate nearby points of interest, shops or services.”
  • Consumers are interested in allowing their phone to automatically share their location in exchange for perks, such as free use of mobile applications and mobile coupons.

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(Emphasis is mine.)

As the iPhone user numbers point out, smartphone owners are much heavier users of these services. In a 2009 AOL survey, for example, 73% of smartphone owners were users of maps and directions. The new datapoints are the following:

  • Frequency of LBS usage
  • 48% response rates (qualified) but higher than other ad categories (this is also mirrored in a way by the Placecast ShopAlerts data)
  • Openness to sharing location when it turns into tangible benefits/rewards (e.g., coupons/alerts/promotions)

LocalAdXchange: 80% Fill, 10% CTR

At the AD:TECH conference earlier this week I was able to sit down briefly with LocalAdXchange's Craig Hagopian. The company was formerly V-Enable and in the mobile directory assistance business. But the recession and some other now fortuitous circumstances forced the business to change its model and the company is now a profitable local ads provider.

It doesn't sell ads directly; rather it sits between ad sales on the one side and distribution on the other. It also seeks to optimize ads for maximum performance and CPMs to publisher partners and scores all adds accordingly. 

Its partners include SuperMedia, AT&T Interactive, 4Info, JumpTap, Multiplied Media and a number of others. LocalAdXchange does a few things outside of mobile but it's predominantly a mobile network. Other local-mobile ad networks include Where, CityGrid, LSN and Google of course. Most mobile ad networks serve geotargeted inventory but don't specialize in this area or have the capacity to provide high levels of fill with quality local ad inventory. CityGrid is an exception to that generalization and also operates on the PC side. 

Hagopian told me LocalAdXchange can provide 80% fill rates and sees roughly 10% CTRs on ads. Of those ads that consumers respond to, roughly half generate a phone call, according to Hagopian. LocalAdXchange serves both PPC and PPCall ads to its partners. 

Many studies and surveys now have established the appeal and greater efficiacy of LBS advertising on mobile devices vs. other ad categories.

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Correction: LocalAdXchange does have direct advertiser relationships, though most ads come through partners. 

YPG Launches 'Urbanizer' Restaurant App

Yellow Pages Group yesterday introduced a nouveau iPhone app called "Urbanizer." It's highly social, focused solely on restaurants and very nicely designed. Yellow pages branding is almost non-existent. The app is intended to appeal to a young, urban demographic that might not associate the yellow pages with "cool" restaurants and entertainment.

The app incorporates data from YPG's CanadaPlus cityguide as well as recent acquisition Restaurantica. It utilizes Facebook Connect to build the social graph into the app as well as to broadcast information back through the Facebook news feed. One of the novel dimensions of the app is the ability to make restaurant choices by "mood." According to the press release:

With Urbanizer, urbanites can now discover local places by telling the app what they are in the mood for. For example, users can choose from a selection of pre-defined moods such as "romantic dinner" and "hipster snack" or use Urbanizer's equalizer function to create a custom mood based on combinations of cuisine, ambiance and service categories.

Urbanizer also enables users to tag places by "mood" and shows a "mood map" (vs. a heatmap) of the various cities it covers in Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Here are some screens from the app:

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Yellow Pages Group has recently been making very interesting moves in buying a number of online verticals and diversifying its sources of traffic. Like AT&T's Buzz.com (which has a mobile component at m.buzz.com) Urbanizer represents an effort to reach into new demographic segments and build vertical sites/apps that offer both targeted traffic and leads to advertisers but also offer new user experiences to consumers. 

JumpTap: New Consumer Ad Personalization Dashboard, More Rich Media & Another Patent

A slew of announcements came out of JumpTap over the past 24 hours. The most interesting and important of those is the introduction of a consumer dashboard that enables users to manage ad-category settings, much like the Google and Yahoo! online privacy and ad management dashboards. JumpTap CMO Paran Johar told me yesterday that no one else in mobile has done something like this. And he's correct.

Here's how the press release describes it:

The new feature -- scheduled for release mid-year -- is an industry first, advancing Jumptap's lead in providing superior performing advertising solutions powered by "consumer intelligence."  It also signals a mobile advertising market shift, away from an increasingly siloed world of competing mobile advertising platforms to a single, open platform with the consumer in control.  

Rather than a privacy dashboard it's more of an ad personalization dashboard that allows consumers to indicate interests (or a lack thereof) in a menu of different ad categories. They can also entirely opt-out or turn it off, though they will still see ads. This isn't opting out of mobile advertising. It simply turns the additional personalization off. I told Johar that JumpTap will need to make that clear to people. 

It's a novel and potentially important approach that mirrors what's going on online, as ad networks and the IAB try to get out in front of potential privacy regulation. This could well be the start of an industry wide effort to adopt a unified approach to ad targeting and disclosure across platforms -- or at least a mobile-wide parallel approach.

