Local Search

Google Beefing up Links Between Desktop and Mobile; Releases Research Findings

Mobile search was front and center at the ultimate Google insider event, Searchology. Citing statistics that show that searching from mobile devices - especially iPhones, Blackberry's and Android-based handsets - is growing at a much faster rate than search that originates from desktop or laptops, Google execs showcased product refinements that make for better coordination between fixed and mobile searching. Scott Huffman, Director of Engineering, delivered the ultimate prescription for higher quality mobile search, saying it should be "Complete, Easy and Local."

There were a number of other refinements to Google Search Options such as the organization of results into a timeline so that users can see each link's relationship to real time. In fact, the company noted that "real time search" ranks as the biggest challenge facing its engineers. From this, we can conclude that delivering results that take into account a mobile user's location is a relatively easy service to deliver. For example, the company demonstrated a service that is under development that will enable search results delivered to a desktop to be automatically displayed when the same user logs on to Google from a wireless phone equipped with a Web browser.

Closer coordination between PC and mobile search makes sense, especially for iPhone and Android users. This is the major finding of a study that Google commissioned from the Department of Statistics at Stanford University. The research, unsurprisingly, showed that searches orginating from "high-end phones", meaning those equipped with PC-like Web browsers strongly resembled those originating from PCs, in terms of the number of words per query, query diversity and user behavior. Based on these data, the researchers are concluding that high-end mobile phone users see their devices as viable means to find information.

Armed with these data, Google's researchers are building confidence that they can deliver ads that are more relevant to the mobile user.

Google's Radio Daze is Over - But the Model Remains a Good One

While letters went out to its Adsense Audio partners back in February, Google made it official that May 31st will mark the formal cessation of its automated service for purchasing and placing audio ads on local radio stations. In a story in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Jessica E. Vascellaro provides more background, asserting that the failure resulted from an inability to track radio ads with the same precision expected from Web-based advertising. But that should have been obvious from the beginning. Ms. Vascellaro also notes that Google underestimated "the human side of the business". This phrase turns out to be a euphemism for the fact that, in the words of Dean Landsman of Landsman Communications, Google had put itself "in the remnants business". It set up an automated system that, in effect, identified left-over airtime and put it up for auction that often resulted in asking radio stations to sell excess inventory at highly discounted rates.

This is not a way to make friends in a new (or, ahem, old) medium. Google entered the audio advertising business with the purchase of a company called dMarc for a reported upfront payment of $102 million in January 2006. It was part of a company-wide effort to provide a single portal through which businesses could buy advertisng on broadcast outlets and in print media, in addition to the Web. Reflecting the optimism that both parties had, the deal carried performance bonuses that could have exceeded $1.1 billion. But the approach described above turned out to be self defeating. The inventory of available ads under the control of the automated system remained to small for the vaunted Google tracking and placement algorithm to perform effectively.

The idea of a multimedia advertising portal remains a good one. Yet it has proven too small an opportunity for the giant of search advertising. And it's a business proposition that was made worse by the precipitous decline in advertiser spending on print and broadcast media. Still, we see several candidates in the advertising, media buying and search marketing businesses who should continue to develop plans for automated, cross-media advertising placement.


WhitePages.com Offers Mobile Version Through Blackberry App World

After reaching out to mobile subscribers with some impressive applications for both the iPhone and Android, WhitePages.com has stepped up its aspirations for ubiquity. Two weeks ago, it launched a mobile Web site (http://m.whitepages.com) "powered by NetBiscuits", extending its reach to virtually any mobile phone running a Web browser. Today it launched a new application, "built from the ground up" and targeting RIM's Blackberries and available from BlackBerry AppWorld for $6.99 for six months of service.

The service is designed for mobile professionals and leverages access to WhitePages.com's database of directory listings into what we had referred to as a "Connectory" (as opposed to "Directory") by supporting:

  • Enhanced CallerID: Identify who is calling or texting by looking up unknown numbers or search directly from the phone's call history to connect a name with a number, including hard to find mobile and unpublished numbers.
  • Business/Social Networking: Link with business associates. Search by company to get work phone and address for important business contacts in seconds.
  • Both Category and Business Name search: Delivering phone numbers and addresses including driving directions and maps to your destination.
  • Constant updating: to keep contacts up to date, enabling subscribers to add WhitePages listings directly to contact lists, while updating existing contacts with full address details

WhitePages.com is clearly putting the emphasis on heightened productivity. Recent searches are saved for quick retrieval and contacts can be shared with Blackberry's email application.

