If you visit the venerable Superpages.com this morning you will notice something decidedly different. A new service called “SuperGuarantee” now occupies top billing on home page, and it represents a breakthrough product for Idearc, superpages.com and, ultimately, the Yellow Pages directory business at large. There are also enhancements to the mobile version of superpages.com that we’ll note in more detail in a later post.
My colleague Greg Sterling has his take on SuperGuarantee here. As you will see, it reflects new product positioning and new sales tactics by a company with tremendous incentive to reshape itself and the sets of services that it offers. It reflects a new approach brought to the organization by Scott Klein, who was hired to be CEO in June 2008. A combination turn-around expert and packaged goods maven, Klein melded a small set of marketing “outsiders” with the top performers among incumbent employees to launch a series of initiatives that do nothing less than transform a Yellow Pages publisher with diverse and disperse Internet properties into the sort of local advertising and promotional consulting firm with a broad array of products designed to help small businesses survive and thrive during this economic downturn.
SuperGuarantee, the initial offering, is such a product. It is a high-visibility service assurance program whereby SuperPages issues a “SuperGuarantee Shield” to eligible businesses that have bought advertising in the printed Yellow Pages directory. For those businesses, Idearc guarantees customer satisfaction, first by bringing an alternative vendor in to “fix it” or by paying the customer up to $500 toward successful repairs or completion of the task. The guarantee applies to some 3,000 categories, primarily service companies. It explicitly excludes a good number of professional service providers – such as doctors, lawyers, travel consultants and even churches and hairdressers – where make-goods could lead to significant liability or where the definition of an unsatisfactory job could be highly subjective.
Starting today, eligible local businesses are invited to register “free of charge” for the first year. They can then display the SuperGuarantee badge on their storefronts, business vehicles, uniforms and advertisements. We see it as a bold move by a Yellow Pages publisher to define a broader set of services on behalf of local business and we’ve been told by CEO Klein that there are many more innovations to be introduced in the next few months that will help redefine the services – across multiple media and mobile resources - that local businesses can employ to help attract more local customers. All portend a broader and different role for the local directory publisher.
John Markoff, a terrifically thoughtful writer on technology for the NY Times, has written a sweeping piece on mobile mapping, navigation, LBS and augmented reality. It touches on most of the issues and possibilities for "local mobile search" as a metaphor for finding things locally on a mobile device.
Most fascinating to me is the notion of "augmented reality," which exists already to varying degrees in Japan and somewhat on the Android compass function. This is a very strong future direction for mobile mapping and LBS. Imagine holding up your camera at a restaurant from the outside and seeing all the reviews for that restaurant. That's a very mundane example. Imagine doing that at a store and seeing what brands were on sale on the inside, etc.
Something along these lines is the reconciliation of the realities of privacy and user behavior with the long-held LBS "Starbucks coupon" fantasy. Regardless, such use cases exist or are not far away.
I've long been fascinated by the "point and search" functionality that already exists from GeoVector, NeoMedia, SnapTell, Mobot and others. There's keyboard/keypad as a query entry mechanism and more recently voice search (e.g., Vlingo, Tellme, Google, Nuance, etc.). But the camera on a smartphone represents another input system that may prove equally if not more powerful. ShopSavvy on Android, as well as other bar code and QR code readers, are starting to gain attention and some adoption in the US.
I could be mistaken about the emergence of augmented reality and/or camera-phone based search functionality in the US but I don't think I am. It's really just a question of time.
USAToday Personal Tech columnist Edward Baig writes about and compares various "voice search" tools based on his own experiences with several services:
His reviews of all of the services are mixed but his favorite is among them is ChaCha:
ChaCha is addictive, because you feel compelled to ask just about anything and more often than not get a decent reply. "What has more calories, peas or carrots?" (It's peas.)
It's a little bit "apples to oranges" because ChaCha uses human beings to respond to queries. Also missing from the comparison were Tellme and/or any of the "free DA" services.
However the tools that Baig used above are all more flexible "search" services that allow people to go beyond the conventional address and number lookups of the DA and free DA services.