Consumers want and respond to "relevant" ads and giving them some measure of control over what ads they see is beneficial for both them and for marketers. The challenge with such a system is getting people to engage with it. But if people understand what it means and how it works they likely will. 

Anything that makes mobile advertising more "opt-in" will improve response rates and overall satisfaction. The new dashboard will be available in the next couple of months. 

The company also announced a new "Unified Rich Media Ad Platform" that delivers a wide range of rich media ad units. Simultaneously JumpTap said that it received its sixth mobile advertising patent. It now has an impressive and broad patent portfolio, which adds to takeover appeal. 

Borrell: Mobile Marketing $57B by 2014

Borrell Associates put out its mobile ad forecast, which seeks to be comprehensive. The forecast includes mobile "advertising" and all forms of what the firm calls "mobile promotions," which include coupons, SMS and other spending that doesn't involve actually buying ad inventory in a traditional sense.

The report is highly bullish and the numbers are massive:

Last year online marketing captured about $44 billion in spending; mobile marketing reached $2.7 billion. We expect total online marketing to grow at about 13 percent compounded annually, to around $80 billion by 2014. Mobile, by contrast, will grow at 84 percent per year and hit $57 billion by then.

A subcategory of mobile marketing is mobile advertising – and local is where the action is. We foresee “local” growing at an unusually brisk pace – doubling every year for the next three. Local mobile advertising totaled $285 million in 2009; we’re expecting it to double this year to $586 million, then spike upward to $11.3 Billion by 2014.

Here are a couple of charts that illustrate the forecasts and the growth they envision in the mobile market: 

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Borrell is right to try and capture this broader universe of mobile spending because SMS, couponing and other mobile marketing will comprise a big chunk of the pie. However these numbers are really really big and the timeframe is aggressive. They're also US only figures and estimates.

I would potentially also quibble with the "national' vs. "local" distinction because many companies that are "national" will be sending mobile users into local outlets, stores and dealers. However it refers to the interest and category of the advertisers, not the "location" of the eventual consumer spending or action in response to the ad or offer. 

Indeed, many otherwise "national" campaigns will include a local component (e.g., find a dealer, find a store) to make them more "actionable." Fewer ads on mobile devices will be pure awareness campaigns, although there will be some of that. 

Most companies in the mobile space will welcome these aggressive numbers as validation of the mobile opportunity and fodder for their pitches to the market. Expect to see these data in a great many slide decks in the future. 

Nokia Buys 'Geo-Intelligence' Firm MetaCarta

Nokia has acquired MetaCarta, a company that can take unstructured data about location and organize and make sense out of it. MetaCarta's main client was the US Department of Defense. The company has the capacity to comb/search through massive amounts of data and "understand" and organize it by location.

One of the company's "civilian" efforts was a project called news maps in which news stories were associated with particular locations. The company worked with the BBC and Reuters, among others. There were also more ambitious plans analogous to Google's Place Pages in the works. However the company's resources will now be shifted to Nokia's efforts to build better "local search" and geo-intelligence. 

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Nokia already owns Navteq and has made navigation free, following Google Navigation. I suspect the company doesn't know precisely how it will use MetaCarta's technology but sees several applications and implementations associated with organizing content by location. In its release Nokia made the relatively broad statement, "MetaCarta's technology will be used in the area of local search in Location and other services."

The irony here is that all the location platforms and APIs coming out make it possible to tag most user-generated content (UGC) with location information relatively easily, which creates structure around it. So MetaCarta's core competency may be less important over time.

Arguably associating UGC with location won't be the problem going forward. The bigger challenge will be fltering meaningful from "noisy" information in all that location-tagged content. 

Get Me to a Walmart with a Side of Pizza

There is nothing more local than GPS. Last month GPS navigation provider/platform TeleNav released data gathered in December, 2009 about the top US searches and business categories that people were seeking using the network of mobile and PND units powered by TeleNav. The lists are disappointingly mundane, mainstream and even predictable.

Here are some of the top-level data that TeleNav released:

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With Walmart as the top destination (haven't you been there already?) and pizza (what again?) as the top food category searched, it's no wonder the US is a nation of obese people. At least I didn't say "stupid, fat people."

Skyhook Enables Any App to Become 'Local' (and More Social)

Skyhook Wireless this morning announced a new developer SDK that enables anyone to add location to their content and apps. According to Skyhook there are roughly 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. Since its business is about location and local is the "heart of mobile," the company wants to further enable developers to add location in a painless way.

Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan also makes an interesting argument that location is a kind of "gateway to community." Morgan believes that learning about what people around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes abstract ideas and content such as news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance or experience that can enable people to discover and connect with one another. 

