Local Search

RHD's DexKnows.com Takes Local Search National

R.H. Donnelley, after announcing that it offers the #1 local online search site in its print Yellow Pages in the markets, is taking DexKnows.com national. DexKnows.com is a destination site, built on Local Matters' core technology. The site enhancements support reviews, comparison shopping, geographic awareness (like search by landmark), video clips and several personalization features (like stored searches and shopping itineraries).

The service was introduced in RHD's Western and Midwestern Markets. This represents expansion that portends the unification of all its online local search under the DexKnows.com brand by the end of 2008.

Magellan Device Adds Google Local Listings

Magellan Elite

The Wi-Fi-enabled personal navigation device Dash Express offers content from Yahoo! Local, as well as other content providers (e.g., Zillow). Dash sees itself as an "open platform" that will continue to add content and features over time, transcending the "personal navigation" category as a non-phone mobile Internet and content device. More established competitor TomTom offers "points of interest" and local content from a range of companies; Garmin's devices also have much of this same information.

But Magellan Navigation will be the second company, after Dash, to partner with a search engine to offer local content on a device with real-time wireless connectivity. (TomTom has a deal with Google, where one can send maps to a TomTom device.) The forthcoming Magellan Maestro Elite 5340+GPRS is being introduced at CES next week and will become available in March. The cost is an unfortunate $1,300, which all-but-prevents it from having mainstream appeal.

The Dash device is less than half that price at $599, which is still too expensive for most people. TomTom devices range in price from $199 to over $1,000. The iPhone, by contrast, is $399.

Price is a huge factor in this market -- perhaps the factor. The Telematics Research Group (TRG) has projected that mobile phone makers will overtake TomTom, et al. in the next 5-7 years in the personal navigation market, as phones increasingly double as navigation devices. As TRG also correctly points out, non-phone personal nav devices will need to be connected and loaded up with local (and other) content to be competitive with smartphones going forward. In other words, maps and GPS navigation by themselves are no longer enough. (Ads on these devices is the topic of another conversation.)

As an HTC 6800, Windows Mobile 6.0 user (with Live Search, Google Maps, Yahoo! Go and the Opera Mini loaded), I already have no reason to buy one of these personal nav devices. As also mentioned, prices will have to be aggressively lowered for these devices to be competitive longer term. Current, relatively high price points make them highly unattractive vs. smartphones, which are now almost as good.

Dial Directions White Labels Service to Ask Mobile

Ask has tapped Dial Directions to offer a voice interface for obtaining driving directions. Beside the "Directions" link on the mobile Ask (WAP) site there's a new "Voice Entry" link. That sends users to the Dial Directions phone number (347-328-4667) or initiates a phone call from the device. Users hear "Mobile Ask powered by Dial Directions" and the service basically works exactly as Dial Directions does, except that results are returned on a WAP page with a map vs. in text messaging form.

Currently the new Ask service doesn't include some of the other Dial Directions features such as "meet me" or directions to events.

Ask is the first of the major engines to offer WAP-based voice-search for directions. Live Search for mobile (the downloadable application) offers embedded voice for local search, but not for directions. InfoSpace FindIt (now part of Superpages) has voice output for turn-by-turn directions; so does the Mapquest Navigator client.

I would expect Dial Directions to attempt to "white label" its service more broadly to others in the future.

ChaCha Goes Mobile with Text-Based Answers Service

I've written up today's release in some detail at Search Engine Land.

The service allows users to text ChaCha (242242) and to essentially ask any question about any subject, which makes it more flexible that the current crop of free DA services. ChaCha's many human guides respond in the same way that they do on the desktop. However, in mobile, you get a single answer (via text).

I asked the following questions in testing out the new service:

  • What are the hours of the Getty Center museum (Los Angeles)?
  • How far from LA to SF?
  • Who won the 2006 Oscar for best actress?
  • What's the highest rated Sushi place in SF?
  • How do I get from 91306 to Palo Alto, CA?

Overall it performed generally well in response to these questions. There will be a client advisory coming out shortly with more detail.

Thomson/GE Speed Dials GOOG411 at CES

One of the featured products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show introduces simplified access to free directory assistance from a fixed line telephone. A GE-branded cordless home phone (model # DECT 6.0) features single-button, speed-dial access to GOOG-411 (normally accessed by dialing 1-800-GOOG411). This is a hardware-based, preemptive strike resulting from a partnership between one of the leading providers of cordless phones and the undisputed leader in Web-based search.

Google introduced GOOG411 roughly a year ago as its brand of speech-enabled mobile search. It has not yet added the sorts of audio-based advertising that provide an obvious revenue model around category search and location-based marketing. Instead, Google is still in development mode, introducing a trialling a multiplicity of access methodologies for its local search service. The button is hard-wired into the GE handset, but it could just as easily be rendered as a soft-key or widget on the touch-sensitive screens of forthcoming smartphones.

Meanwhile, because automatic connection is baked into GOOG411, it should not be long before DECT 6.0 owners begin to use the button as an intelligent speed dialer. The good news is that the original query is through a tool free number and, thanks to IP connectivity, Google provides call completion for free.

Single button access, offered by Google and others, are poised to change long established user behaviors, like dialing 411 or longer, toll-free access numbers. This is a major threat to incumbent, fixed line DA providers that generated something like $3.5 billion in highly profitable revenue from roughly 4 billion calls last year. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the fact that Google has yet to attach either connection fees nor promotional charges to its service, advertiser supported, "free" DA services generated less than $20 million in top line revenue.

