Mobile answers service ChaCha released the results of a case study today based on an SMS campaign run on its network for the movie Transformers. It ran in June before the movie's theatrical release. We feature this case study in a white paper publishing later today on SMS marketing.
Insight Express performed the study. Here are some datapoints and takeaways:
Yahoo! recently launched its new, customizable homepage for the PC. Though in development for a year it represents a gutsy and postive move for the site. And in the past couple of days Yahoo! updated its mobile site, better aligning the new PC homepage with the mobile experience (though it's still not fully aligned).
The Yahoo! Mobile iPhone app was a dramatic improvement over the old Yahoo! Go application when it launched in Q1 of this year. And the new mobile Web portal in some respects offers a better experience than even the iPhone app.
The new mobile Yahoo.com is somewhat more streamlined, simpler and cleaner than the earlier version of the mobile website. It has three principal sections: Today, My Favorites and All Sites. The Today section is programmed by Yahoo and is essentially a news site featuring news, display ads and video. My Favorites is a highly customizable area that includes mail, a feed reader and incorporates social network updates ("Social Pulse"). It also allows for simultaneous updating of Facebook and Twitter. The former Yahoo! mobile social networking tool oneConnect appears to be gone.
Finally All Sites is a useful collection of Yahoo! properties from Local and Messenger to Sports, Movies and Search. As an aside, the iPhone version of the site can tailor content (and ads) to user location because Safari now supports location (after the 3.0 software update).
The layout and overall user experience on m.yahoo.com keep improving and these most recent changes and upgrades make the new mobile version of Yahoo! probably the most useful single destination on the mobile Internet.
Latitude is very likely to succeed because it presents a compelling, simple proposition: “see where your friends are in real time.” It’s also easy to adopt and, as mentioned, built upon large installed bases of existing Google users, in the form of Google Maps for Mobile and Gmail.
Yet the iPhone implementation is curiously "flat." It's currently missing the messaging feature of the Android version, "shout outs," which makes it much more interesting and useful.
In Android, Latitude is integrated directly into the Maps app and there's a map view and a list view, which provides access to IM/Twitter-like updates (shout outs) with those to whom I'm connected. While it's difficult to describe in the abstract, it's essentially mobile IM (a la Google Talk). Thus Latitude becomes a location-based messaging platform, beyond a simple friend finder.
The Google Mobile Blog explains why the iPhone version of Latitude is a Web-based app, rather than a native app for the iPhone:
We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.
Google, like Apple, continues to push for improvements in web browser functionality. Now that iPhone 3.0 allows Safari to access location, building the Latitude web app was a natural next step. In the future, we will continue to work closely with Apple to deliver useful applications -- some of which will be native apps on the iPhone, such as Earth and YouTube, and some of which will be web apps, like Gmail and Latitude.
Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates in the same way that we can for Latitude users on Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Window Mobile.
As a Web app I'm guessing it can't do messaging, which is why the shout outs/IM functionality doesn't appear.
The paragraphs above from the Google Blog post are strange and interesting. Google is explaining why Latitude may fall short on the iPhone and it's also gently criticizing Apple for deficiencies in the functionality that Latitude is able to deliver:
"Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates . . ."
This line: "After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles" is also very interesting. Apple wanted to avoid "confusion." Hmmm . . . Confusion may be a euphemism for something else.
I think Apple wanted to avoid Google totally taking over the the Maps app on the iPhone, one might say "colonizing" it. Even though Maps on the iPhone has Google branding and data, it's not completely Google centric at this stage.
As a consequence of all this Latitude for the iPhone (in its current form at least) will probably fall short of its potential.
The Google Mobile Blog announced that Symbian and Windows Mobile users can now add multiple search results and content layers -- including Latitude -- to Maps for Mobile:
To get started with Layers on Google Maps for mobile 3.2, hit the "2" key or select Layers in the menu. You can toggle various layers on and off, and you can mash up combinations like friends' Latitude locations against a planned route. Google Maps for mobile Layers is available now on Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile phones, and will come soon to other platforms. The upgrade is available for all countries where Google Maps for mobile is currently available.