To that end Shyhook has created a "Local Favs" SDK. According to the press release: 

Local Faves helps developers create engaging communities within apps, driving user loyalty and more opportunities for monetization. In a Local Faves-enabled iPhone wine app, users could check-in to a restaurant via the wine they’re drinking, giving the wine app developer the opportunity to directly broadcast user location. Local Faves features fully customizable content tagging, allowing users to indicate that that they loved, hated,  ‘favorited’, saw, or read a piece of content within an app, and enables sharing of this content, and exactly where it was experienced, via Facebook and Twitter.

Morgan demo'd the functionality with a dummy app the company had created around drinks. They took the Esquire drinks database and created a very slick iPhone app around it. The idea is that users identify where they consumed, say, a Pina Colada or a Cosmopolitan or Sex on the Beach, etc. The location is captured and can be shared socially: I'm in Manhattan and just had a Martini . . .

Over time, you'd get a sense of the favorite alcoholic beverages in different areas of the country: Boston likes Scotch while Oregonians like beer -- hypothetically. 

Skyhook's SDK provides all the pages and functionality, making it very easy for developers to plug in these local and social features. Because of that and the fact that it's all free, it's a missed opportunity not to use this. 

Quora: A New Q&A Engine Emerges

Social search/answer engine Aardvark was recently acquired by Google for $50 million. Now former Facebook employees have created a very similar new service, Quora, that very much resembles Aardvark and to a lesser degree competitors kgb and ChaCha, which recently launched a Facebook site/service.  

Quora offers users the ability to specify areas and topics of interest and expertise, and ask the community open-ended questions on any subject. There are some other novel features, such as the ability to follow topics, specific questions and people. It also reminds me a little bit of LinkedIn Q&A.

Quora has reportedly raised $11 million in funding. 

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AOL Adds Voice to MapQuest4Mobile

AOL's MapQuest has added voice support to its MapQuest4Mobile iPhone app, which is free. It offers basic turn-by-turn voice prompts. In addition to Google Navigation and the now-free Ovi Maps with directions, this marks another nail in the coffin of paid-GPS devices and services. 

According to the updated features listed on the iTunes site:

  • Voice-Guidance speaks to you and informs you of upcoming turns. Change the settings if you prefer a sound prompt.
  • Off-Route Assistance tells you when you've taken a wrong turn, and gives options to help you get back on track.

Because Google Navigation (with turn-by-turn directions and voice prompts) isn't yet available for the iPhone, this app has a good chance to gain widespread adoption -- provided it gets sufficient promotion and word of mouth. 

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About That 33% Local Mobile Search Figure

It's now been repeated in a couple of places and attributed to two separate Google employees (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot): roughly one third (33%) of mobile search has a local intent.

This number will now be repeated and repeated. Let's be careful. It's one important data point but not necessarily gospel. I'm going to follow up with Google and clarify what this means. 

Earlier this month, at the SMX West conference, Microsoft presented information that suggested local intent is behind an even higher percentage of mobile search queries: 

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Source: Microsoft (data are from 2008)

What this argues is that "local intent" queries are at least 50% (in this data set). With that said, people look for lots of information on their devices that has little or nothing to do with their immediate location: news and sports being chief examples. But almost all the commercial queries that are run through a search engine are going to ultimately be about the offline world.

It's not clear in the Google example whether apps are being factored into the figures. I suspect not. 

Comscore has said that roughly 12% - 13% of online search is local (using a very conservative methodology). Does that mean that mobile search is almost three times more local? I would argue because of the context mobile search is more local but not that much more if we consider the actual point of purchase or fulfillment for the majority of transactions -- offline.

Local-intent search is simply more "visible" or "transparent" to everyone in a mobile context than it is on the desktop. It's also true that people on mobile devices doing commercial queries typically have a more immediate need than those on a PC -- they're closer to the point of sale literally and figuratively.

I don't think we should take the 33% figure as definitive but rather as a directional indicator of the importance of location on mobile devices. 

Y! Sketch-a-Search Mostly a Novelty

Earlier this week Yahoo released a new search app for the iPhone called "Sketch a Search." I had seen a demo of this several months ago at a general search event at Yahoo! The new app is novel and interesting -- it builds to some degree on Yahoo! Local's longstanding PC "radius search" -- and allows users to draw a custom search area on the app and then find restaurants and bars within that area:

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As you can see from the image in the lower left above that there's an Urbanspoon-like carousel element, although that's a function of the iPhone OS rather than an attempt to copy Urbanspoon.

The virtue of this app is that it's different and uses the touchscreen in a compelling way. As it stands however this should be considered more of an experiment than something that is likely to be a big mainstream hit. On a larger screen tablet device, such as the iPad, it might be more useful because the areas could be drawn with greater precision. 

Yahoo! also released a new search app for the iPhone, built on it's earlier Inquisitor app. Sketch a Search should be incorporated as a feature into that broader Yahoo! search app. The combination of the two would be both useful and fun.