The attention to Blackberry is well-advised. Recent statistics from NPD Group (as reported in MocoNews.net) showed Blackberry ahead of iPhone in terms of recent units shipped. Verizon Wireless's promotional efforts were given credit for various models of Blackberry accounting for three of the top five in a list of leading smartphones (with Apple in second place and the G-1 Android phone in fifth). On the flip side, the rich amount of data that WhitePages.com has associated with telephone listings and the flexibility WhitePages has exhibited in terms of working with the likes of NetBiscuits and RIM will keep its listings database in the critical path for all mobile subscribers with special attention to mobile professionals.

Survey: 16% of Online Shoppers Compare Prices on Their Mobile Phones

PriceGrabber.com, now a division of Experian, put out a mobile shopping report based on a survey of just over 3,000 online US consumers who own mobile phones. The survey was conducted in March of this year.

Here are some of the top-level findings from the survey:

  • 58% of online shoppers surveyed by PriceGrabber said they own a mobile phone "capable of connecting to the Web"
  • 42% of respondents said they own a non-Web-enabled phone capable of using voice and text service plans only
  • Among the Web-enabled group (58%): 21% owned smartphones, 8% owned iPhones, 29% owned "another type of Web-enabled phone"

Price comparisons:

  • One in 10 online shoppers surveyed said they purchase online from their mobile device
  • 16% compare prices (56% of Apple iPhone owners and 28% of other smartphone users already are comparing prices online with their mobile phones)
  • 16% research product details and specs

Mobile purchasing:

  • According to the survey, among those mobile consumers making purchases using their phones:
  • 58% have purchased digital content for their phone (e.g., ringtones, apps/software)
  • 51% have purchased consumer electronics
  • 37% have purchased computers
  • 36% have purchased books
  • 31% have purchased clothing

Here are a few charts from the report (all PriceGrabber): 

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In our recent survey (n=707) we found 20% of non-smartphone owner-respondents stating they intended to upgrade to a smartphone in the next 12 months. By contrast the total number intending to upgrade to a smartphone or iPhone in teh PriceGrabber survey was 25%. 

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Other than the ringtones/apps category, the purchases discussed in the report are not what used to be called "m-commerce." Rather they're online shopping sites being accessed via smartphone. It's also worth noting that 29% of respondents had either an iPhone or other smartphone, like a BlackBerry. This is roughly 15 percentage points higher than the population at large. Consequently all the behaviors examined here overindex accordingly. 

But in terms of the smartphone population they're going to be representative. 

VZ Navigator Reaches Beyond US Borders

VZ Navigator (from Networks in Motion) has been relatively successful as a monthly subscription serivce. But it's under pressure from increasingly competent free apps and tools on smartphones. To remain viable over the long term the service has to remain one or two steps ahead of rivals.

In an effort to do so the service is going global. According to the press release out today VZ Navigator Global:

  • Provides business and leisure travelers the ability to find locations and access turn-by-turn directions in North America and Western Europe, including Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- additional countries will be added to the service throughout the year;
  • Alleviates stress or confusion caused by reading road signs or directions in an unfamiliar language -- VZ Navigator Global customers can choose either English or Spanish as the default language, and miles or kilometers to mark distances;
  • Will be initially available on the BlackBerry(R) Storm(TM) 9530 smartphone from Research In Motion (RIM) while VZ Navigator Global capabilities will be available later on additional smartphones; and
  • Finds restaurants, gas stations, banks/ATMs and other popular spots in these countries using Local Search.

Domestic VZ Navigator is $9.99 per month. Existing users can upgrade to global for an additional $10 per month. The service costs $19.99 per month and includes the domestic data for new subscribers.

Even more than traditional VZ Navigator, Global probably is a niche product and will have appeal to a very select class of international business travelers.

IAC/Citysearch Buys Urbanspoon

IAC reported a loss for Q1 but it also disclosed that it had acquired Urbanspoon. What a success story for Urbanspoon.

This acquisition is a great complement for Citysearch and becomes part of its growing "network." Urbanspoon is an aggregator of restaurant information and undistinguished except for a game-like spinning carousel on its iPhone app.