Earlier this week Yahoo! announced several upgrades to its oneSearch Shortcut (which requires a client download) including improved search suggestions, voice and location triangulation. The oneSearch shortcut is available on Nokia, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones. Unfortunately it's not yet available for the iPhone or iPod Touch.
According to a Yahoo! blog post from earlier this week:
Today we’re launching several new features for the Yahoo! oneSearch Shortcut, including an auto-locate feature that uses cell tower triangulation and Wi-Fi to detect the user’s location, enhanced Search Assist that incorporates the user’s recent search history, and a Windows Mobile client.
As mentioned it also includes voice search (powered by Vlingo). Collectively these features are terrific. However Google has largely the same feature set already.
In order to make up some lost ground in mobile search Yahoo! will need to roll out new features more quickly to more platforms and add things that aren't available at Google.
Yahoo! oneSearch and the Yahoo! Go client were ahead of rivals when they first launched. However Google in the past year has matched much of that original functionality and has more recently been quicker to upgrade and roll out new mobile features and products.
A survey from mobile social network Limbo on the attitudes and behavior of 2,000 mobile phone users in the US and UK in Q4 shows, consistent with other data, that iPhone owners are more engaged across the board and are seeing more ads. They're also responding more too.
Here are some topline data from the survey report:
Source: Limbo/GfK Technology (2009)
More than 162 million consumers used text messaging in Q4, by far the dominant form of mobile data usage
Women and younger people (18-24) are most likely to respond to ads
Specifics regarding ad response:
Google missed the boat on social networking -- big time. While Google CEO Eric Schmidt occasionally points out here and there that Orkut is popular (outside the US), the company had a chance to buy MySpace and it declined before the network was picked up by News Corp several years ago.
We wrote yesterday that mobile social networking is on the rise and Facebook has reported strong growth in mobile users on a global basis. Now Google has entered the "mobile social networking fray" with a new service called Latitude, which is part of Google Maps for Mobile. It allows users to share location in real time on their mobile handsets and/or through a desktop iGoogle Gadget.
Rather than a new "social network" however it's a logical extension of Google Maps for Mobile. It uses Google's existing "My Location" and other tools to enable people on Maps for Mobile to share their location with a selective group of contacts -- those who opt-in to participate.
After an initial period of testing the service has launched in 27 countries in North America, Europe and Asia and on the following platforms: BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android. An iPhone/iPod Touch version is coming soon.
I've written extensively about Latitude on Search Engine Land and will be issuing an Advisory to LMS clients shortly.
On the central question of privacy, Google has taken pains to give users total control over whether they opt-in to use the service at all, whom they connect with and whether they can be seen or are hidden. It's conceptually like IM in that regard. Indeed, the new service integrates with Google Talk on the mobile handset (where supported). This is a key feature that should be quite popular.
Users can share location and add one another via email address or their GMail contacts. Thus the set up is relatively painless and Google accelerates adoption because of the dual installed base of GMail and Maps for Mobile users. Accordingly we predict it will be immediately competitive with (or leapfrog) similar services from Loopt, Pelago/Whrrl and uLocate, among others. It also shares features -- like manual control over location -- with Yahoo!'s Fire Eagle.
As mentioned, there is mobile-desktop integration through an iGoogle Gadget (though not Google Maps proper). However the Gadget is only currently available in the US. According to senior product manager Steve Lee, there are no plans to monetize Latitude beyond that which is already going on in Google Maps/Search.
Here's a video demonstrating how the service works.
At Internet2Go NearbyNow CEO Scott Dunlap demonstrated the new Lucky Magazine iPhone application that his company supports. The idea is to tie merchandise featured in the magazine to a rich mobile user experience that allows people to browse and find products in local retail stores. (Right now the products are limited to shoes.)
Users can shop by shoe type (trend), brand or color. The application relies on NearbyNow's inventory data and infrastructure to confirm the availability of shoes in local stores. Users may also shop online. The application will expand beyond shoes in the near future.
This is a fascinating combination of traditional media (a magazine) with mobile (iPhone application). It extends the Lucky brand into mobile and also provides a connection between the pages of the magazine and the point of sale.
TheFind's iPhone application (which uses NearbyNow data) also provides the same functionality across a broader range of products. However, this application offers Lucky a powerful selling tool for advertisers that recasts the magazine as a dynamic "platform" for brands and products aimed at the Lucky demographic.