This is a mirror of what's going on with the PC side, where Maps enables layers of search results to be shown simultaneously. Right now on Android you can layer Latitude on top of a map with search results.
Google is also making Maps for Mobile more "browse-friendly":
Under Search, you'll find a link to browse popular categories, which helped us avoid the pain of typing on a mobile whilst out on the road (only available in the US and China for the time being).
On Android voice search on Maps works well to minimize typing. It's not clear how voice search will interact with layers in the Android or iPhone versions of Maps.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt:
In mobile and android, another area of innovation in new businesses, mobile devices are becoming an extension of the Internet. We all know this. And more and more Google searches are coming from mobile phones of all kinds. So we are focusing to innovate in this space. So for example, we’ve done great news with Android, with somewhere between 18 and 20 Android powered phones on the market by the end of the year, which is phenomenal.
Product SVP Jonathan Rosenberg:
We also run product development by encouraging teams to make big product bets on key technical insights. We believe that our most innovative products historically, if you consider say search, maps, Gmail, news and Chrome, all of them are based on technical breakthroughs, or BETS. Recently we’ve become bullish on a new emerging standard called HTML 5 and it’s helping to make the web the platform for very powerful and rich applications. It’s especially important in mobile where the high-end phones with very rich browsers are becoming the norm.
And this quarter, we launched mobile versions of Gmail and mobile web maps that run in the browser using HTML 5. Their performance really is remarkable.
We believe that the runway to innovate due to the power of computers on these mobile devices is nearly unbounded at the moment. We are also making another technical bet with Google Chrome OS. A whole new generation of web-based apps demand a much better, faster user experience and once you have all your stuff online, you ought to be able to just open up your computer and get there in a matter of seconds.
We are also innovating and driving monetization with mobile and YouTube as well. Mobile monetization picked up a good bit of momentum as search traffic grew, again driven mostly by the smartphones. And we’re seeing that users on these high-end phones are very active and engaged beyond search, so display advertising on those phones is actually emerging as an interesting mechanism.
From the Q&A portion of the call:
Schmidt (on mobile ads):
On the mobile search side, one of the key things we’ve done in the last few months is we’ve started to show the desktop ads. It turns out that the separate mobile ads have their own formats. Typically there wasn’t enough demand, there weren’t enough kind of creatives and so forth. So we started showing the desktop ads on the mobile browsers of high quality and these of course include the iPhone and the Android phone and anything that’s a web-kit inspired browser.
All of a sudden we started seeing a tremendous number of searches and also very good click through rates. So they monetize at a similar level, if they are desktop-based because of course they are in the same auction.
It makes sense over time that those ads should perform better than on PCs because on a mobile device, we know more about the person and we could have an even more targeted ad but we don’t do that today.
Rosenberg (on mobile cannibalizing PC search traffic):
I don’t think there really is a cannibalization dynamic. We see that mobile searches tend to complement desktop volume. Mobile goes up when people are away from their desk, so weekend tends to be higher for mobile traffic. And of course, the reverse is true for the desk top.
Don't call it an LBS service," Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa, told me when I spoke to him a couple weeks ago. He prefers the term "context-aware." Aloqa officially launched yesterday on the Android platform and announced $1.5 million in funding. Other smartphone platforms are coming soon. Aloqa currently works in the US and Germany.
Agrawal, preparing for his presentation at yesterday's Mobile Beat conference, was trying to come up with a quick way to describe Aloqa. The metaphor he often uses is cable TV channels or an "app store within an app store." I didn't stay to see his presentation, but it must have been successful because the company won the "people's choice" award at the show.
Aloqa has a menu of content modules or channels (image at right), which can be "owned" or developed third parties. (There will be an SDK soon.) This is almost identical to what MapQuest has done on the PC with its Local site.
Those modules range from brand finders to news, events, restaurants and social networking. All are location enabled. In explaining what differentiates Aloqa, which had been around for roughly two years before Agrawal joined as CEO, he points out that location on Aloqa can be calibrated to the specific app and may tap into different location technologies as appropriate to the use case. "If it's Starbucks you only need accuracy within 500 meters, but if it's your kid you need GPS level accuracy," he says.