The partnership with Thomson/GE shows that Google will pursue a number of avenues to generate more call origination. No firm has been better at converting activity to revenue and profits.

Retail Queries Popular on Mobile 411

Mobile search and DA provider V-Enable released data gathered from carrier partners between 11/23 and 12/7 about mobile 411 search activity in major U.S. metro areas (LA, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco and Dallas). Here are the "top retail searches" according to the company:

  1. Wal-Mart
  2. Target
  3. Game Stop
  4. Best Buy
  5. Walgreens
  6. Publix
  7. AutoZone
  8. KMart
  9. Toys R Us
  10. Blockbuster Video
  11. CVS
  12. Circuit City
  13. Home Depot
  14. Radio Shack
  15. Sears

What it shows in part is the power of these brands and the opportunity to bridge between the Internet and physical stores, using mobile, in terms of promotions and product inventory information.

MSFT Live Offers Upgrades for Local WAP Search

LiveSearch

Microsoft has added new content and some upgraded features to Live Search for WAP. The Virtual Earth blog explains the new features:

  • 1-click directions for all businesses and street addresses in U.S.
  • Additional details for U.S. businesses, including neighborhood, business category, cuisine (restaurants) and hours of operation
  • Photos and reviews for U.S. businesses
  • Improved movie show times Instant Answers (we now show critics rating)
  • Added interactivity to all maps (clicking on maps now zooms in/out to predefined levels, or advanced to the next waypoint for routing maps)
  • Traffic & map Instant Answers
  • Mobile search for the China market. Scopes offered are local (no maps, but coming soon), web, images, news and Spaces.

The VE blog post has a range of nice screenshots of the new features. I may not have noticed it before but the WAP site promotes the free DA service 1-800-Call-411, as well as the Live Search client application (which offers embedded voice search).

All the major search engines on their WAP sites are now offering blended or federated search, which was initially introduced by Yahoo with oneSearch.

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I provided some additional detail in my post on this for Search Engine Land.

BuzzD: Part Cityguide, Part Social Network

New mobile "city guide" and social network BuzzD has launched. The text-messaging based system is aimed squarely at a youth audience. It combines elements of local search and social networking.

The site also seems to be offering a technology back end that turns more traditional publishers into local mobile search sites and social networks.

The combination of local search on mobile devices, with one-to-many social networking elements could become a kind of "killer app" for mobile. There will be many companies eventually in this segment, trying to combine community and local search -- for example, Mosio and Whrrl, among others, as well as more traditional desktop companies, such as Yelp.

Here's some additional information from RCR Wireless News.

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With its acquisition of Ingenio, including the Keen part of the business (minus the adult content), there's an interesting opportunity for YellowPages.com to create a new type of mobile Q&A or distributed directory assistance style business along the lines of AQA or Texperts.

NIM Develops App for YellowPages.com

Networks in Motion has reportedly developed a new mobile application (download) for YellowPages.com, which provides maps, turn-by-turn directions and local business listings from the site. It's currently only available on AT&T phones. The application is free.

Networks in Motion is also behind various LBS applications from AAA, Verizon and Sprint, among others. The company claims that its platform is the "most widely used mobile phone navigation service in North America."

Google Introduces non-GPS "My Location" Feature for Mobile

Many mobile industry insiders and pundits have argued that when GPS becomes ubiquitous then "location based services" will really take off. The problem is: GPS doesn't always work, it isn't yet in every device, and isn't always enabled even if it is present. But the premise that passive location awareness represents a big opportunity in mobile is correct. Accordingly, Google is introducing a new "My Location" feature for Google Maps for Mobile that takes advantage of GPS (if present) but uses cell-tower triangulation for the majority of phones where GPS isn't present or won't work for one reason or another.

In non-GPS scenarios the service can pinpoint user location within 500 to 5000 meters. Where it uses GPS, the new feature identifies user location precisely. Here's how Google explains how My Location works:

Mobile towers are placed by operators throughout an area to provide coverage for their users. Each of these towers has its own individual coverage area, usually spilt into three non-overlapping sections know as "cells." These cells come with identification numbers, but no location information. Google takes geo-contextual information [from anonymous GPS readings, etc.] and associates this information with the cell at that location to develop a database of cell locations. Based on this information, Google uses various algorithms to approximate a user's handset location relative to the cells nearest to them. The accuracy of this information depends on how big an individual cell is. Thus, areas with a denser concentration of mobile towers allow for a more accurate My Location reading. Additionally, as our database of cell locations continues to improve, so too does the accuracy and coverage of the My Location feature.

In order to fix your location, you press the "0" key on the handset. It doesn't work 100 percent of the time but it has performed fairly consistently in my testing. What the user is then permitted to do is conduct a search and discover results in closest proximity nearby. It removes the inconvenience of keying in location information.

One can simply enter "Starbucks" or "sushi" or "salons" or any other query and find the nearest locations. It thereby eliminates the frustrations of having to key in additional characters or query terms.

My Location is available today for the majority of smartphones, including BlackBerry, Nokia (Series 60) and many Windows Mobile phones. Not supported currently are the iPhone, Motorola Q, Samsung Blackjack and Palm Treo 700w. The service works in the U.S., U.K., most of Europe, including Russia, and in Taiwan. It's not available in China or Japan currently.

There is no advertising on Google Maps for Mobile now of course. But expect that over time ads will be introduced just as they exist on Google Maps on the desktop. More precise user location information creates an opportunity for those ads to become much more locally relevant than on the PC.

Here's a whimsical video from Google that explains the feature: