Local Search

OpenTable to Go

OpenTable has introduced -- no surprise here -- a mobile version for on-the-go bookings. Here are some screens:

Cities

OpenTable neighborhoods

OpenTable mobile reservations

The mobile site is stripped down version of the desktop version, without the reviews (diner's choice) or local popularity indexes. I would imagine a future iPhone version would reproduce more of the content of the full site. Of course you can use Opera Mini or Skyfire and get the full site from a mobile phone.

Jingle Achieves 'Per Call Profitability'

Some in the industry thought the day would never come. However, Jingle has announced that 1-800-Free-411 has achieved "per call profitability":

Since the companys launch in September 2005, Jingle has become the countrys largest provider of free directory assistance and has amassed a base of more than 130,000 paying advertisers. Jingles advertisers include hundreds of major household names like McDonalds, WalMart, Ford and Radio Shack as well as tens of thousands of small independent retailers in virtually every Yellow Pages category and local market. In the quarter ahead, Jingle expects to pass two other key milestones -- answering its 500 millionth phone call and serving over 1 billion in call advertisements.

There's also be an executive shake up:

Jingle also announced today the relocation of their corporate headquarters from Menlo Park, Calif. to Bedford, Mass. In conjunction with this relocation, the company is also announcing the promotion of two key executives. John Roswech, formerly SVP of Sales and Business Development, will now be joining the Board of Directors and will serve as the companys President. Scott Kliger, the companys founder, will now assume the CEO role. George Garrick, Jingles former CEO remains on Jingles Board as a key strategic advisor to the company.

This milestone is significant for the company as it faces intensifying competition from a range of well-heeled advertisers such as Google, AT&T and Verizon among others. Free DA also faces competition from the mobile Internet itself as it becomes more mainstream over time.

Jingle not long ago did a deal with Dial Directions to add text-based directions to any listing provided to users. It remains a differentiated feature among free DA providers.

Multipled Getting Good Reviews of Mobile Poynt

Multiplied Media's Poynt local search product was just released for Blackberry. Not being a crackberry user I haven't been "hands on" with the service, but it's received some good reviews:

Pros

  • use with gps/ non-gps enabled berry
  • quick easy access to what you're looking for
  • movie reviews, details and ticket purchase
  • uses BB maps and your phone to go further

Cons

  • None
  • Currently only works in the USA and Canada

The company recently announced that it had crossed 50,000 users on the desktop. It may yet turn out that the mobile app is where Poynt really takes off, much like ChaCha's experience.

Vlingo Now on Blackberry Devices

Vlingo, which came out of the gate with a high visibility deal with Yahoo, is now independently expanding. Today's announcement is about the availability of Vlingo for Blackberry devices. It must be downloaded but allows the following:

  • Voice Dial. Initiate calls to anyone in your address book.
  • Text Message. Send text messages without typing.
  • Email. Simply speak "Email John Smith" to start an email on-the-go, and you can speak the body of the message as well.
  • Applications. Open calendar, maps, etc.
  • Address Book. Search for contacts without typing.
  • Web Search. Look up anything online in one step. Just say, "Web search: concert tickets in Boston," and the results are displayed.
  • Note2Self. Send yourself a reminder in the form of an email, task or text message.

You can see a short video demo here. The company also has a deal with CallGenie.

We believe that speech/voice control is a killer app for mobile and will (together with cheaper data plans) dramatically broaden the usage frequency of the mobile Internet and mobile search.

Before we changed the name to Local Mobile Search we were calling this service, Speech-Enabled Mobile Search.

Travel Channel Launches Earthcomber Mobile App

The Travel Channel has launched mobile applications built on Earthcomber's platform and content:

This unique free mobile application serves as a personal radar that delivers customized travel information based upon a consumer's tastes and interests - travelers specify their interests and Travel Channel GO handles the searching, highlighting locations nearby that match their preferences as they travel from place to place. Travel Channel GO simplifies mobile local search through its highly categorized approach, helping travelers quickly find the information that they need while on-the-go, without burdensome amounts of typing on small mobile keyboards.

It works on iPhone, Blackberry. The Earthcomber application is also available for WAP browsers:

Earthcomber home

Earthcomber app

The downloadable application leverages GPS and heavily emphasizes personalization, which adapts over time. It also de-emphasizes keystrokes and search. Citysearch also uses the Earthcomber application.

Goog411 Launches in Canada

Goog411 has been operating in Canada for awhile but the service has now officially launched:

We incorporated some Canadianisms such as "eh," "Traw-na," "Cal-gry," and, of course, "aboot." We also took into account geographical differences. Whereas users in the US are prompted for "city and state," Canadians are asked for your "city and province." We incorporated some Canadianisms such as "eh," "Traw-na," "Cal-gry," and, of course, "aboot." We also took into account geographical differences. Whereas users in the US are prompted for "city and state," Canadians are asked for your "city and province."

The service is still experimental but offers all the same features available in the U.S., such as free call, free connection, SMS info, iPhone "Map-It" integration, and more. For now, the service supports only English queries, but we're working hard to make it disponible en Français dans un proche avenir.

Google did a small amount of promotion (outdoor) in the U.S. for the service but the company has continued to rely upon traditional PR, promoting Goog411 on its O&O properties and word of mouth. While Google's service arguably isn't the best of the free DA offerings (see our report), it has the benefit of Google's brand equity and near ubiquity. Currently Jingle Network's 800-Free-411 is the market leader in terms of awareness and usage.

Free DA

However, that may change over time. Since we conducted that survey, ChaCha and Verizon have entered the market. There are also new DA-substitute applications and offerings from V-Enable, Tellme, Live Search (with voice) and Yahoo! (+ Vlingo).

More on Nielsen's Mobile Search Data

Here's more detail from Nielsen on their latest round of US consumer data:

Mobile search market share:

1. Google (61%)
2. Yahoo! (18%)
3. MSN (5%)

Frequency:

  • Google: 9 searches per month
  • Yahoo! 6.7 searches per month

That compares with roughly 40-50 monthly searches on the desktop (per comScore)
Top content categories:

Top 3 Mobile Internet Search Categories for Q1 2008

Google

Yahoo!

Information

33%

33%

Local Listings

29%

24%

Websites/Navigation

27%

26%

These categories above are not clearly defined but interesting, given the way in which Google and Yahoo!'s own query analyses differ.

Nielsen Mobile Shows Surprising Popularity for Mobile Payments

Ideally, local search results in discovery of the goods, services or merchants with whom a searcher wants to carry out business. It culminates in a purchase and payment transaction enabled by mobile phones. That's why it's reassuring to see a press release quoting research from Nielsen Mobile (formerly Telephia) showing that 9 million wireless subscribers have used their mobile phones to make purchases.

Here's the coverage:

  • As of Q1 2008, 3.6 percent (9.2 million) of US mobile subscribers use their phone to pay for goods or services
  • Men are more likely than women to use their phone for commerce: 4.5 percent (4.9 million) of men and 3.0 percent (4.3 million) of women say they have made a purchase using their phone
  • Adults ages 25-34 are the most likely to have made a purchase using their phone: 5.4 percent (3 million) of adults ages 25-34 have made a purchase, compared to 3.6 percent of all mobile subscribers
  • 49 percent of mobile data users, those subscribers who have used one or more data features on their phone such as text messaging or the mobile internet within the past 30 days, say that it is likely they will conduct mobile commerce in the future

Mobile websites are one popular way consumers make purchases over the mobile phone. Of the 40 million active US users of the mobile web in April 2008, 5 million accessed mobile shopping and auction websites -- up 73% from April 2007, when just 2.9 million mobile users did so. Auction site eBay.com is the most popular shopping or auction destination on the mobile web, with 3.4 million unique visitors in April.

Purchasing items via text messaging is another growing form of mobile commerce. Some services allow consumers to send text messages to a phone number or mobile shortcode in order to be charged for goods or services directly on their mobile phone bills. Already, 6.5 million US mobile consumers say they've used text messaging to purchase an item.

"For many of the millions of consumers who are already shopping online or over landline phones, mobile commerce is an obvious and useful extension of that opportunity," said Nic Covey, director of insights at Nielsen Mobile who presented the data at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition today. "As more mobile commerce services become available and consumers develop a greater trust for phone-based transactions, we expect commerce to be an increasingly important part of the mobile experience next year and beyond."

The findings come from Nielsen Mobile's monthly Mobile Insights survey of more than 30,000 US wireless subscribers, with similar data available internationally.

Nielsen's study reveals that security is the number one concern among those mobile data users not yet participating in m-commerce:

  • 41 percent of data users who do not participate in mobile commerce say security is their biggest concern
  • 23 percent say they worry about being charged for the airtime
  • 21 percent say they don't trust that the transaction will be completed

"As with other forms of electronic commerce, US consumers need proof that mobile transactions will be a safe, affordable and efficient complement to other modes of shopping," said Covey. "As long as retailers continue to meet those expectations, more consumers will come to view mobile shopping as a compelling and viable option."

Multiplied Media Introduces Blackberry Client

Multiplied Media, which has been driving local search content into IM on the desktop, has just launched a Blackberry client (not connected with mobile IM). The end user doesn't need to have an IM client on the phone to use the product.

One of the interesting things that Multiplied is doing is expanding "local search" to include brands/products, which is a primary use case in mobile. Recently the company also launched movie search on the IM side. That's also especially relevant to mobile, given the prevalence of entertainment oriented searches.

Local Matters and Apptus Bolster Canoe411 for Qubecor MediaPages

In a joint press release from Denver, CO, and Lund Sweden, IYP and enhanced 411 aficionado Local Matters and e-Commerce specialist Apptus announced that they have worked together to bring new content and capabilities to www.Canoe411.ca, an Internet Yellow Pages and local search engine operated by Quebecor MediaPages.

A "beta" version of the site has been operating since April. As it moves out of beta status, it becomes the official online directory for the Canoe.ca network, which reportedly attracts 8.8 million unique visitors each month. The combination of technologies from Local Matters and Apptus is to provide mechanisms for local merchants to target advertising to local buyers. MediaPages published printed directories in 20 or so smaller communities in Canada, but will grow its business by expanding into Montreal and Quebec City. Integration with Canoe411.ca will give the MediaPages sales force more opportunities to sell products and services that rely on targeted search-based marketing through the Canoe411 Web site.

T-Mobile Invests $6 Million in DeCarta for LBS Insurance

T-Mobile's venture arm has invested in geo-software provider DeCarta:

Location-based services are experiencing rapid adoption as consumers are using new applications that take advantage of location-enabled handsets. Location and mapping services have become a central ingredient in most mobile Internet platforms. deCarta's geospatial software platform gives mobile LBS application developers and mobile operators the ability to quickly build and deploy applications that integrate a wide variety of map and data sources to provide complex local search, navigation, mapping, social networking and spatial search functions.

deCarta's technology is ideal for the full continuum of mobile LBS solutions including off-board, server-based applications offered by mobile operators through to "connected navigation" -- the ability to integrate personal navigation devices and smartphones through real-time two-way mobile connectivity to a variety of dynamic data sources and local search services.

DeCarta clients have included Ask.com, AT&T, Google, Hotels.com, Maps.com, Qualcomm, Sprint Nextel, Sage-Quest, Verizon, Yahoo!, Zillow.com. T-Mobile also recently invested in Whrrl.

Previously, personal navigation device maker Tom Tom acquired TeleAtlas, while Nokia acquired Navteq.

Carriers see mapping and related data services as strategic in the segment, so I would imagine there will be other such investments, leading ultimately to acquisitions.

Mobile Heatmaps for Urban Hotspots

Citysense is an application that offers heatmaps in "real time" for various entertainment venues and restaurants (right now only in SF). It's available for Blackberry and iPhone 2.0. By tracking mobile phones it shows where people are and generally what they're doing.

The company intends to use GPS tracking (like Whrrl) to build user profiles and start to make recommendations:

When you use Citysense, the application learns about the kinds of places you like to go from GPS – without ever sharing that information. In its next release, Citysense will not only tell you where everyone is right now, but where everyone like YOU is right now. The application will compare your history and preferences with those of other users, and show you where you're most likely to find people with similar tastes at that moment. So each person's nightlife map will look a little different, and will display a unique top hotspot list. Cool, huh? That's why we save your location when you use Citysense: to remember what you like. Of course, you don't have to keep a personalized nightlife profile.

This is a fun and provocative entertainment discovery tool, which has Twitter-like potential. Is it a business? That's a question. The company that produced Citysense is called Sense Networks.

___

All sorts of interesting data -- and potential uses, such as Citysense -- are going to come from all the movement and activity tracking (in the aggregate) out there. There are privacy issues to be sure, but it's not unlike search behavior or clickstream behavior on the Web applied to the real world.

Google Maps for Mobile Adds Transit Data

The new version of Google Maps for Mobile has added public transit data to mirror what's available on the desktop:

Enter the new version of Google Maps for mobile. This version (2.2) allows you to get transit directions in all the same places as the web version of Google Maps, including Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Vancouver, and over 40 other cities in North America.

The "MyLocation" (cell tower triangulation) feature assists with the nearest public transit location (helpful in a city like New York or Europe).

Google is also mapping WiFi locations to improve this non-GPS location awareness capability for various devices.

Yelp iPhone Widget and Lo-Mo-So Applications

Tons of new iPhone applications will seek to tap the forthcoming location-awareness capabilities of the device through the SDK. Yelp is one of them. I wrote about the forthcoming Yelp iPhone application on Screenwerk.

It's not yet clear whether there's any "friend finding" layer in the Yelp application. Many would-be Yelp dethroners (if I can create a word) seek to combine entertainment content with friend finding and some set of communication tools.

One of the big questions in Local Mobile Search and/or mobile social networking is whether new companies in mobile can and will take the place of companies that currently dominate those functions on the desktop. Our preliminary research on mobile social networking with Multiplied Media indicates that the desktop "brands" in social networking have a significant head start vs. mobile-only networks because of the existing investment users have made and a much higher level of awareness.

But there's also demand and opportunity for applications that can elegantly bring location-specific content and friend finding together in mobile:

Interest in mobile social capabilities

Source: LMS/Multiplied Media (n=862)

What that means is that a better mousetrap on a high visibility platform (e.g., the iPhone) could enable a few of these mobile-only networking applications to break out over time.

ChaCha's Mobile Search Volumes

ChaCha struggled on the desktop but seems to really be taking off with its Mobile Answers service. Given that the common mobile search frequency is around nine (9) per month, I was struck by the statement in a press release that ChaCha was “seeing usage rates that exceed 40 queries per month. Our most active users are tapping ChaCha multiple times per day resulting in over 150 questions per month.”

That compares favorably with desktop search and seems to outstrip what I've heard and seen in most of the mobile ecosystem.

I spoke with the company's co-founder, Brad Bostic, today to get more insight into the numbers. Most of what he shared with me he didn't want to share publicly but the growth was impressive. (Also the categories of queries are broader than one might expect to find in a conventional DA service.)

One of the advantages of a voice-based (or SMS) system is that it can attract the market of non-smartphone users, which still represent more than 90% of mobile subscribers today in the US. However, smarthphones are growing much faster than feature phones in terms of sales.

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The NY Times' David Pogue favorably covers ChaCha.

RIM Promotes Local Search on Scavenger Hunt

RIM is producting the "Blackberry Curve Challenge" (scavenger hunt) to promote the Curve and local mobile search capabilities of the device:

A fun, high-energy race through these amazing American cities – Boston, Minneapolis, Portland and San Francisco! It’s a one-of-a-kind experience where you’ll flex your physical and mental muscles in a scavenger-hunt style race using a new BlackBerry Curve 8330 smartphone with Verizon Wireless service! Top teams in each city will receive a BlackBerry Curve 8330 smartphone. And the winning teams from Boston, Minneapolis and Portland win a trip to San Francisco to compete in the Ultimate Challenge: Alcatraz Island!

Take that iPhone! Perhaps this is a reality TV show in the making :)

Jingle Goes Nationwide with Dial Directions

Jingle Networks' 800-Free-411 for now is the "free DA" market leader. But it has been joined by a broad range of competitors:

  • 1-800-GOOG411 (Google)
  • 1-800-Call-411 (MSFT, Tellme powered)
  • 1-800-Yellowpages (AT&T)
  • 1-800-2ChaCha (”mobile answers”)
  • 1-800-The-Info (Verizon)
  • 1-800-555-Tell (Tellme)
  • 1-800-555-5555 (potentially)

This also doesn't include the voice-powered (or operator-assisted) applications:

  • Yahoo’s oneSearch with Vlingo
  • MSFT Live Search with voice
  • The Tellme client (a new version launches today for the Blackberry)
  • V-Enable’s FreeMobile411

There's also the mobile Internet itself, which competes with DA in some cases. In the future, mobile social networks may also address some of the queries that might have gone to DA (e.g., category searches). Right now the latter is quite speculative however.