I asked Agrawal about potential similarities between Aloqa and other "discovery" oriented local mobile sites or apps such as Where, Earthcomber, AroundMe or Places Directory among others (Yahoo! and AOL also had third party platform/apps strategies at one point). He explains that Aloqa can be entirely personalized and, more significantly, has push/notifications that rely on "dynamic data." And like the Android apps marketplace itself third parties are welcome to build their own channels; however Agrawal said there would be some oversight to prevent spam or other undesirable content. (This is again like MapQuest Local on the PC.)
Because the data in the various modules are coming from dynamic feeds he says that they're potentially changing all the time. News for example from Topix or events from Eventful will change continuously and notification of those changes are pushed to the user in the form of icons on the channel buttons.
The details page of any event, location or listing (depending on the content module) allows users to visit the site for more complete information, show the location on a map, call the business or share the listing.
Agrawal also points to Aloqa's Facebook channel, which allows users to set up what amounts to a temporary social network through Facebook. All those participating must have Aloqa on their phones, but if they do they're notified when their Aloqa-Facebook contacts are nearby. All of this is permission based.
Aloqa's channels can be added or subtracted with relative ease. The app is not without some bugs and awkward dimensions. But those will be found and addressed I'm sure. Agrawal envisions multiple revenue streams that could also include white labeling the service and premium channels for consumers.
A number of companies have developed or are developing location-aware apps that seek to be comprehensive or nearly so. Geodelic is one and MobilePeople is another, among some of those I mentioned. Apps stores are mostly vertical marketplaces at the moment. Aloqa and its competitors seek to go in the opposite direction and provide a "one-stop shop," literally and figuatively.
Conceptually I like the strategy because people don't want to have to constantly go in and out of apps, as a general rule, in getting to different categories of information. In terms of challenges, getting good data isn't always easy and developing the right UI/UX is another challenge.
As has been discussed, the iPhone 3.0 software update included location awareness in the Safari browser. That means that developers and publishers can incorporate current user location into their sites without having to develop a native iPhone app.
Google has now introduced its My Location feature for Google.com on Safari. It has been available through the Google Mobile App for the iPhone since the introduction of the app. It's also available via the browser on Android phones.
As a result of this move, local search results are slightly different on Google.com mobile vs. the PC site, where IP targeting is used to determine location (though on Chrome and Firefox now triangulation is used as well). Several searches I performed showed different ads (mobile vs. PC), with the mobile ads being more locally relevant.
The chief benefit to users is that they can enter a query without location and get locally accurate results (e.g., zoo, sushi). I don't have figures on the breakdown among iPhone Google users on the distribution of searches between the iPhone app and the browser. I would guess that much of Google search on the iPhone is coming first through the app and second through the search box in the upper right of Safari and third through people going to Google.com and entering a query. I could be wrong about that.
Regardless, location is very important to the quality of the mobile search user experience and Google's ultimate strategy is not about developing native apps for the range of smartphone platforms but about the browser as development platform across phones. My Location in the browser is consistent with that broader worldview and approach.
We've reached a refresh cycle for local mapping infrastructure providers as announcements have arrived from both neighborhoods specialist Maponics and rival location and direction finding company Urban Mapping. To support the most accurate ZIP code-based targeting of local package and parcel delivery, marketing campaigns and mailing efforts, Maponics has issued a new suite of ZIP Code and ZIP plus 4 products and services. The products are already in use by the likes of DHL, UPS, FedEX and the United States Postal Service. It can be delivered in one of many file formats or on a "per dip" or transactional basis through the Maponics "Spatiial API". Today, Urban Mapping adds a number of enhanced features to its RouteServer™ product, which enables service providers to provide the turn-by-turn directions that take into account whether its users are walking, driving or taking a mass transit option. One of the key features is the addition of real time data on buses, trains or subways which will provide the basis for dynamic changes in routing. The service also supports narratives in multiple languages. Neither company is a household name even though their services are baked into Internet-based directories and utilities provided by the leading search engines, Internet Yellow Pages and transit authorities. Their efforts to augment plain vanilla maps with real-time traffic data (in the case of Urban Mapping) and direct conversion to "neighborhood" location (in the case of Maponics) make the process of finding out who's nearby, what's nearby and how to get there better and better.
