Amazingly ChaCha announced last night that the company had raised another $20 million from new investors VantagePoint Venture Partners and Rho Ventures. I believe that brings total funds raised to date to over $70 million.
From the release:
ChaCha has answered nearly one billion questions in the past two years alone, having surpassed even Google in mobile text search, according to Nielsen. ChaCha is the industry leader in text-based advertising and has emerged as the single best place to reach the youth market in any medium. Between online Top 100 website, www.ChaCha.com, and mobile platforms, ChaCha reaches over 15 million unique users every month.
In the course of answering questions, ChaCha creates a clever dialog with its users, which ends with a marketer's call to action. Additionally, the company will soon deploy a new MMS service that will deliver movie trailers, other video, coupon images, and rich media ads to virtually all phones, not just smartphones.
I just wrote about the new ChaCha.com at Search Engine Land. Here's some of our past writing about ChaCha at I2Go:
SMS is the single best medium to reach teens and young adults in the US (perhaps globally) and ChaCha may be the best platform for teen and youth-targeted SMS.
Local ad platform xAD (formerly V-Enable) just announced that it had raised $4 million Emergence Capital. It also announced that it is profitable, growing 20% per month and "serving 200m local search ad requests per month." The company also says it delivers 10 million calls per month.
xAD said it will use the money for technology upgrades and development.
The company operates LocalAdXChange which was one of the first local ad networks for mobile. It takes inventory (ads) from many sources, including yellow pages publishers, and delivers those ads to a growing list of publishers across its network. It also optimizes ads across sites and by geography.
In the past 12-18 months a number of other local and local-mobile ad networks have launched:
AT&T Interactive should also be considered a network and provides lots of inventory to others, including Bing.
Where there was once almost nothing now the segment is very crowded with local and local-mobile networks. That's good for advertisers and publishers both.
Generally speaking CTRs, engagement and performance of mobile ads beat the PC. In my previous post I discussed data that suggest mobile uses are better and more immediate prospects for local ads (or locally targeted ads) than PC users.
Google has been telling people that "one-third" of mobile queries have a local intent. But this is based on a BIA survey number (probably extrapolated from roughly 1K respondents) and should be taken with caution accordingly. It's probably not a "bad" number but it's ultimately a directional estimate. Google should come forward with a mobile number that's based on its own query data internally.
By contrast to the survey number, Google reported some time ago that about 20% of PC queries had a local intent. That was based on actual query observation and it's only a very general estimate. I would argue the number is actually larger but it gets into gray areas quickly. Regardless, it stands to reason that the local number should be larger in mobile.
The challenge of course is defining what is a local query. On the radical fringe I argue that most product-related searches should ultimately be considered local because more than 95% of products are purchased in stores. However that's not a position held by anyone else to my knowledge.
Microsoft recently presented a mobile query analysis on a panel I moderated at the SMX conference in New York earlier this month. Below is a slide that Microsoft's Jamie Wells showed during that panel. It reflects, based on Microsoft internal analysis, that 27% of queries in mobile show intent to take action locally. It also shows that mobile searches tend to be more commercial than PC based searches.
Previously Microsoft reported that 70% of mobile (Bing) users start and complete a search process ("query chain") in one hour vs. one week on the PC for comparable behavior.
Taken together these data communicate that mobile users are doing more commercial searches, which are more likely to be acted on locally -- and generally within a very compressed time frame (an hour or so). All this means that ultimately mobile is going to be a better platform for locally oriented advertisers than the PC.
There was an interesting conference session recently that involved Foursquare and the company's next phase of development. According to AOL's Daily Finance, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley suggested that at some point Foursquare might try and get users to link their credit cards to their accounts. On a more mundane level he also said that there would soon be more tangible incentives for consumers to check-in:
Dennis Crowley, co-founder of social networking website Foursquare, says businesses may soon offer consumers the option to link their credit card to their favorite social networking website, or the opportunity to earn a slew of new incentives to actively promote an advertiser's products and services . . . Crowley . . . acknowledged that his website . . . is looking at models where local store owners could offer incentives for users who "tweet" or "check-in" each time they frequent a location. Some advertisers already offer consumers rewards for "tweeting" when they use a product or service certain companies want to market. Crowley expects this type of practice to increase.