CPG Coupon provider Coupons Inc. has acquired popular iPhone shopping list app GroceryIQ. Here's what the press release has to say:
GroceryIQ is the leading grocery shopping application for the iPhone or iPod Touch. The application comes preloaded with more than 130,000 items commonly found in supermarkets across America. The critically-acclaimed software enables users to organize their personal shopping lists by store, aisle, buying history, favorites, as well as customizing item sizes. With more than a thousand new installs daily, GroceryIQ has been the #1 paid application in the “Lifestyle” category of the iTunes app store since its release.
The coupon-enabled application will match shopper’s grocery lists with Coupons.com coupons, and provide multiple ways for consumers to redeem the coupons from their handset. The free upgrade will also allow users to download layouts of nearby supermarkets based on ZIP code and organize their shopping list by store layout to save time shopping.
This deal is a no-brainer for Coupons, Inc. which will be able to insert mfg coupons in contextually relevant places on the app. People will definitely use the coupons; the only question is whether the stores are prepared to redeem them from a mobile handset.
This coupons-shopping app integration is not unlike that on the Kraft iFood Assistant.
ChaCha Search Inc., a Carmel, Ind.-based search startup, has secured around $11 million of a $30 million Series C round, according to a regulatory filing. No new shareholders are listed. The company had previously raised around $14 million from Morton Meyerson, Bezos Expeditions, Rod Canion (founding CEO of Compaq) and Jack Gill (partner at Maven Ventures). It also had secured a $2 million grant from 21st Century Technology Fund.
ChaCha successfully reinvented iteself as a mobile company after a false start on the desktop. The company sits in almost a unique position in the mobile world, although DA provider kgb has recently started encroaching on its turf.
ChaCha offers the broadly accessible platform of voice (and SMS) as an input mechanism -- like DA -- but the flexibility of search. Other "voice search" and free DA competitors are more structured and rigid in their approach and capabilities. Automated services such as Live Search Maps, Google Maps for Mobile and others aren't yet evolved to the point where they can compete with the human guides that ChaCha employs on the back end to answer queries.
However that "distributed call center" approach is costly.
ChaCha will be on the SMS/Text-based advertising panel at Internet2Go later this week in San Francisco:
Panel: SMS - Not Sexy but Voluminous
Americans now spend more time texting than talking on their phones. The monthly volume of mobile messages has now reached 75 billion -- with a "B." SMS is also device-independent and can be done on the more than 85% of the market constituted by feature phones. Yet most marketers and pundits appear to be looking beyond SMS to the "mobile Internet." Are they missing a huge opportunity? How should agencies and advertisers think about SMS and where it fits into a mobile marketing plan?
Zaw Thet, CEO & Co-Founder, 4Info
Jay Highley, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Cha Cha
Greg Hallinan, VP of Marketing, Verve Wireless
Alec Andronikov, Chief Mobilizer/CEO, MoVoxx
Wired is running two interesting pieces on location-aware mobile apps. The first is a run down of largely iPhone and Android applications and what they do: Inside the GPS Revolution: 10 Applications That Make the Most of Location. Here are the apps discussed in the article:
The second article is called I Am Here: One Man's Experiment With the Location-Aware Lifestyle.
As the title suggests it's a lengthly first person account of living with and using location-aware applications (mostly on the iPhone). The article discusses a wide array of these apps and also explains the various targeting technologies used on mobile devices, how they work and their relative speed and accuracy: GPS, Cell & WiFi triangulation.
In the end, the article is mildly entertaining, generally informative but also ultimately inconclusive -- perhaps appropriately so. One can't embrace location on mobile devices without some ambivalence because of the privacy issues and potential for abuse in some contexts. But because of their utility and potential benefits, one should not simply dismiss location-based applications either. That would be a kind of knee-jerk "Luddite" stance.
As much as we're proponents of local mobile search, we're also cognizant of the dangers for abuse or improper tracking and monitoring. And this is one of the main critiques expressed in the recent consumer groups' FTC complaint and preemptive strike against mobile marketers, which speaks about the dangers of geo-location in particular.