IT research firm Gartner says that consumer subscription-based LBS services (e.g., navigation/friend finders) will double and continue to grow. According to the company's release:
Worldwide consumer location-based services (LBS) subscribers and revenue are on pace to double in 2009, according to Gartner, Inc. Despite an expected 4 per cent decrease in mobile device sales, LBS subscribers are forecast to grow from 41.0 million in 2008 to 95.7 million in 2009 while revenue is anticipated to increase from $998.3 million in 2008 to $2.2 billion in 2009.
Gartner defines LBS as services that use information about the location of mobile devices, derived from cellular networks, Wi-Fi access points or via satellite links to receivers in (or connected to) the handsets themselves. Examples are services that enable friends to find each other, parents to locate their children, mapping and navigation. Location-based services may be offered by mobile network carriers or other providers. They are also known as location-aware services.
Correctly the company qualifies all this by saying that free LBS services will gain and eat into LBS subscription revenues. But the company doesn't take that far enough.
Those that are willing to pay for PND devices and navigation subscriptions will be a tiny minority in a very short period. Free (assuming a not-free data plan) will all but destroy the paid market unless those consumer fees are one-time payments or truly nominal monthly subscriptions.
Too many folks will be offering maps and turn-by-turn directions for free (e.g., Google, MapQuest) and there will be a number of free friend finder products that will replace the paid "family locator" subscription products in the market today. In short absent some super-compelling, unimaginably fantastic applications (which Gartner is counting on), the paid LBS market is going to get smaller and smaller . . . not bigger.
Israeli company MobiApp announced that it received a small funding round from Maayan Ventures, an Israeli government-funded VC. The company has a social networking mobile app/client called Mingler, currently operating only is Tel Aviv, Israel. Here's how the funder describes Mingler:
Mingler enables creating close range social networks which interface the WEB.
When a user enters the social event he will receive a message in his mobile which will ask him if he wishes to connect to the local network, after he confirms he will join the Mingler network.
The user doesn't need to have any prior application installed; he will get the application on the spot by the air with no cost (based on Bluetooth).
The Mingler lets the user fill his local profile and in the future this profile will be available on his web social network. The users can send (and receive) personal messages/Instant messaging (like SMS but without charge) to his network friends and of course search, filter etc'. All the users are in the same location which is defined by approx. 100m radius (can be extended with aggregation) are connected to the local network. This creates a free local network.
The Mingler website will provide lots of web/location services to Mingler members for example: getting the location of your friend and sending them free messages from the web, it'll give the option to see who is in specific event and more.
Moreover Mingler will allow the users to interface with their WEB social networks(FaceBook, mySpace, linkedIn…).
The application and the services are free for the users but it is based on ads, this gives advertisers the option to advertise to specific market focused by: gender, location, age, company segment, position in organization, etc.
At the moment there isn't ad inventory "granular" enough to fulfill the promise of these temporary, very local networks envisioned by MobiApp. That will come as more LBS ads are assembled "on the fly" dynamically. There are a few use cases one can think of for Mingler: B2B (conferences), colleges or other institutional settings and dating.
The fact that this rides on top of existing social networks is a significant factor. Stand-alone mobile social networks will find it almost impossible to compete with established online players such as Facebook and Twitter. There may be one or two exceptions that succeed.
Services like Loopt and Google Latitude are competing friend-finder/dating platforms.
When it came out of beta, last week, I wrote about "answer community" Aardvark. The service is building a network -- or leveraging existing networks like Facebook -- to enable people to respond to questions that search engines can't answer as easily or well. In my prior post above I discuss my experience when I asked Aardvark (Vark) for recommendations on "generally available pinot noir wines for under $15."
I've also written up a piece this morning at Search Engine Land on how Aardvark is starting to use Twitter as another "entry point" or onramp for the service:
You can now sign in to Aardvark using Twitter (as you can with Facebook Connect) and ask questions through Twitter, privately via direct message or publicly. The latter scenario will send the question to Aardvark as well as one's own Twitter "followers," broadening the pool of potential responses.
At one point I thought a Vark-like service or similar capability would emerge at Twitter. But I no longer think that Twitter will put any effort into formally developing it.
The LMS/Opus crew met with Aardvark yesterday and talked through a range of issues, including:
Voice isn't "quite there yet" so it's going to be awhile before people can speak their queries. Mobile input is already available via IM and email. But the Vark team recognizes mobile as a primary use case for the service. In terms of monetization, CEO Max Ventilla spoke about affiliate links and hand offs being mapped to the content of user queries and answers. This makes sense and would be potentially unintrusive. The challenge for Vark is volume and scale to generate any meaningful revenues from such deals. The team will probably need to look at other monetization scenarios later as well.
A great many of the queries that pass through Vark are going to be about places and things to do, making it a kind of local-social search tool. Indeed, travel and entertainment will be primary use cases for the service.
There are now a number of companies that in one way or another are trying to provide human answers/responses to queries. These include ChaCha, kgb's Text411, Yahoo! Answers and a number of online Q&A communities. The site that Aardvark is most like is the original incarnation of Mosio, which is changing and taking on a more enterprise flavor.
ChaCha is trying to find the right balance of humans and automation to control costs as ads ramp up. Text411 is a consumer pays service, which might limit demand. Yahoo! Answers, which is now showing near real-time response, offers inconsistent quality and generally anonymous answers (although you can invite friends to be a part of your network).
For its part Vark may have challenges generating revenue, although the affiliate model conceptually makes lots of sense. However the Vark consumer experience is very strong. Community members are not getting paid to respond and have lots of control over how often they receive questions and what types of questions they get. So there are controls to avoid Q&A fatigue.
Another interesting thing here is the notion of decentralization implicit in the model. Vark doesn't need a massive audience of users (me --> the world) to provide a good user experience. The site needs people to bring their immediate networks (via email or Facebook).
If my friends can't answer my queries, their friends probably can. Over time a landscape of smaller communities connected through Vark will create the kind of scale the site is hoping to achieve. But I only get and respond to questions that flow within my extended network. Consequently the experience could work quite well at 10K users, a 100K or, eventually, 20 million (or more) users. I'm not asking the world for a response, just my network and their friends.
There were three of us at the meeting yesterday with Aardvark. Everyone uniformly was impressed with the consumer experience and the thinking behind it. However there was some skepticism about Vark's ability to monetize effectively. Of the three of us I was probably the one who'd consumed the most kool-aid. But I'm genuinely impressed with Aardvark.
Qdoba is the latest "quick service" restaurant to push into mobile. Competitor Chipotle offers online and mobile ordering. Qdoba is using Tetherball for its mobile marketing and loyalty program. According to the press release out this morning:
Tetherball’s fully customizable permission-based text messaging mobile marketing platform allows brands to intimately interact with customers through their mobile phones and allows loyal customers to benefit instantly from offers. The Qdoba Mobile Rewards program kicked off at an Indianapolis market festival during which nearly 20 percent of festival attendees engaged the mobile program – indicating strong acceptance of offers made via mobile.
Unlike other mobile marketing programs, no downloading of special software or an expensive mobile data plan is necessary. The solution is simple and it works on any phone. Tetherball clients’ mobile loyalty programs have seen up to 24 percent redemption rates on initial opt-in offers followed by 10 percent redemption rates on proceeding offers — substantially better results than the less than two percent redemption rates offered by traditional paper and online coupons.
In the restaurants at the point of sale, consumers are prompted to text the word “BURRITO” to a short code to opt-in to the program. They then receive promotions via SMS that also direct them to nearby restaurant locations.
Fast food restaurants, because of their focus on younger audiences, are among the early adopters of mobile marketing, promotions and mobile loyalty programs. And, indeed, as the PR materials above suggest, these programs do work.
Here's our prior write-up of Tetherball and its novel RFID couponing program.
Perhaps they were there before and I just didn't notice. But yesterday I saw two ads for Google's iPhone app, one on a blog online and another in the new Fluent Mobile news app. The latter was on the AdMob network. Below is what the online version of the ad looked like. Why is Google advertising its mobile app, which has been in the top 20 in the iTunes store for many months?