Foursquare got its start with "game dynamics" but they are not enough to push the service mainstream. The possibility of becoming the mayor of some local business is not interesting to most people -- and not even possible for ordinary people. Getting a deal or reward is much more interesting however. Such incentives already exist on Foursquare and some of its rival sites.
Foursquare offers both the potential to be a new customer acquisition platform and a loyalty tool for businesses. For example I was in a bar in Dallas and was told that one could get "free chips and salsa for checking in." We did so and viola . . . lots of unwanted carbs came to the table. But I was already there.
The key is to both get new customers in the door (nearby deals does this to some degree) and reward customers for their patronage.
The mayor concept does this but there can be only one. Broadening the mayor into a "city council" of sorts -- to a group of people -- will be more effective to reward and encourage loyalty. In other words, anyone who checks in X times, gets Y reward.
Regardless the model needs to evolve if it's going to move beyond the minority of mobile users it current attracts.
Location platform and data provider deCarta made a flurry of announcements today that seek to position the company as the leading alternative to Google for local search content, maps and related services for carriers and handset OEMs. The company announced some new partnerships, a new navigation application and an upgraded map-based local search offering, MapSearch.
Here are the components:
The quote in the release from deCarta CEO Kim Fennel is very telling in terms of the pitch to partners: "MapSearch is all about delivering control of state-of-the-art mobile local search applications back to the MNOs and Handset OEMs."
Telenav offers a similar value proposition and positioning, although it's not quite as broad a product offering.
Canada's Yellow Pages Group annonced that its popular YPG mobile app would be pre-loaded on some BlackBerry devices from carrier TELUS:
Starting in October, TELUS will preload the popular Yellow Pages™ mobile application on select TELUS BlackBerry™ smartphones activated by TELUS consumer clients. The app, which has already been downloaded over one million times, allows users to quickly look up information about millions of Canadian businesses by category, name, or location. Business lookups conducted on the TELUS mobile web portal will also be powered by the YellowPages.ca search engine.
But what's most interesting is that the app will include connection to an enhanced DA/concierge service:
This partnership also includes options for TELUS mobile customers to complete a voice-assisted search and to receive confirmation or address information via text message. An optional "concierge" service will also be made available allowing mobile users to connect with a TELUS 411 agent to provide additional assistance such as driving directions or accommodation reservations related to search results.
There's no word on pricing in the press release but I suspect this service is billed on a per call basis. But because of its tie-in with the YPG app it is differently positioned than pure DA. You'll invoke it when you need specific, additional help. I'll be interested to hear how the app and the DA feature work together and how popular the enhanced service is.
To my knowledge this is a novel implementation and integration of DA into an app, although I know that Tellme had some very ambitious and non-traditional plans for "enhanced" DA services (which may never be realized).
Location is a problem that's now mostly solved on mobile devices. Through network location, triangulation and/or GPS, most ad networks now have access to location on mobile handsets. That means ads can be targeted and served with great precision -- unlike on the PC, which is still mostly stuck in the reverse IP lookup world.
The issues with location-based ads in mobile now revolve around secondary but important questions like:
The easiest way to get scale and to create a call to action is to add a store locator or product finder. This can be done simply as one creative element of a display or rich media campaign. See for example the most unlikely of ads to include a store locator: Klondike Bar.
It created a simple, offline call-to-action in what was otherwise a brand campaign (iAd):
Interestingly Dynamic Logic just wrote about best practices surrounding calls-to-action in online display (brand) campaigns. What it found was that time-based calls-to-action were most effective in generating action/response from consumers:
In mobile the universal call-to-action should be location.