But as has been said in other contexts, the "genie is out of the bottle." We can't and shouldn't take these applications away from people who want them. The question, rather, is how to balance their capabilities with legitimate consumer privacy concerns.
In his Screenwerk blog, Greg Sterling made passing reference to some very interesting results for U.S. based YellowBook, nestled in Yell.com's six month financials. On page 6, six month results for YellowBook show a doubling in revenue for Internet advertising, based largely on a near doubling of the average revenue per online advertiser (from $19.58 to $36.92 per month) compared with 2007.
In spite of the apparent price ups, the number of online advertisers of record grew modestly while the number of advertisers in the printed product stayed flat. Thus the 394,000 online advertisers at the end of the reporting period is abour 14% more than the 346,000 buying print ads. Spending for printed Yellow Pages advertising declined 1.5%.
The 8:1 ratio (roughtly 12%+) between printed revenues and online shows the staying power of the print product, where erosion is staved off by an increase in the number of books published and increased loyalty among core advertisers (where retention rates remain around 70%). Last year, only 6% of revenues were generated by online products.
The Wall Street Journal is running a story this morning that is interesting for a couple of reasons. The basic news is that the senior Android engineer, Steven Horowitz, has been hired by Coupons Inc.:
Mr. Horowitz was recruited in February 2006 by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who has spearheaded Android, as one of the first engineers to work on the project. He said in an interview, that after “spending so much time and energy” on the effort it was a good time to move on. Mr. Horowitz added that he was also attracted by the fact that the worsening economy has accelerated business at Coupons, which also operates a Web coupon site for consumers. The company plans to hire 40 new employees by the end of the February, he said.
This is a very interesting choice for Horowitz, to move from arguably a cutting-edge project to one that is probably quite a bit more mundane in most respects. Nonetheless, coupons are much beloved by consumers and especially so in this bad economy. It's a giant market offline; yet, coupons have never really hit their stride online despite their early presence on the Internet.
Partly the lack of "inventory" or the easy ability to find them and partly manufacturers and retailers' fears about fraud have held back coupons' advance in the digital world. Surely their (economic) moment has arrived. We'll see what happens over the course of the next couple years and whether they truly take off online and in mobile or continue making incremental steps. (Here's all my past writing about coupons at Screenwerk.)
The other interesting thing to me about the piece was the confirmation that Android is being readied and used for devices other than cellphones:
After focusing on releasing the first version of the software late last year, the engineers are shifting their focus towards making the software work with a greater variety of phones and devices. Mr. Horowitz added that he is aware of companies trying to translate Android — whose software is open source, making it easier to customize — to devices that aren’t phones, like netbooks (a new breed of low-end portable computers), or televisions, but declined to go into details.
This essentially confirms an earlier report that Android would be on so-called netbooks within a year.
ForeSee Results as part of its holiday shopping consumer survey asked people about the use of mobile phones as part of the in-store shopping experience. The data were compiled from “more than 9,000 responses collected from December 1, 2008 through December 18, 2008 from shoppers who had visited the Top 40 retail websites at any point within the prior 14 days.”
Here are the key points:
Have you ever used a mobile phone as part of your shopping experience in retail stores?
How mobile phone was used as part of retail shopping experience:
The emerging conventional wisdom is that people using mobile phones in store are more likely to buy online (after confirming what they want) or go elsewhere where they might get the item less expensively. However ForeSee concluded "shoppers who use a mobile phone as part of an in-store shopping experience are 6% more likely to buy something in the store."
The top two responses above support this conclusion. They indicate that people are seeking validation or approval for their intended purchases. The ability to communicate with a friend, spouse or other interested party (and gain approval) seems to then trigger the purchase.
In terms of mobile Internet, there's a huge loyalty and marketing opportunity with branded shopping applications, such as those launched by the Gap and Target over the holidays.