Despite the public confidence of Google and others who see little future distinction between the Internet and the mobile Internet (and user behavior accordingly), I think it's not a foregone conclusion that everyone will be using search in the same way on mobile devices that they do on PCs today. Mobile is a different animal and the mobile market is quite fluid and evolving rapidly.
I find myself using Google's voice search on my Android (HTC Magic) phone quite a bit -- especially voice search in Google Maps -- and like it. But on my iPod Touch (on a WiFi connection) I use apps and bookmarks far more than I use traditional search. However I don't have access to the iPhone's voice search capability on that device. If I did, my behavior might be different.
On Android devices search is on the home screen and, given that, it's a bigger part of the Android experience than on the iPhone, notwithstanding the recent addition of spotlight. If we do get the promised 18 Android devices and they sell well, we may see search become a prominent navigational tool in the way it is on the PC. However, if apps become the dominant way that people access sites and content on smartphones, where most of the mobile Internet "action" is taking place, conventional search may become a "secondary" tool.
Then there are now obscure "search" tools that may gain mainstream adoption down the line, such as the camera as doorway to "augmented reality" or as a barcode scanner. And a range of others are working on mobile searching without search: offering up data and content based on location or context without entry of a formal search query. There are a range of iPhone apps that do this using a browse approach (business category X "nearby"). Geodelic is pursuing this model as the back end for T-Mobile's new "Sherpa" app.
None of this means that paid "search" ads or Google won't be successful in mobile. It means that user behavior and the market may evolve in ways that are distinct from PC-based Internet activity. But we'll see won't we.
Earlier today I wrote about a rumored Dell "mobile Internet device" that might use the Android OS. But this afternoon Dell announced that it would be integrating the "Dell Wireless 700 location solution" into its Mini 10 netbook. The Wireless 700 location solution consists of GPS + triangulation:
[A]n internal GPS card with built-in Wi-Fi locationing. These two technologies work in tandem, which means the technology works both indoors and out. In other words, it can calculate your position using Wi-Fi access points or using GPS satellites. The Dell Wireless 700 is powered by Broadcom's A-GPS and Skyhook Wireless' Wi-Fi position solutions.
So what is Dell going to do with this user-location information? Two things to start, turn by turn navigation and a local content portal:
On the software side, the Dell Wireless 700 location system features CoPilot navigation software to provide turn by turn directions. I offers things like 2D and 3D map views, lets you save up to 50 addresses for one trip, offers trip optimization to provide the most efficient route, can provide instant detour information when you encounter expected delays and provides continuously updated information about the trip.
Another piece of the location-based services that we're bringing to market is a location aware portal. For it, we've partnered with Skyhook Wireless and Loki. Loki is a browser plugin that comes preconfigured for Internet Explorer and Firefox. It works with Loki-supported sites to improve local search functionality by providing you details from nearby restaurants store locations and your friends' location information from supported social media sites like Flickr, Loopt and BrightKite.
The location aware portal looks like this:
It includes content from a range of partners and sources including Topix, Zvents, Twitter, Yelp, Weatherbug and a number of others. What's interesting here is how Dell is essentially approaching this netbook as if it were a smartphone and equipping it with location-awareness and widgets or apps of a sort with this location dashboard.
However this research from NPD on netbooks found that roughly 60% of the consumers surveyed never took their devices out of the house. But that still means that 40% did.
I think these tools and services reflect some progressive thinking at Dell about the features and use cases of the netbook.
Ever since we wrote about Mosio in October of 2007 we've been watching and waiting for someone to really break-through with a human-powered mobile search utility that can archive scale. ChaCha and kgb to varying degrees have done that and represent a hybrid between traditional directory assistance and Web search; one can ask any question of a quasi-professional human in the background, while some query responses are automated via a database.
Yahoo! Answers uses community to answer questions but answers don't show up in real time; although Yahoo!'s Marc Davis has told me that increasingly there are responses in near-real time from the community.
Twitter and Facebook have the potential to evolve or develop angles that enable them to be used as Q&A services -- what I've called in the past "social DA." But those use cases are not fully developed on either site.