That novel user experience drove a story in the NY Times in the early days of the iPhone. Apple then went on to feature Urbanspoon in many of its iPhone ads. 

There was nothing unique about Urbanspoon's content -- nothing. But the user experience captured peoples imaginations and drove the app's popularity. 

Zillow Launches iPhone App

Zillow has released an iPhone app. The app contains most of the data presented on the Zillow.com site:

  • Zestimate home values, home details and historical data on 88 million U.S. homes - 95% of all homes in the country.
  • Details, photos and contact info for 3.4 million for-sale listings - for sale by agent and for sale by owner.
  • Data on recently-sold homes.
  • Zillow's exclusive Make Me Move listings, which reflect at what price an owner would consider moving.

The iPhone app allows users to see properties in several different views: a map view, a satellite view and a list view of homes in the intended area. A profile or details page provides the Zestimate as well as a rich set of data about the property as well as nearby comps. There's also a link to the full property data set on the property on Zillow.com (which launches Safari). 

Beyond a nice user experience and interface, the thing that's really interesting and different about the app is its ability to leverage GPS. A potential use case is the following: you're taking a walk through the neighborhood and arrive at an interesting house. You don't have to enter the address to obtain Zillow's valuation; it will simply show you the data on the property you're looking at.

Here's more information from the Zillow blog and discussion on Techmeme

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New Tellme Client, Services Reflect Evolution of Voice Search

Tellme is one of the true incumbents in the "voice search" and automated directory assistance segement having been around for a decade. And two years ago to the day Microsoft acquired the company for just over $800 million, making it one of Microsoft's largest acquisitions. Today the company is announcing a range of improvements and upgrades to the underlying core speech technology and consumer-user experience that hold great promise: 

These advancements include the rollout of a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) carrier service that reduces customer transport costs, advanced speech services that improve automation of customer service calls, and a new "voice font" technology that delivers a more natural text-to-speech experience.

The new speech services are a result of collaboration between Tellme and Microsoft's Speech Components Group. These jointly designed technologies will be leveraged to advance natural user interfaces across Microsoft products to benefit billions of customers worldwide.

Because Tellme operates as an on-demand service, the new capabilities are immediately available to enterprises across Tellme's platform. In addition, Tellme is now using these technologies to power its mobile services, including the Windows Mobile 6.5 application announced today.

Much of this will play out in enterprise applications, which Authour discusses in a forthcoming report. On the consumer side, Tellme is promoting a single button for voice-initiated calls, SMS and search:

The new service puts many of the most popular phone functions behind a single button. Windows phone users just press the side button of their phone to:

  • Send a text by saying "text" to open a text box, then speak the text message and send to call anyone in their contact list
  • Initiate a call simply by saying "call" and then the name of anyone in their contact list
  • Search the Web with Microsoft Live Search by speaking your request, such as "weather in San Francisco, California",
  • "Pizza in Kansas City" or "mother's day gift ideas"

We saw the demo, which was impressive, but we didn't have an extended opportunity to play with the technology. On the search front Tellme says that anything one can or would do "manually" with Microsoft Live Search on the mobile handset one can now do using voice with Tellme.

As the press release excerpt above indicates, Tellme will be "baked in" to Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 at a deeper (network) level. This is a potential differentiator for Microsoft Windows phones but it's not clear whether Microsoft sees the strategic value that voice search and the Tellme user experience bring to its mobile OS. 

When we were briefed Tellme presented data from a recent consumer survey that indicated a preference for voice as a way to initiate a wide range of lookups and actions, from making calls to looking up movie showtimes and getting driving directions. We have proprietary data that shows the same set of preferences in the abstract. But the abstract promise of voice has yet to translate into significant changes in mobile user behavior from our observations and tracking of the market. 

Tellme also cited Sprint's real-world experience with the Instinct and Tellme voice-powered Live Search as further evidence voice's potential to impact user behavior. The company said there has been impressive adoption and use of voice search on the Instinct. And we continue to believe that voice search (done right) has the capacity to increase usage frequency and deepen user engagment. 

Tellme and Microsoft of course have a range of competitors including Vlingo, Google, Nuance and others. That competition and the increasing emphasis on voice search holds great promise for the mobile user experience. 

However the proof of whether speech can deliver the kind of mobile UX we've been anticipating and writing about for some time is in the actual usability and accuracy of the consumer experience. But Tellme's novel, unified "call, text, search" approach and OS-level integration with Window Mobile represent a potentially significant evolutionary step in that process.

Report Ranks Yahoo Tops in Mobile Search Performance

Gomez, Inc. and dotMobi have come out with competitive benchmarketing of site performance for three categories on the mobile Web: search, banking and airlines. The criteria used and ranking methodology were as follows:

  • Discoverability - how readily a consumer can find the mobile Web site using different URLs.
  • Readiness - how well the mobile Web site renders on popular mobile devices.
  • Availability - the percentage of successful transactions or the availability of a Web page.
  • Response time - how long each page takes to download and the duration of an entire transaction.
  • Consistency - how well the mobile Web site performs on different mobile carriers, in different geographies and time frames.

Yahoo was the top performer in the mobile search category. Here are the complete results:


In the two other categories Bank of America and AirTran were the winners:

  • Banking -- Bank of America was the overall number 1
  • Airlines -- AirTran was overall number 1

As the five criteria above suggest, this study measured overall mobile web performance. The irony of this study is that dotMobi is a domain that will be almost worthless as more of the mobile Web is about "full HTML" and mobile applications downloaded directly onto devices. 

Google Q1 Earnings Call: Mobile Remarks

Google released Q1 earnings yesterday, beating expectations but posting its first quarterly decline in revenues. There was a fair amount of discussion on the call about mobile, which was identified as one of three growth areas for the company. The other two were apps (enterprise) and display advertising.

Mobile continues to be a major area of strategic focus for the company and it appears there will be many more devices running Android (or announced) by this time next year. The following are comments from the earnings call transcript relevant to mobile.

CEO Eric Schmidt

Look at the success of Android and the mobile space in general. By improving the mobile web experience people search many, many times more than they did in previous mobile devices. We benefit both in terms of end-user happiness as well as ultimately in strong revenue growth from that area.

SVP Jonathan Rosenberg

Patrick highlighted in his remarks that Google has rigorous management of expenses, but we also have a history of making big investments based on technical insights and we are going to continue to do that today, especially in areas like display, mobile, and Android . . .

On the mobile side, more people are accessing the web from their phones. The number of mobile searches has gone up five times in just the last couple of years and this new generation of phones has eyes, a camera; ears, a microphone; skin; a touch screen; and they know their location. This makes them a great platform for very compelling applications.

We launched Google Latitude which you can use to share your location with friends with a fun Google news cluster just this morning on Latitude helping catch a thief in San Francisco. If you go to Google news and type in Latitude thief.

We are also investing in Android to make a great mobile web experience available to everyone and over 8% of mobile browsing is now conducted through Android, which is second only to the iPhone.

Spencer Wang - Credit Suisse

On mobile, can you give us a sense of what the click view rates look like on mobile relative to traditional search?

Jonathan Rosenberg

I don’t have specific data on click through rate. We are certainly seeing more advertisers are choosing to run their ads on mobile devices. You can see examples if you query auto insurance on the iPhone or an Android device. And the RPMs on the iPhone and Android are high, even though we’re in very early days of the mobile ecosystem, but I don’t have any specific data on how click through rates differ.

Sandeep Aggarwal - Collins Stewart

[W]hat kind of traction you are seeing for Android on mobile and what do you think about the potential of Android on the netbook?

Eric Schmidt

Overall it looks like Android is going to have a very, very strong year. We are already aware of many, many uses of Android, which as you know is open source, where literally the devices we hear about near the announcements, so the open source part of the strategy is working. We have also recently just announced an upgrade in new software for Android which is out now among the technical community and again, the stability, the proof points are really there now.

There are announcements happening between now and the end of the year that are quite significant from operators and new hardware partners in the Android space, which I won’t preannounce except to say that they really do fulfill much of the vision that we laid out more than a year ago.

On the netbook side, there are a number of people who have actually taken Android and ported it over to netbook or netbook-similar devices. So we think that’s another one of the great benefits of the open source model that we’ve used. We’re excited that that investment is occurring. And again, largely outside of Google, which we think is great.

Idearc Announces New iPhone App with Novel Features

Idearc's Superpages directory becomes the final directory publisher among the majors in North America to release an iPhone app. And like Dex, which understood that the use cases for mobile are not the same as in print or IYP and designed its app accordingly, so too Idearc has done some novel and clever things with its iPhone offering.