KGB, formerly InfoNXX, has completed its transition from a directory assistance wholesaler to a more consumer-facing "mobile find" provider. (This has been true in Europe for some time.) We've written about KGB's transformation a couple of times in the recent past:
Today the company formally launched its "multi-modal" mobile find (their characterization) services (Web, mobile, SMS). From the release:
Leading the way in the new kgb suite is its premium mobile text answer service, kgbkgb/542542. (www.kgbkgb.com) This launch follows the success of kgb's similar "Ask Us Anything" premium text answer service in the United Kingdom which demonstrates that consumers have a growing need for an always-available mobile service that helps them find accurate and timely answers and relevant information while on their mobile phone. kgb is also launching mobile web applications for Smart phones and the iPhone, a WAP site, plus an Alpha kgb Web service this year to further expand the suite of information services it will offer in North America.
Responses are provided by a mix of technology and humans. The latter category is moving to a hybrid between call centers and kgb "special agents," who are trained but non-professional responders. This is very similar to the ChaCha model and largely inspired by Texperts, which was recently acquired by kgb.
To get people used to the idea that kgb allows people to "ask any question" -- rather than just business listings information -- it offers a scrolling "ticker" of actual questions coming across its network, similar to what you see in some of the Google campus reception areas:
The company's TV campaign is also convey this idea while at the same time "recruiting" for agents:
Some of the kgb services are free while the SMS services will require consumers to pay and will also feature ads as well.
Interestingly in the US there is no voice entry point for the kgb service, except through telco partners. For the time being the company has decided that on the "voice search" front it's not going to compete with its customers for whom it provides DA wholesale services.
The blog MacRumors points out that quick service Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle has added iPhone ordering. The company already has online ordering but this is a progressive and forward-looking step that will boost loyalty and potentially store revenues. (Apple filed a patent application around mobile ordering like this.)
The sign-up process is quite lengthy and flawed in that respect. (For example it doesn't tell you you need an eight character password.) However the actual app is very nicely done and will likely be heavily used. Registration can also be done online.
In the sign-up the default setting is "send me special Chipotle offers and news." This means promotions/coupons may go to mobile phone numbers and/or email. This is also smart and potentially very effective to draw people into stores. Imagine an email that goes out at 11 a.m. offering some sort of coupon. I don't know whether the back end supports location targeting but, assuming it does, promotions could be targeted to specific geographic areas (i.e., w/in 5 minutes driving distance, etc.). There is also a store locator in the app.
Chipotle may be ahead of the curve, but it's only a matter time before every major fast-food chain tries mobile ordering.
As mobile phones have gotten better at providing directions and mapping, as well as offering a host of other types of content and mobile Internet access, PNDs have had to evovle or risk a dwindling market. Dash was the first device to debut with real-time IP connectivity. Quickly, after Dash, the other PND OEMs announced that they too would offer such devices that allowed for two way data exchanges over the air.
TomTom, which owns Teleatlas, has brought out its first such device, the GO 740 Live. It's already available in Europe and coming to the US in Q2 of this year. It will cost a heafty $499 but such devices are much more compelling than the unconnected PNDs.
It offers Google local search, weather, gas price search, traffic and community/social elements:
TomTom Buddies: With TomTom Buddies, drivers can link their TomTom device to those of their friends so they can locate each other on the map, share favorite locations, as well as exchange and share location information and text messages.
TomTom Map Share: Like all TomTom devices, the GO 740 LIVE comes with TomTom Map Share, TomTom’s unique community-based map improvement technology that allows drivers to make specified improvements to their map instantly on their device. Leveraging its base of 25 million users to date, TomTom has received over five million map improvements thus far. The combination of superior Tele Atlas map updates and Map Share allows TomTom to deliver the most up-to-date and accurate maps in the industry.
With Bluetooth, you can make calls through these devices (in Europe). There's also voice command.
So the PND market will likely evolve along the lines of this model -- offering something approaching full mobile Internet access, local content/POIs, SMS/Voice communication, as well as a host of other travel-related content and services.
A bi-furcated market will perhaps also evolve: low-end navigation devices that offer few frills and are relatively cheap juxtaposed with more expensive "connected" devices that offer the kinds of content and capabilities that GO 740 Live provides.
As most of you are aware by now, Microsoft announced two big search distribution deals last night: a three year global deal with Dell and a five year mobile deal with Verizon Wireless. That instantly gives Microsoft access to Verizon's roughly 80 million users. It's a big win for Microsoft and represents one of the company's best chances for stopping Google's march toward early mobile search dominance. It also gives Microsoft the ability to tout the Verizon user base before brand and national advertisers. In one stroke Microsoft "overcomes" the fragmentation problem of mobile marketing -- potentially.
However it very much remains to be seen how many people actually use the search tools that will be integrated and pre-loaded onto Verizon handsets. As I said in my post last night at Search Engine Land:
The irony or paradox of the Verizon-Microsoft mobile search deal is that smartphones are where most of the mobile search activity is happening today. Yet those are the users that the carriers have the least amount of control over and where the “carrier deck” is either marginal or effectively non-existent. Users may simply open a browser and head to the “mobile internet,” visiting whatever sites and search engines they please.
The Microsoft press release describes the implementation this way:
Depending on which device they use, customers will be able to use voice commands and typed queries and even select to use location-aware searches to receive highly relevant search results, including maps, directions, traffic information, information on local businesses, movie theatres and show times, gas prices and weather. In addition, customers will also get search results that include news and entertainment content such as downloadable full-track songs, videos and games. Verizon Wireless customers will be able to access Microsoft Live Search from a device’s home screen, by downloading an application or through Verizon Wireless’ Mobile Web service.
The deal thus offers a range of consumer-facing dimensions, which include its newly upgraded Live Search client application. Having used the Live Search client extensively in the past I was impressed with it. There were some problems early on with data quality, which goes to the underlying listings database, but those it would appear have been addressed. The client offers a broad range of content types, as well as a voice interface.
There's no question this deal is a huge deal for Microsoft -- literally and figuratively. I'm sure there's a generous revenue share or even revenue guarantees. In addition the opportunity to work collaboratively on advertising -- search AND display -- probably had something to do with Verizon's choice of Microsoft vs. Google. Verizon and Google have also previously been antagonists in connection with the carrier "openness" debate and 700 MHz spectrum auction. So that probably didn't help Google.
Yet, ironically, Verizon will be all but compelled to offer an Android/Google phone in the coming years as all its major carrier rivals introduce them. But that's a separate discussion.
The deal also potentially helps Yellowpages.com, which offers local advertising through Live Search. See, e.g., Boston Hotels:
Networks in Motion, which is behind VZ Navigator, AAA's mobile app and other carrier navigation apps, is opening an office in China. This is a good and important move for NIM given that free apps with location awareness may limit the growth potential for subscription-based navigation in the US. That's not going to be true in the feature phone market, however.
Certainly POI data is widely dissemintated in free smartphone applications and mobile search engines.
PC World (and others) are reporting that Sprint's WiMax subsidiary, ClearWire, has decided that Portland, OR, will be the second city in the U.S. to enjoy the wide area wireless broadband service called WiMax on a commercial basis. Sprint's WiMax service has been available to Portland residents, at $25 per month. That is $20 per month less expensive than Sprint's WiMax offering in Baltimore, MD. (There are a range of pricing options and associated services.) The service, which is said to "harmonize" Clearwire's offering with that of Sprint's other WiMax subsidiary, Xohm, will be the platform for 4G wireless services as well as wireless delivery of DSL speeds to portable and desktop computers.
The low entry price should attract a significant number of new subscribers and should make Portland a showcase for services that seamlessly extend desktop services to wireless subscribers.
Whrrl, a cross between Loopt and Yelp with a bit of Zvents thrown in, is vying in an increasingly competitive and noisy "mobile social" or "LBS" space for attention. Today the company (Pelago is the company behind Whrrl) announced a deal with Maponics for better neighborhood data. The company also buys similar data from Urban Mapping.
In no particular order, other competing services in the US include BrightKite, Where/uLocate, mobile Yelp, Citysearch, Loopt, Buzzd, GoodRec, Socialight and others. As they evolve, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter are competitors as well. Conventional search engines are also competitors as local information sources. For example, Google aggregates reviews and Google Maps offers location finding, etc.
There may be one or two mobile-centric breakouts in this segment but the online "brands" have a big head start and a certain gravitational force. For the mobile startups, having right mix of content and functionality, as well as the money to survive and outlast rivals, will be critical.
Better neighborhood data will offer some incremental help, but what Whrrl needs is usage first and foremost to build momentum. It's efforts to leverage Facebook and Twitter are a step in the right direction.