While there are many potential calls-to-action for mobile campaigns, product finders and store locators should and will likely become almost ubiquitous in display and rich media ads. Location is not incompatible with other calls-to-action and can lead consumers to the point of sale or to at least a place where they can see and touch a product -- or take a test drive as the case may be.
I would predict we'll see local as an almost "perfunctory" part of mobile display going forward. The store locator or product finder won't define location-based advertising. But unlike online it will become a check box of sorts that the agency and brand will need to include in their campaigns, when they're not specifically doing something more interesting with location.
Mapquest is reminding users of some nice features in its Mapquest4Mobile, while Bing has updated and added some new features and content to its iPhone app, including maps. Here are the capabilities that Mapquest wants to remind us about:
Bing's updated iPhone app features now include travel, airfare deals and price predictions, which align it with what Bing does online through its Farecast acquisition of a couple of years ago.
Bing also says it has redesigned the iPhone mapping experience "from the ground up":
We enhanced the backdrop so information on the map such as traffic details, business listings, pushpins, labels, etc. could pop. We increased the font size corresponding to larger roads and added neighborhood labels so you can easily identify and convey locations in cities. We have also added what’s Nearby with enhanced map and labels so you can “fly” through a neighborhood and quickly find a local listing. And best of all, you can easily switch between the map view and the list view on the map.
I've been very impressed with the Bing iPhone app and think that, though popular, it remains under-appreciated.
Where announced this morning that it acquired LocalGinger, a small Massachusetts-based group buying platform provider. Where is already deeply into location-based couponing but hasn't to date offered a daily deal program.
The deal was reported as a mix of cash and stock but no specific terms were disclosed.
Where could combine daily deals with very precise location awareness and might be able to offer some interesting and new things (to merchants and consumers) that aren't yet being done in the group buying space -- despite the presence of mobile apps for Groupon and LivingSocial.
Indeed Where is using the term "Flash sales" to suggest that it will use the technology to enable merchants to make time-sensitive offers that are much more time-sensitive (and local) than the current structure of daily deals:
Currently LocalGinger operates in only four small markets. As part of the deal the 10 person LocalGinger team will become part of Where, which will roll out the service nationally over the next couple of months.
Geodelic launched as a consumer site but increasingly it's positioned as a location-based mobile platform for third parties. I previously wrote about this shift:
Now the company is developing what it calls "GeoGuides" for brands and enterprises, which formalizes its white label strategy:
This is a smart direction for Geodelic and I anticipate that it will be fairly successful for the company. Verizon has also reportedly invested in the company, which has raised roughly $10 million to date.
I also anticipate, with some new momentum in this area, that Geodelic will be acquired at some point over the next 12 months. It could well be by Verizon or an OEM. Geodelic competitor and conceptually similar Aloqa was just acquired by Motorola to help the company offer a more differentiated, location-based experience.
Foursquare is fighting a battle on two fronts: trying to stay a step ahead of LBS-check-in competitors and trying to broaden its appeal to more mainstream users. Whether it's Forrester's 4% or Myxer's 11% that have used a mobile "check-in" site, it's not a mainstream phenomenon. And though it arguably has the strongest "brand" other than Yelp in the LBS segment, it doesn't have the most users. That title I believe belongs to Booyah's MyTown.
But last night Foursquare rolled out version 2.0 of its app, which features a number of improvements designed to boost utility, usage and reach. You may have read one of more than two-dozen commentaries, but in the event you haven't here's what's new:
The myFoursquare button is very much like the Facebook "Like" button but a less certain endorsement of the business. It's intended to be displayed on PC business profile pages and adds a venue to your to-do list so you can access it later on your mobile handset.
Game mechanics and even coupons are not going to carry Foursquare into the mainstream. It will be a combination of things, but more content and utility are essential to enable the company to realize its promise as a "social cityguide."