(For its part, AT&T has also done interesting thing with YPMobile, such as events integration and in launching non-branded apps such as Have2P, Have2Eat in the iTunes Apps Store.)

The Superpages app is at once broader and more specific than its online yellow pages sibling. It's focused on restaurants and entertainment categories (including shopping) but also offers nice features such as weather, WiFi and ATM locators, as well travel-realted information (i.e., airlines, hotels, taxis, etc.). There's also a high degree of personalization available on the app. Beyond favorites, it allows users to reorder top categories presented on its home screen. 

There's a slider across the top of the home screen (see screens below) that changes the view and type of content presented, moving from listings to a map view. Speaking of which, Superpages has done a nice job integrating Microsoft's Virtual Earth. The maps look great -- it's probably the first appearance of Virtual Earth on the iPhone -- and one can get multi-point routing and directions as well. 

There's Open Table integration for restaurant reservations. And one can also watch movie trailers through the app. In one of the movie-related screens you're able to page through movies posters using cover flow and then go to an information page by tapping the image. 

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Finally, there's a novel reviews feature that allows users to turn a thumb to indicate the intended star rating (image above). One can also upload images from the phone. Presumably all this user-generated content will make its way onto the IYP site. Superpages earlier created a Facebook app for the same reason.

I was interested to see whether the shopping content would leverage Idearc's relationship with Krillion for local product inventory data. Currently it does not but I would assume that will appear in time. It would be a winner in mobile, whereas online it's currently suboptimized in my view.

We'll have more to say in more detail in a later report. 

'Yellow Pages' iPhone App No. 1 in 'Navigation'

Avantar, LLC, publisher of the iPhone "yellow pages" app put out a press release that the app had reached number 1 in the App Store's "navigation" category. The release claims two million searches per month on the app. Yellow Pages is just one of several apps that use the "yellow pages" brand or metaphor, including YPMobile (AT&T). Interestingly most of the YP apps are categorized under different headings, including "lifestyle" and "productivity." In terms of popularity by category they largely don't compete "head to head." 

In Canada only Yellow Pages Group is permitted to use the "yellow pages" name, unlike in the US where anyone can use the term. 

Here's the list of most popular apps in that category as of this morning:

Popular navigation apps

Also popular in navigation is Say Where, voice-driven local search from Dial Directions and the Where app from uLocate. 

Here's the list of the most popular apps overall from Apple. 

Marketers Interested in Local-Mobile Search

SEMPO's 2008 survey covered the waterfront in terms of the state of search engine marketing. The professional organization surveyed 800 search marketers and agencies from all over the globle. (68% of respondents were from the US, with 20% coming from a range of countries; 7% were from Canada and 5% from the UK.)

On the issue of interest among search marketers in mobile and mobile search in particular, here's what the survey reported: 

Q: How interested are you in being able to serve geographically relevant advertising to mobile search users? (Scale of 1-5, 1=lowest, 5=highest)

mobile interest

Source: SEMPO/Radar Research (2009)

The graphic above shows at least 57% of respondents (a subset of the entire survey sample) said they were somewhat or very interested in geotargeted search marketing in a mobile context.

In addition, 20% of survey respondents said they would pay a premium of between 10% to 50% over conventional search marketing. The majority (39%) said they wanted to pay the same amount as online for keywords/ads in mobile search results.

ADCENTRICITY and Impact Mobile Combine for OOH + Mobile Ads

ADCENTRICITY is a digital out of home (OOK) technology provider and aggregator of ad inventory. There are literally more than 100K digital OOH screens at various locations around the US (supermarkets, franchise stores, gas stations, malls, retail stores, movie theaters, etc). ADCENTRICITY makes it easier for brands and advertisers of all stripes to buy these screens and get access to the audiences in these places.

The firm has just teamed up with Impact Mobile to add mobile reach and capabilities to its campaigns. From the release:

With Impact Mobile as the mobile service provider, this offering will provide advertisers with hyper-targeting capabilities to increase interaction with audiences on-the-go through mobile devices and help extend campaigns across even more channels. Capabilities include:

  • Call-to-Action: SMS, votes, polls, sweepstakes, contests, promotions, coupons, call-back request, text4info, surveys
  • Retail & Redemption: Mobile coupons (bar codes), unique PIN numbers (drive2web), ticketing
  • Content Deliver: Rich content, ringtones, wall papers, games, videos
  • Mobile Applications: Mobile Internet Sites (WAP) & Smart Phone Applications (more comprehensive and customized solutions)

Consumers engaging with digital out-of-home media are on-the-go and the interaction with mobile can be used for example, to send pre-programmed, customized messages to specific geographic targets throughout the life of the campaign. A mobile component to any digital out-of-home campaign can also help to drive a call to action, increase brand awareness and point-of-purchase sales.

Digital OOH is a fascinating (and effective, according to reports) marketing platform that can be used for both branding and direct response. Combining it with mobile makes it more actionable and dynamic in a range of ways implied by the release excerpt. For example, it can motivate someone to go to a point of sale (POS) and buy immediately with an offer or discount; it can get someone to sign up for alerts; it can motivate someone to download an application and so on.

Mobile can do this type of thing in general for traditional media (i.e., newspapers, mags, TV, radio) as well. And, eventually, most traditional media will (or should) offer some sort of mobile tie-in both to extend reach and to measure effectiveness. However, digital OOH is like combining TV and mobile at or near the POS. 

Yet these dynamic capabilities and the integrated marketing campaigns they imply are still quite a bit more sophisticated than the advertisers who would potentially be buying them. 


Related: Here's some additional color on the announcement from MediaPost

Microsoft Emphasizing Local in Live Search BlackBerry Client Promotion

There's an impending branding change coming to Microsoft's Live Search. But for the time being Live Search is still the Microsoft brand online and in mobile. And Microsoft is making its Live Search client app (with voice search) available on a broader array of BlackBerry devices including the Bold and the Storm.

I haven't been able to use it for awhile given that my WinMo HTC phone's touchscreen phone broke. However I like the Live Search app and used it when I had the phone. Until the Pre comes out I'm using an iPod Touch for WiFi mobile Internet access and a very low-end feature phone on the go. 

Here's a wacky site that showcases the local dimensions of the Live Search client for BlackBerry:

 Live Search for BlackBery

Separately, Yellowpages.com (AT&T) is the direct beneficiary of Microsoft's mobile distribution when local searches are performed: 

Live search Web

Games Most Popular Apps on iPhone

When the iPhone and apps store first launched it was unlikely that the device and its sibling the iPod Touch would become such a hot mobile gaming platform. Consistently, however, the most downloaded apps are games, according to the "top lists" on the iTunes store and comScore, which put out some new data on the subject yesterday.

The following chart reflects comScore data on the top iPhone apps for February: 

top apps

Among the few non-games here, in order of popularity, are:

  1. Facebook
  2. MySpace Mobile
  3. Google Earth
  4. Pandora
  5. AIM
  6. Flashlight
  7. Zippo lighter
  8. Movies/Flixter 
  9. Remote

Here are today's top free and paid apps, according to Apple (note Skype at #2 and Yahoo! Mobile at #10):



comScore also offered the following observations about the apps audience:

  • They are 32 percent more likely than average to belong to households earning at least $100,000 per year. This income segment represented 35 percent of all app users.
  • More than half (54 percent) of app users are in households making at least $75,000 per year.
  • They were at least three times more likely than the average Internet user to visit several popular gaming sites, including Ultimate-guitar.com, IGN Entertainment, GameStop, AddictingGames, Xbox.com, Blizzard Entertainment, SourceForge and EA.com.
  • They were also at least three times more likely than average to visit several popular social/communication/entertainment sites, including: AOL Instant Messenger, Hulu, Twitter.com, Digg.com, iMeem and MTV.com.

Mo-Soc Nets Brightkite and Limbo Merge

Two independent location-based mobile social networking providers BrightKite and Limbo have merged. The Brightkite brand will be the surviving one, but the company will be headquartered in Burlingame, CA (Limbo's offices). The companies also have access to the $9 funding round that Limbo recently received.

The two services combined will have several million reported users on a global basis. Both offer location based advertising and their merger is an attempt to gain more scale on the user side and to offer a stronger play for advertisers.


Mobile social networking is a segment ripe for consolidation, as the combination above suggests. It's a space that will be dominated (it already is) by established Internet brands such as Facebook and MySpace.