Vark is a private beta Q&A service that leverages IM and tries to organize people into networks and get them to self classify around areas of expertise . . . It’s not that far removed from Mosio (w/o the mobile dimension however) or ChaCha or the new text411. Yahoo Answers is also a cousin of this service . . .
This weekend the NY Times wrote a piece on Vark to coincide with the service coming out of private beta:
Once signed up, you submit a question to Aardvark via an instant message or e-mail, and its software looks among your Facebook friends, and friends-of-your-friends, for volunteers to answer it. You can exclude any friends from the potential contact list.
Those friends-of-friends may turn out to be a great fountain of hitherto untapped information. For example, none of your 200 Facebook “friends” may have recently stayed in Napa and be able to recommend a bed-and-breakfast. But if each of their friends can be tapped, the pool of prospective wine-country authorities jumps from 200 into the tens of thousands.
You wouldn’t want to bother those thousands, however, with your question about Napa B.& B.’s. Aardvark has devised ways to drastically narrow the search, asking only those who are most likely to have an answer, and asking only a few of them at a time, protecting your network of volunteers from being asked too often.
The Aardvark system assumes that no single answer will serve for everyone who poses the same question. It uses information about interests supplied by registrants and from outside social networking profiles to match interests, demographic characteristics, common affiliations and other factors. It also checks whether prospective advice-givers are presently signed into one of three instant-messaging services. (The company says an iPhone version is in the works, too.)
Thus the availability of "friends of friends" and the specialized routing of questions are the "secret sauce" here. This morning I asked about Pinot Noir recommendations:
Within about two minutes I got this answer in email:
And it turns out to be a very good wine:
This is a very specific question and answer. However in this particular case Google has arguably even better results for this question. But in many specialized contexts, or where trusted opinions are needed, there won't be equally good results (or any perhaps) at the top of Google SERPs.
Vark is trying to create scale without the costs associated with a ChaCha or kgb model. But it's also trying to provide the "real time" response of those services lacking in a more conventional online Q&A service such as Yahoo! Answers. Getting it right -- not an easy thing -- could drive huge mobile query volumes. ChaCha has seen dramatic growth since becoming a mobile service, with many people doing in excess of 40 or more queries a month.
Greg has been posting some very interesting items over at Screenwerk. He notes that Krillion and Shopping.com (owned by eBay) have collaborated to introduce a widget that helps searchers find local merchants for the products they seek online. Called the Krillion 360 Product locator, it is not positioned as a mobile utility, but the transition from online search to offline purchase is a natural for mobile search.
Likewise, the Screenwerk feature on "City Tours", which is under development (ergo available for use) at Google Labs is a neat way to organize one's local itinerary. To me the mental bridge to a shopping tour and presentation on a browser based phone is a natural. As I recall, Local Matters includes a similar planning service in its Destination Search(TM) suite. It's one of those services that requires a bit of marketing to reinforce regular use.
Verve Wireless is behind the AP iPhone app and is enabling many newspaper publishers' mobile efforts. Today the company announced that it had expanded its roster of clients:
Verve Wireless, the leading provider of mobile publishing technologies to local media companies, today announced partnerships with Media News Group, A.H. Belo Corporation, Hearst Corporation, and Cox Newspapers to mobilize local media properties such as The Denver Post, The Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Palm Beach Post, and Examiner.com. Verve now mobilizes over 450 local media properties, covering the top 200 designated market areas in the U.S. and continues its international expansion by partnering with the Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates.
These properties also constitute a local-mobile ad network. In addition, the company announced that its platform now automatically generates iPhone optimized versions of publisher sites/content for the Safari browser:
Verve rolled out enhancements to their platform that automatically creates a version of the publisher’s site optimized for the new Safari browser on iPhones, as well as providing mobile video delivery across the leading smartphones in the market. The iPhone module allows publishers of all sizes and markets to participate in the fastest growing smartphone segment. Publisher’s can create a specialized version of their own mobile site to take advantage of the Safari browser’s unique capabilities, such as location awareness, automatic short cut that places an app icon on the phone for quick access, exceptional layout and navigation elements, and world class rich media delivery. The demand for this new module was stemming from news organizations like The Orange County Register who see in excess of 40% of their mobile web traffic coming from iPhones.
