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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
In conjunction with its big Las Vegas trade show CTIA has come up with some new rules guidelines for use of location information in the delivery location-based content and advertising. The document is called "Best Practices and Guidelines for Location-Based Services." Below are a few excerpts:
The Guidelines primarily focus on the user whose location information is used or disclosed. It is the user whose privacy is most at risk if location information is misused or disclosed without authorization or knowledge.
The Guidelines apply whenever location information is linked by the LBS Provider to a specific device (e.g., linked by phone number, userID) or a specific person (e.g., linked by name or other unique identifier).
The Guidelines do not apply to location information used or disclosed:
The CTIA document goes on to discuss consent for the use of location and revocation of that consent by users, among other related issues. One thing it sidesteps is subject of illegal government survelliance of mobile subscribers. It says those involved with "legal process" don't implicate consumer notice or consent. (That implies warrants for surveillance, which the government hasn't felt it needs to obtain in the recent past re accessing telco records.)
The reason I wrote the headline above the way I did is that opt-in consent for LBS is already widely used on the dominant smartphone platforms, and in particular the iPhone. There are undoubtedly others that need this education and these guidelines (for the mobile Web) but best practices are arguably already pretty well established by existing systems and methods in use today.
For its part the MMA hasn't yet opined on the matter. In September of last year the trade group said:
The MMA recognizes the need to provide guidelines for location based advertising. However, models for using location currently vary, and do not allow identifying the most appropriate guidelines at this point in time. MMA’s mobile advertising committee has started exploring the opportunities of using location in advertising and plans to come up with guidelines for location based advertising. In the meantime, MMA encourages experimentation in this space and invites companies to share best practice with the MMA mobile advertising committee.
The MMA will feel some pressure to get its guidelines out now. Either they will mirror (or simply duplicate) those promulgated by CTIA or they'll vary. If they vary at all will that create confusion among marketers and publishers? Probably. But we'll have to wait and see what emerges.
Yesterday we met with Andy Miller, the founder/CEO of Cardstar. Until recently I hadn't heard of the company, although its iPhone app has had over a million downloads and has received some fairly extensive coverage in the NY Times and other tech blogs (where was I?). Miller is not the same Andy Miller who is the CEO of Quattro, in case you were wondering.
We had a long conversation about the app, some of the use cases and future scenarios and about the fascinating data being collected in the background. The data this company has is a retail gold mine. But that's a story for later.
The company started because Miller was carrying around too many loyalty cards in his wallet. This app, coming soon to Android and other platforms, allows users to enter their loyalty card account numbers and keep them all "on file" in a single place:
Part of the "secret sauce" here is that the company can generate a scannable barcode for any loyalty program -- that we're told works with current scanning technology.
The app, which Miller said has much more retention and usage than the majority of "lifestyle" apps in the iTunes store, also becomes a platform for push marketing to users and a way for SMBs to create loyalty programs in addition to the traditional big companies on the list above. As I mentioned, the data that Cardstar is collecting on usage (by demographics, location, etc) and engagement literally represents a treasure trove of "best practices" advice for grocery and retail marketers.
There's an intriguing and widening roadmap for this product, which began as a convenience for consumers.
A novel element of the service, Cardstar allows users to create a physical "master card" that can carry up to six loyalty barcodes on a single piece of plastic, to minimize clutter (for people who don't have smartphones or want a backup for their most frequently used cards). You enter the account numbers on the Cardstar site and then receive a physical card in the mail.
Cardstar is a fascinating company that sits at the intersection of offers and deals, which is fast-growing category online, and mobile loyalty marketing which is already very powerful. In terms of the latter category, we ran into Jay Highley, formerly of Tetherball360. We discussed some of the response rates to these mobile loyalty campaigns and he was sharing data from actual campaigns, which saw response rates of 20% to 40% in some cases.
These numbers are amazing and show that "mobile marketing" and opt-in loyalty programs will be an increasingly important part of companies' mobile strategies -- or should be.
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'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.
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.
The other piece of public data released by Compete shows daily usage patterns among smartphone owners:
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.
Related: Mobile buying site Groupon launches an 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:
Related: Canada's Canpages also offers augmented reality.
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:
--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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Ranking the addition on a five point scale, "with five being addicted and one being not at all addicted":
And among those who didn't consider themselves completely addicted:
Next up: iPhone Anonymous
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:
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.
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.
Here's Nielsen's parallel demographic view of US mobile social networking (in the aggregate):
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'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."
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.