There will be a few independent companies that succeed but most will not. Loopt is probably the highest profile independent mobile-LBS company in the US, while Mocospace is on the pure social networking side. However the quality of ad inventory on Mocospace has been repeatedly criticized in private conversations I've had with people.

Recently Whrrl, a mobile-centric site like Yelp reinvented itself around the concept of storytelling (tied to place). As more and more people adopt the mobile Internet, the desktop brands have the advantage of a built-in user base. The audiences are thus theirs to lose. Independent, mobile-only companies must offer a user experience that is especially compelling and/or the PC-based companies moving into mobile must essentially botch the mobile user experience to create an opening for the independents.

Expect more such consolidation in the coming months. (As they used to say in the earlier days of blogging, hat tip to Perry Evans for alerting me to the merger via Twitter.)

Verizon Integrates 411 with VZ Navigator

Verizon announced that it was integrating 411 with VZ Navigator in those instances when the wireless caller is a VZ Navigator subscriber. According to the release put out by Verizon it works as follows:

After using 411 Search to find a phone number or address, Verizon Wireless said its customers with VZ Navigator-capable phones can now have a Place Message with that destination sent to their phones, simply by pressing "1" when prompted. The customer can then use VZ Navigator to display the location on a map or navigate to that location. Connecting these two services means that details for a listing found with Verizon Wireless' directory assistance can be provided to Verizon Wireless' VZ Navigator location-based service (LBS) so that customers can access audible turn-by-turn navigation to their destinations, the company noted . . . 

Jon Wells, vice president for product development at Verizon, said, "We found that many customers were using the 411 service with the hopes of finding directions to that location, so we launched the integrated VZ Navigator with 411 Search nationwide to provide customers with a one-stop shop for listing information and directions. The service offers convenience and value while eliminating the need for customers to manually enter their destination information, especially when driving."

This is a novel tie-in between 411 and directions. We wonder if Google will do something similar for Android with the GOOG-411 service. (VZ Navigator functionality is provided by Networks in Motion.) 

Users will pay $1.49 (411) + their VZ Navigator subscription fees ($9.99 per month) for each use. As smartphones like the iPhone and Android start to offer improved turn-by-turn directions capabilities the market for subscription services like VZ Navigator will be diminished. Indeed, smartphones with GPS threaten the entire PND market over time. That's why Garmin has become a smartphone maker. 

Pongr Joins Everypoint's Developer Program

Even though the iPhone, Android and, to some extent new WebOS from Palm have captured the hearts, minds and resources of application developers, Java remains the common denominator for running apps that serve the hundreds of millions of wireless subscribers with "feature phones". That's why it is noteworthy that Pongr - with an "image recognition and price comparison" application that already runs on the iPhone, Blackberry and low-end (text-only) phones, has joined the developer network operated by Java specialist Everypoint. It highlights the developer's dilemma when looking to reach the maximum number of subscribers worldwide with "rich" applications.

Pongr supports comparison shopping by allowing shoppers to use their mobile phone to do global price checks. For text-only shoppers, it keys off of a manually entered bar code. For phones equipped with cameras, it will key off of an image of the item that a shopper is looking at. The service then allows the shopper to buy the item from his or her phone, or through MyPongr.com, its on-line portal. Turning to Everypoint to extend its footprint reflects some dissatisfaction with the reach provided by a decidedly bi-modal strategy. SMS may prove too clunky, while high-end smartphones may remains too exclusive. In this case, support of Java through a device-neutral platform may be just right.

Mobile to Make Twitter 'Ubiquitous'

Someone said to me last week that he thought Twitter was "primarily a desktop thing." If you listened to last week's Stephen Colbert interview of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, you'd have heard how mobile-centric Twitter actually is, from inception to its future ambition.

Much of the discussion of whether Twitter came from and where it's going focused on mobile phones. 

The inspiration behind Twitter is instant messaging "connected to mobile texting such that it was available everywhere -- totally ubiquitious," said Stone. 

Where do the 140 characters come from? SMS messaging according to Stone: "The limit on texts are 160 characters and we wanted to reserve a little bit of room for a username."  And he specifically cites mobile as part of the larger growth strategy for the company. "There are over four billion mobile phones," observed Stone. 

Though not asked, Stone impliedly rejects the notion of an acquisition: "We're going to become a strong, profitable independent company."