Against that backdrop Jingle needs to continue to develop, market and differentiate its service if it hopes to stay ahead of this increasing competition. One way it has sought to do that is by offering Dial Directions service, which as of today is now available nationally: any location to any other location (by address or intersection).

To test it, I called Free-411 from both my landline and from a mobile phone. The service distinguished between them accordingly and didn't offer the option to get directions from the landline (because there's no ability to receive a text). But it did when I called from my wireless phone.

Dial Directions' service also has the option to skip getting to the highway, which is great. And overall it's nicely integrated into the Free-411 service and call flow.

Maps & directions are a high demand, high-use category in mobile generally and for DA in particular. It represents one of the motivating reasons people seek local telephone numbers from DA (to then get directions).

Maps and directions in DA

The addition of the Dial Directions service to Free-411, beyond providing more utility, also provides more ad inventory at the bottom of various texts that are returned with the directions information.

Dial Directions has a range of interesting additional capabilities that are so far barely exposed to the marketplace. Its speech-enabled events directions is one example. Its "Meet Me" social networking/invitations capability is another. And there's more in the pipeline.

Query Volumes on 'Mobile Answers'

Scott Jones, co-founder of ChaCha is reporting in a press release that ChaCha's new "mobile answers" service is "seeing usage rates that exceed 40 queries per month. Our most active users are tapping ChaCha multiple times per day resulting in over 150 questions per month."

Below is the paid/traditional DA call frequency data we collected in our earlier consumer DA survey.

DA Call Frequency

Regarding mobile search frequency, we've observed anywhere from nine per month to nine per day in the case of one provider. Forty queries per month is consistent with average US desktop search frequency (per comScore), which is quite significant in terms of monetization potential.

The ChaCha figures also suggest what many people have been suggesting: that mobile query volume eventually has the capacity to overtake the desktop. The voice interface facilitates greater volume or frequency because it's intuitive and doesn't rely on keyboard entry.

Truvo Launches Mobile Client with mobilePeople

Belgium-based yellow pages publisher Truvo has launched a downloadable mobile, local search client (for Beligians) on the mobilePeople "liquid platform." The relationship was pre-existing and a similar announcement had been made last year.

What's also interesting here, as the release points out, is that Truvo, the old World Directories, is adding third-party content to directory listings to broaden the utility and use cases for the application.

Europe is a somewhat different market than the U.S. but the mobile arena replicates the early debate and competition between directories and search engines: can they win with a destination strategy or do they need to do "mobile SEO" and syndicate content? They not mutually exclusive strategies of course.

The rich client strategy also begs the question about whether consumers will download applications onto mobile devices en masse. On so-called feature phones applications may be more viable long term because they have limited capacity to browse the "mobile Internet" compared with smartphones. However, mobilePeople can also do and does WAP sites and portals.

Recently mobilePeople agreed to be acquired by partner Local Matters.

800-555-5555 Launches in Legal Vertical

The Voice Internet has built a broad-based platform that has a range of intriguing capabilities -- so many that it may be confusing to people. Accordingly, the company is initially narrowing to focus on a single, if ambitious offering: 800-555-5555.

It aims to be a comprehensive starting point for all voice search. The first "product" rollout is "Just Say Legal," a PPCall ad network for attorneys. The idea here -- and this is a template for other content categories -- is that users call the "800 all fives" number and say the keyword "legal," which leads them into the directory.

The company can use this same approach to build out innumerable verticals. It can also connect to any third-party service, such as Goog411 or 800 Free 411. Accordingly it could become a kind of voice "meta search" or true "voice portal," but on a scale conceptually much larger than Tellme's 800-555-Tell service. The "800 all fives" brand and underlying technology offers that opportunity.

The challenge of generating revenue can't be underestimated but the first offering Just Say Legal benefits from a promotional and investor relationship with syndicated radio show host Bill Handel.