Where's local ad network has gone from "zero to sixty" in record time. This morning the company put out a release that says it has added its 100th publisher and has delivered a billion locally targeted ads in 30 days. In March the company launched its own "hyper-local" ad network in response to what it said at the time was poor and limited local ad inventory from the major networks such as AdMob.
Where now sells ads directly and gets inventory from third parties such as CityGrid as well. In June the company introduced opt-in coupon-based Deal Alerts. And it just announced last week that it was part of the new Microsoft Mobile Ad Exchange.
Where is one of now several pure local and local-mobile ad networks:
Another interesting piece of data that Where released as part of this morning's announcement: "11% of clicks from an ad result in a phone call or directions to a merchant location."
Where has evolved considerably from its original vision as a fee-based location platform for third party content. And the rise of the ad network is now as important if not more important that the consumer business.
Today, we’re happy to announce that in a joint effort with BMW, we have renewed the package of Google services that come with BMW’s ConnectedDrive service. As part of this major update, if you’re a ConnectedDrive customer in Germany, Austria, France, Italy and the U.K., you’ll have access to several exciting Google services you’ve never before experienced in a car.
ConnectedDrive is a suite of services that include maps and directions, as well as other Internet content. Major improvements to the Google Maps portion of the service include local-search suggest and new imagery, including Street View. The service is currently only available in Europe.
It doesn't appear there are any ads on the map but that may be something slated for the future. Regardless this is a "branding vehicle" (so to speak) for Google. Google competitors have relationships with other in-car or PND vendors, including Ovi Maps/Navteq and MapQuest. And then, of course, there's Microsoft/Bing and Ford, which are making a big push.
In general we can anticipate that the Internet will be a much more significant part of the in-car/in-dash experience going forward. There's also the "rolling hot spot" phenomenon, where the car provides the connectivity or people have MiFi devices in the car.
Motorola is in a tough spot. The company has seen its fortunes reverse somewhat with aggressive adoption of the Android platform. The next order challenge is differentiating its handsets from other OEMs building off the same platform: HTC, Samsung.
Motorola is trying a number of things to do that. One of those is the awkwardly named "MOTOBLUR" interface/software. Another effort -- using Skyhook Wireless to deliver better location than Google's native location technology -- was allegedly thwarted by Google. (Skyhook is now suing Google.) That's literally another story, however.
Aloqa's technologies and services utilize the user's context (location, identity and social relationships) to proactively inform them of places, events, bargains and other opportunities of which they may choose to take advantage. For example, if Aloqa's software recognizes the user is in a certain region, it will offer him the top events of the day or special offers of leading discounters in the vicinity. Aloqa distributes its product as a mobile application for smartphone platforms, including Android, and more than one million users have already downloaded its software.
Aloqa will further enhance Motorola's MOTOBLUR(TM), which delivers customized content to mobile device homescreens and allows users to access Facebook™, MySpace and Twitter updates -- along with emails, news and favorite apps and widgets -- all in one place. MOTOBLUR(TM) will integrate Aloqa's open, location-triggered mobile push platform to connect users and publishers of location-aware content in real-time.
Aloqa has a million users, according to CEO Sanjeev Agrawal. The company also works with "more than 100 publishers in six countries." Agrawal told me in email that the app will continue to be available to Android and iPhone users independent of Motorola's integration.
The purchase terms were not disclosed. The company only announced $1.5 million in funding. We first wrote about the company a year ago: Aloqa: App Store within an App Store Goes Live.
Geodelic is another company similarly positioned to Aloqa, also providing a platform for location-based content, ads and services. In the wake of this deal they now become a target for acquisition by a carrier or OEM seeking to offer something differentiated and unique to consumers.
Last week Nielsen released data based on a recent survey of 4,000 mobile users (geography uncertain) who had downloaded an app within the past 30 days. The survey found that iPhone owners had "an average of 40 on their phones . . . while Android owners report having 25 apps on their phones . . . and BlackBerry owners report having 14."