As we wrote before, when it comes to newspapers and magazines, smartphones are the new print.
Speaking in Cannes, France Scott Howe, VP of the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group at Microsoft, said that he believed mobile advertising "will account for 5-10 percent of global media ad spending within five years." That's quite a bullish prediction but we like it.
Microsoft also recently announced that Hyatt is the inaugural client for its mobile partnership with Verizon. Here's a screen showing one of the Hyatt ads:
Here are some Bing-Verizon screens (Bing is now the default search provider on Verizon). This is mobile Web.
Yellowpages.com (AT&T), as Microsoft's partner, is a huge beneficiary of the deal and is the sole (current) provider of local ads:
We're waiting for a rebranded and updated version of the Live Search client, which was very useful and effective but under-appreciated. This time around it will likely get more attention, given that Bing is having some initial consumer success and as part of the multi-million dollar Bing ad campaign. It will also probably offer an improved user interface/experience as well.
Personal navigation and GPS-aided turn by turn directions are moving from hardware to software. Given that the new iPhone enables turn by turn navigation to be integrated into third party developer apps and that TomTom is going to be on the iPhone, the days of separate PND hardware devices are likely numbered.
While some such devices may continue to sell, consumers will see fewer and fewer reasons to buy them (and spend the additional cash) now that smartphones will be largely as capable as PNDs and have broader utility. Several next-gen navigation apps have already emerged in the post 3.0 iPhone world:
The improvement of navigation on smartphones combined with the move of a group of companies to provide their software on the iPhone platform will mean that eventually the entire industry will move in this direction.
Recently RIM also acquired "connected" PND platform Dash. So one would assume that many of these same capabilities will shortly come to BlackBerry devices. (I was just reminded that MapQuest provides turn by turn directions on BlackBerry devices currently.)
T-Mobile is announcing today that its myTouch 3G (G2) is coming out formally in August. As I've written it's a much better phone than the G1. One of the features I like quite a bit is the Google voice search capability in general and on Maps. I find that it's accurate most of the time.
Created by Geodelic, in partnership with T-Mobile, Sherpa is a local discovery application that learns a user's favorite types of locations and preferences over time. The more it's used, the more it customizes itself to the user's taste, learning their likes and dislikes so it can prioritize recommended and relevant local retailers, restaurants and attractions. By combining a user's location and interests, with other contextual information such as time of day, Sherpa aggregates and presents contextually relevant, location-based information about the "real world" that surrounds a user at any moment.
Sherpa uses a learning engine called GENIE (Geodelic ENgine for Interest Evaluation) that automatically learns a user's favorite locations and lifestyle behavior. If a user eats out more than they shop, it modifies itself and tailors the experience to begin showing more restaurants and less retail stores. So no matter where a person goes, whether they are traveling or exploring their neighborhood, Sherpa prioritizes recommended locations and presents them to users.
Just as a browser allows Internet users to surf the web, the Geodelic application serves as a "geobrowser" for users allowing them to browse the "real world" through an interface optimized for a mobile experience. Geodelic's advanced technology searches the web, gathering the best public and proprietary information from sites like Yelp!, MenuPages, City Search, and a large number of specialized sources to supply the most complete content based on users' location and interests. The application's learning capability allows it to then automatically organize a user's environment by what is most important to them.
Accordingly, the app aims to present information to users, based on their location/context, and not require them to actively search for it (enter keywords in a query box and evaluate links). This is by no means the first app with such an ambition. Indeed, the interface and some of the features resemble those from other iPhone and Android apps: AroundMe, Earthcomber's mobile client, MapQuest4Mobile and Google's Places Directory. However Geodelic's Sherpa seeks to combine location awareness, recommendations, advertising and local data in a more comprehensive, "next-generation" sort of way.
I've spoken at some length with Geodelic founder and CEO Rahul Sonnad, but haven't yet used the app. So all of this remains abstract until I can actually test it out.
The Geodelic site offers a video of the user experience and some of the ad capabilities.