Local Search

NearbyNow Powers Lucky Mag Shopping App for iPhone

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. 

Lucky shoe app

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. 

Coupons Inc Buys iPhone App GroceryIQ

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.

Report: ChaCha Raising More Capital

Mobile answers and voice search provider ChaCha is raising more money ($30M) according to this report:

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?

Speakers:

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 on Local Mobile Search

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:

  1. Trapster
  2. iNap 

  3. JOYity 

  4. Cab4Me 

  5. ShopSavvy 

  6. Google Earth 

  7. Locale 

  8. GoSkyWatch
  9. SafetyNet 

  10. SitOrSquat 


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.

Yell Group Results Illustrate Growth in Internet's Importance

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.

Top Google Android Engineer Goes to Coupons Inc., Android to Other Devices

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. 

Survey: Use of Mobile Phones in Shopping

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?

  • Yes -- 29%
  • No -- 71%

How mobile phone was used as part of retail shopping experience:

  • To ask someone about a product I might purchase -- 72%
  • To send a picture of a product I might purchase -- 40%
  • To use the Internet to look at comparison prices -- 24%
  • To use the Internet to look at product reviews -- 15%

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 Completes Consumer-Facing Transformation

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:

 kgb questions

The company's TV campaign is also convey this idea while at the same time "recruiting" for agents:

kgb campaign

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. 

Mobile Fast Food Ordering Has Arrived

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.

TomTom Debuts 'Connected' PND

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.

Microsoft Updates Live Search App, Does Verizon Deal

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:

Live Search results

NIM Moves into China

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.

Portland to Be First City for WiMax from ClearWire

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 Improves Neighborhood Awareness

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. 

Whrrl

What Is 'Mobile Social Networking'?

There's lots of talk these days about "mobile social networking," but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean reading Facebook news feeds via a mobile device or updating Twitter, for example, from a mobile phone? Or does it mean using location-awareness on your phone through an application to interact or communicate with people nearby who are similarly mobile? Of course the two are not mutually exclusive -- and Facebook (and MySpace) will evolve over time to increasingly take mobile and location into account. 

But there's nothing necessarily "social" about logging into Facebook from a mobile app. (BTW: the Facebook iPhone app has prompted me to use Facebook more in general.) In one sense accessing Facebook from mobile browser or app is really no different than reading the NY Times or getting restaurant reviews from Yelp on a mobile device. For purposes of this post the central difference between Facebook and the NY Times, conceptually, is that others can potentially respond and "interact" with you on Facebook. In addition, this could hypothetically happen in real time. Right now it's largely asynchronous.

With Loopt, Where's Buddy Beacon, Whrrl and other mobile-centric apps that enable people to "see" one another's locations "on the go" that real-time element is even more pronounced. In other words, I see you're nearby, I send you a message and we meet at a coffee house, etc. Alternatively, I send out a message looking for a nearby restaurant recommendation from my mobile device and get real-time responses from a community of users (e.g., Mosio). Those two scenarios, which involve two-way interaction in real time, should define what we mean by "mobile social networking."

Indeed, two-way communication between people using mobile devices, in real-time, is very different than looking at a website (or logging in) via mobile, regardless of whether it's MySpace, Facebook, Bebo or ConsumerReports. And many people use SMS today in precisely this way. That's why, earlier this year, when we explored the subject, texting appeared for many people as a satisfactory alternative to mobile social networking:

Barriers to 'Mobile Social Networking' 

 Barriers to mobile social networking

Source: Opus Research/Multiplied Media (n=730, Q1 2008)

Texting thus represents a barrier to the growth of true social networking on mobile devices, unless or until those networking tools become easier, cheaper and more convenient than texting. When they do, SMS volumes may diminish (in favor of mobile IM and/or other tools). 

This will all likely turn out to be quibbling over semantics in a very short period of time, as the mobile use of Facebook and MySpace grow and people recognize that as "mobile social networking." But I at least wanted to raise the issue of definitions because it's worth being conscious about what we mean by "mobile social networking" and what features differentiate it from simply accessing a website with social elements on a mobile device. 

Verizon May Be Easing Up on Restrictions Against Sharing Subscriber Location

Yesterday Greg Sterling wrote about Sprint/Nextel making subscriber location available to third-party application providers uLocate and WaveMarket. Today, in a report in RCR Wireless, Colin Gibb noted that there's evidence that the owners of certain wireless handsets from Verizon Wireless will be able to use services that take their location into account:

Per the article: "New devices running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile operating system including the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Omia, Samsung Saga and HTC Corp. Touch Pro are slated to add open, stand-alone GPS in the first half of 2009, according to an e-mail obtained by Brighthand.com and confirmed by the operator.

The move could allow customers to use third-party location applications like Google Inc.’s Maps for Mobile."

As for an acknowledgment from the service provider, Gibb says that a "Verizon Wireless representative" said "Nothing has changed".

That assessment is not entirely accurate since owners of the Omnia, Saga or Touch Pro will be able to avail themselves of services that are aware of their location. Such capability paves the way for better local search ("Find the nearest") and navigation services as well as a family of social networking services that take into account "who's nearby."

KGB Moves Further Beyond 'DA' with Texperts Acquisition

The idea of a distributed network of non-professional "responders" to a mobile question or search is one logical evolution of DA -- the original form of mobile search. In the past we informally labeled this concept "social DA." It's the marriage of search and social networking in a mobile context.

Mosio has tried to develop that model; ChaCha is working with a version of that model and, in the UK, so is the paid service Texperts. (Twitter may eventually develop this as well.)

Similar in many respects to ChaCha, Texperts uses a distributed group of individuals who must pass basic testing requirements. They're paid, as are ChaCha's guides. But unlike ChaCha, users pay for the Texperts service -- like traditional DA.

DA purveyor KGB this morning announced that it had acquired the UK based service: 

Texperts will deepen kgb's market strength and service capability for mobile text services. The success of both companies demonstrates that consumers have a growing need for the instant availability of simple, accurate and hassle-free delivery of information on their mobile phone. The acquisition will also enhance kgb's ability to build on the initial success of the company's text advertising program (www.118118advertising.com), launched in 2007 in the U.K., which enables advertisers to reach consumers via the medium of mobile text, a highly effective and cost efficient alternative to more traditional mass media.

It's not immediately clear whether the existing Texperts model will be retained (I'm assuming it will). But it's a fascinating thing to watch KGB (formerly DA wholesaler InfoNXX) evolve from a traditional DA provider to carriers to a consumer-focused, mobile search platform with ad support. 

Here are previous posts on KGB.  

Twitter, Zannel and Cutting through the Noise

I, a self-described Twitter detractor, am becoming more fascinated by its possibilities of late. Dan Miller my colleague is a big Twitter fan by contrast.

I recognize that Twitter has a number of useful functions, beyond news dissemination and entertainment, that mostly have to do with companies promoting their sales, deals or events (as reflected in this recent article showcasing Dell's use of Twitter).

Many people are caught up in the question of what will Twitter's business model become or what will Twitter ultimately be able to charge for?

  1. Subscription/licensing revenue from companies using it as a promotional tool 
  2. Premium consumer services 
  3. Ad platform tied to content, location, etc. 
  4. Consumer research/survey platform
  5. Two or more of the above?

I'm not so worried about Twitter being able to find a business model; I think there are probably several revenue streams in waiting.

What I'm focused on is the structuring or organizing of the content into more useful and accessible frameworks. There are more and more feeds to keep track of, whether Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, etc. In a way this is like the proliferation of IM platforms. But beyond simply aggregating all these feeds there is the challenge of extracting useful information from them.

AOL (MapQuest) has done something interesting in bringing all the geotagged Twitter feeds together:

Twitter

As you can see there's potentially great value and local recommendations here: what to do, where to eat and drink, where to stay. But there's a fleeting and ephemeral quality about Tweets and similar feeds. How does one turn something like this into a recommendations network (a la Mosio) or make the data available for later discovery (a la Yelp) when users are really looking for the information? 

Zannel, which just launched for the iPhone, tries to bring Twitter, Flickr and video together around location with its new CityWatch app:

Zannel

This app is far from perfect from what I can tell, although search is going to be added to a subsequent update. That should go some distance toward what I'm suggesting. But in general CityWatch starts to point at something that can cull valuable infomation from feeds about local recommendations and improve the signal to noise ratio.

"Locator" is Major Component of Visa Mobile (for Android)

T-Mobile subscribers with Chase Visa's and a G1 can check download the Visa Mobile application designed to deliver "near real time alerts", such as when a subscriber is approaching a designated credit limit or if Visa has detected potentially unauthorized use of the one's credit card; "offers", which amount to promotions from participating retailers, restaurants or service providers; and "locator", which illustrates nearby merchants that will honor Visa Mobile offers.

Greg Sterling noted that Google and Visa were working on an Android-based service back in September. We haven't used the service, but reviews have been generally favorable. Including "offers" presents the possibility of a viable business model and the "locator" service is a natural form of local mobile search.

The introduction has already sparked some discussion of the need for stepped up security for mobile devices. Apparently Visa embedded some interesting weasel words in its terms of service warning that "no data transmission via a mobile handset can be guaranteed to be 100% secure." Lack of 100% security should be a well-understood given by now, if for no other reason than the fact that people have a bad habit of leaving their phones on trains, planes or cabs.

A cottage industry is about to be created to protect the information that people carry around on their mobile devices. [At LMS and Opus Research we believe that the human voice (in the form of a passphrase or voice signature) should be an important part of the equation for mobile phones, but that's a different story from a different program.]

Vodafone Buys its own GPS firm, Wayfinder

In an effort to control the costs of making mobile applications that are "geo-aware" Vodafone acquired Wayfinder, a Swedish developer of location-based services. The two companies have a history of working together to offer GPS services in some of the countries in Western Europe. But Vodafone's services in Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal have been offered in conjunction with TomTom, which acquired digital map specialist Tele Atlas earlier this year.

Something about the purchase price (roughly $29 million in cash) has led shares in TomTom to surge on European exchanges. One explanation is that Vodafone, which had acquired the Danish social networking specialist ZYB in May of this year, is taking more control of local social networking offers through its affiliates. In that case, it regards Wayfinder as a component for a robust set of home-grown (more accurately 'recently acquired') mobile services. Such a strategy points to more opportunities to knit TomTom's resources into the mix, at the expense of alternative mobile content and service providers, specifically Nokia.

The role of wireless carriers in providing innovative services remains a matter of great uncertainty. The "AppStore" model for publicizing and distributing a constant stream of new applications from third parties is certainly gaining traction with iPhone users and is certain to become the model for the new generation of "open platforms" for mobile services. This approach makes it less and less likely that wireless subscribers will turn to their carriers as the sole source of mobile applications.

If anything, the $29 million sale price is a testimony to the fact that "there's no better time to buy!" innovative technology firms. ZYB cost Vodafone $50 million just four months ago. By contrast, TomTom spent 2 billion Euros (more than $4 billion-with a "b") for TeleAtlas and its resources for generating and maintaining digital maps and navigational services around the world. Spending mere millions to take control of resources for integrating geo-awareness into local, social networking services is a small price to pay.