Nielsen also reported that "Facebook is the most popular individual app on all of the major operating systems." In terms of categories, games leads followed by weather (strangely) and maps/search.
Here I assume that "search" refers to map-based search or local search given the way the Nielsen has grouped them together -- although it could just refer to general search.
Skyhook's location positioning capabilities are being integrated into the Layar augmented reality browser for Android. The impact should be better location awareness and precision for Layar. According to the press release:
Skyhook, the worldwide leader in location positioning, context and intelligence, today announced that Layar, the world's leading augmented reality browser platform, has added Skyhook's Core Engine to its Android application for improved location results.
The Layar Reality Browser displays real time digital information on top of reality in the camera screen of the mobile phone. While looking through the phone’s camera lens, a user can see houses for sale, popular bars and shops, tourist information of the area, play a live game, etc. The Layar platform serves as an enabler for mobile location services – any database with geo-location information can easily be turned in a content layer.
Skyhook's triangulation data was replaced on iOS 4 by Apple's own system, though it remains on earlier versions of the iPhone/iOS.
Simply put, augmented reality has been over-hyped. Everyone knows about Layar but I'm unaware of anyone who regularly uses it for ordinary mobile searches. The concept is very "cool," but the utility is quite limited. The same is true for Yelp's "monocle." It's "cool" but far less useful that Yelp's regular features.
Augmented reality will be useful as a way to get more information about places, objects (e.g., art) and products right in front of me but it will have a smaller role to play as a replacement for general search. There are other use cases depending on how we define "augmented reality."
Having said that the camera will be an increasingly important content-input mechanism. However this is distinct from augmented reality as I'm defining it.
As an aside many of the important "augmented reality" patents are owned by early pioneer GeoVector. Someone will probably want to acquire GeoVector if for no other reason than to get its IP portfolio.
The novelty of mobile check-ins has largely worn off for the early adopters, hence the arrival of the phrase "check-in fatigue." Fairly quickly it became clear however that Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Yelp and others using check-ins would become couponing or mobile loyalty plays. In some cases there's also branding angle too.
BrightKite was one of the first of the check-in services, if not the first one. But the company has been overshadowed by newer rivals. It created the novel Check.in to address check-in fatigue and LBS fragmentation. Geotoko tries to do a similar thing (aggregation) on the advertiser side and specifically for SMBs -- write once and promote your offer on many apps simultaneously.
BrightKite has been doing some interesting promotions with brands (e.g., Starbucks), as have others. Now there's another one with Visa and McDonalds. People are promoted to go to a McDonalds to subsequently get a $5 Visa card. It's pitched as $5 off on a McDonalds meal, which is a bit of a bait and switch. But the deal will be appealing to many BrightKite users.
To get the deal, of course, you have to physically visit a McDonalds and check in:
The power of this is that the ad unit leads you to a nearby McDonalds and the check-in closes the loop on the promotion for the merchant. The problem and challenge for brands and merchants is the relatively small audience of users overall for LBS-check-in apps and the even smaller one for any particular publisher, in this case BrightKite.
While the overall audience is around 10 - 12 million in the US (based on the apps' self-reported numbers) this is still a pretty small audience. Yet it's wise for brands and marketers to be testing programs like this to see how they perform and how consumers react. This is one model for the future of mobile advertising: incentives to visit a store or retail location.
Google and others are doing similar things with maps and local search on mobile devices. And this is what's new and really compelling about mobile (beyond general ad performance): the ability to deliver someone to a store or physical place at a time of interest or need.
These sorts of deals and promotions have the capacity to help push check-ins beyond the early adopters into the mainstream. Though deals by themselves may not be sufficient. Facebook because of its size and installed base also can help mainstream check-ins with Places. However that remains to be seen. But I believe the game dynamics and competition around badges and status is by themselves are unlikely to push LBS further into the mainstream.
Apple has collected about a dozen location-based apps in a new featured iTunes area called "On the Grid." While there are many more apps that offer location as a central element of the experience -- yellow pages apps for example or various cityguides -- the bias appears to be toward check-in style apps.
Apple should recognize that location and check-ins are not entirely synonymous. And I would expect the selection to grow over time. Here's what's there now:
Third party sites that monitor the app store recently indicated that it now exceeds 250,000 apps from more than 50,000 developers. Here's the distribution of apps from 148Apps.biz. Somewhat surprisingly books has taken the top spot from games.
Mobile loyalty platform CardStar launched an iPad app. It expands the functionality of the company's earlier iPhone app (and other smartphones) by adding coupons and deals that are tied to users' registered loyalty cards. In other words you see the deals for the companies whose cards/programs you've registered on the app.
Here are the features of the new iPad app:
One of the nice things about the new app is that offers saved on the iPad are in the "cloud." So they're automatically logged on the iPhone and other smartphone apps.
People obviously aren't going to bring the iPad to the point of sale. But they can browse deals on the couch and associate them with their registered loyalty cards. By using the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry apps at the POS, users automatically get the benefit of the coupons previously "clipped" on the iPad accordingly.
In addition, one spouse can clip coupons on the iPad and the other one can use the CardStar smartphone app and get the benefit of those coupons at the POS without any knowledge of the spouse's prior iPad clipping activity.
Adding coupons (tied to loyalty cards) is a logical move for CardStar, whose iPad app becomes something analogous to the Sunday circulars. And the automatic linkage of the deals to the loyalty card/account offers a "closed loop" to merchants. CardStar told me that they're were going to greatly expand the variety and range of coupons offered. However I believe offers presented will remain largely "personalized" via the filter of existing loyalty memberships.
CardStar is compiling some fantastic data on user behavior that it can use in a variety of ways to be determined. The company says it's had two million downloads since launch in 2009 and currently has 700,000 active mobile users.
See our earlier posts on CardStar:
The sleepless bloggers at TechCrunch profile TappLocal, a new LBS entrant that reportedly wants to build a local-mobile ad network. It's partly or largely directed at SMBs and it sounds a little like Foursquare meets Placecast:
TappLocal uses their backend to create a geofence around certain partner venues. When a user crosses that boundary and happens to be using one of the partner apps, a deal indicator will pop-up. A quick click on this area will open a larger area explaining exactly what the deal is. Simply click one more time to verify you wish to use the deal, show it to the store that it’s valid at, and you’re good to go.
The company has two "franchises": nearby, proximity marketing and time-sensitive deals:
Hyperlocal means in closer proximity than just local. Generally this is measured on a more granular basis such as a neighborhood, intersection, or even meters. TappLocal uses advanced GPS technologies, mobile smartphones, and a network of mobile applications to target users as closes as +/- 3 meters* to visit your business.
This platform allows you to instantly notify users, in real-time, of a sale to move perishable items, or to instantly get customers in your door. Imagine being able to put a time-sensitive deal, selling unsold pastries for half off 2 hours before closing, or half off drinks to fill your business with customers from 3:00-5:00pm. Our network would send an alert to all users in the metro-region alerting them that for the next 2 hours they can get your pastries half off, or from 3:00-5:00pm they can get drinks half off. Furthermore, you have complete control over the offer, so it can be whatever you like.
To the extent that TappLocal is trying to attract SMBs it will encounter the familiar -- or perhaps not so familiar to them -- challenges of educating the market and then signing up advertisers.
There are a range of other local ad networks online and/or in mobile. Here is a partial list:
All the major mobile networks offer geo-targeted ads as well.
My guess is that TappLocal will "backfill" with inventory from these networks as it tries to build its own inventory. But again, it will encounter major challenges in acquiring small business advertisers.