Local Search

Google Offers More Attractive Places to Go

Google has offered a browse centric (as opposed to search) directory of local business listings for quite some time: Places Directory. But with its new Maps upgrade for Android the company is encouraging users to put "Places," a cleaner, more attractive version of Places Directory, on their homescreens:

On Android-powered phones with Google Maps 4.4, you’ll find the new Places icon in the app launcher with the rest of your apps. Press and drag it right onto your home screen to use it when you’re looking for a restaurant, shoe store, movie theater or any other type of local business. You'll get a detailed list of all the nearest places and can choose one to learn more about it on its Place Page.

 

Some folks are seeing this as a bid to compete more aggressively with Foursquare and Yelp on mobile devices, with check-ins to come. Maybe so, however Google is equally motivated to create uniformity and correspondence between Places online and on mobile devices. It has made a big investment in Places online and wants to extend usage to mobile devices. 

Regardless of its precise motivations Google is obviously a formidable competitor in mobile, especially on Android devices. It basically "owns" the home screen unless users actively set up alternative content sources to Google. 

Google now has a range of interesting and varied local assets in mobile that it needs to better integrate: Buzz, Places, Latitude, Maps, Navigation. Google can also benefit by aggregating and presenting geotagged data from the Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare APIs in one or more of these properties. 

One of the issues with all of these "around me" or "near me" tools is that they fail to recognize the "near future" use case: where I'll be tonight or tomorrow. I suppose the thought is that "conventional" local search will address this need. However "where I'll be later on" is a scenario currently not well served in mobile. 

Tabbed Out a Model for Mobile Payments

Though previously covered at its launch at SXSW in march, I only recently became aware of an intriguing app called Tabbed Out, which offers mobile payments for restaurants and bars in a few cities. You enter one or more credit cards in the system and the app (iPhone, Android) generates a code that goes into the register. You don't provide your card to the bartender or server.

While there's some "heavy lifting" involved in getting people to download the app and building out locations that will utilize it, Tabbed Out represents a way into the "mobile wallet" that people have been predicting for years. The consumer security benefits are obvious and, my guess is, restaurants and bars will like it because it will promote spending and creates more efficiency for the venue (faster checkout).

Consumers pay 99 cents per transaction but sometimes fees are waived. If the company is successful at adding venues it may be a way for those venues to attract customers -- not unlike restaurants that accept credit cards vs. those that don't. There's a directory of locations as part of the app too.

The most important thing here is that this represents one viable way to facilitate mobile payments. Some simple standardization around code acceptance -- I'm unfamiliar with how proprietary this is -- would accelerate consumer and merchant adoption of such systems. 

Here's the demo video:

AOL Renews Emphasis on Mobile, Bets on Android

Several years ago AOL had the idea that it would lead consumers onto the mobile Internet the same way it did online. However amid turmoil surrounding the company's future and its leadership those plans faltered and largely failed to materialize. A particular example of that is ad network Third Screen Media, acquired by AOL in 2007 and effectively shuttered at the end of last year.

But mobile is apparently back at AOL. Now as a content and display advertising company with new leadership and a new focus AOL yesterday announced a renewed emphasis on mobile, a new mobile portal and some Android-only apps:

AOL Inc. is unveiling today a new smartphone portal, m.aol.com, that takes the best of AOL and optimizes it for any mobile device. In addition, AOL is increasing its focus on the Android operating system with the launch of the AOL app for Android, giving users a simple and convenient way to access dozens of AOL’s most popular properties, and the DailyFinance app for Android. AOL’s renewed focus on mobile apps and content comes on the heels of the arrival of David Temkin, the company’s new Vice President of Mobile . . .

In addition to the new smartphone portal, AOL has released two new free applications for Android-based devices.

Mobile VP Temkin is quoted in the release saying, "Android has emerged as a top-tier smartphone platform . . . So, while we’ll continue to focus on development for multiple mobile platforms, this time, we are releasing an early version of an app on Android first – the AOL app."

I count at least seven Andoid apps from AOL mobile. The new Android AOL portal would get a mixed review, if I were doing one, and in some ways its mobile Web portal is superior. Regardless AOL has wisely embraced (or rembraced) mobile as a critical distribution channel for its content. 

Mapquest of course has had a steady mobile presence throughout, and the company's mobile apps have recently been upgraded

Crisp Bringing Rich Media to Local with Verve

Mobile ads provider Crisp Wireless has teamed up with Verve Wireless "to bring Crisp’s rich media mobile ads to Verve’s global local media and newspapers." Verve develops and hosts the mobile sites for more than 700 newspapers in North America and Europe.

Quattro Wireless started out building mobile websites for companies and then became an ad network. The rest is, as they say, history (Apple). Similarly Verve is effectively now a local ad network that will offer a range of ad unit types and capabilities to marketers and publishers via Crisp. According to the release:

Verve publishers will utilize Crisp’s ad formats and interactive features, such as location-aware and click-to-call, and will have capabilities to deliver campaigns to smartphones and tablets, including Google Android devices and Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Verve is one of several mobile ad networks and exchanges targeting the local market specifically:

  • CityGrid 
  • Chitika
  • Local AdXchange
  • LSN Mobile
  • Verve
  • Where 

Of course the traditional ad networks for mobile (e.g., JumpTap, Millennial, Yahoo, Google/AdMob) also offer geo-targeting as well.

Vlingo Seeks to Take Siri's Place

At the recent Bing Search Summit Microsoft mentioned in passing that some of their internal research revealed that 60% of mobile users wanted input alternatives to the keyboard. There are basically three: voice, the camera and some sort of visual shortcut on the touchscreen (images/icons).

Voice search has improved so dramatically that I use it on my EVO at least 50% of the time. I have Vlingo on my device and I've casually been testing it beside Google voice search. In my very non-scientific and non-controlled tests I've actually found Google voice recognition to be slightly more accurate and reliable than Vlingo. But Vlingo is a broader tool and can do a wider range of things on the device.

CEO Dave Gannon told us several weeks ago when he was last in town that there's a perception in the market that speech is now a commodity. Vlingo, which has both free and paid versions of its app, is trying to become a much broader tool -- moving into Siri-like "personal assistant" territory -- that consumers will think of "front door" on the device and way to get acces to everything from their contacts and apps to local search results. 

Siri was not long ago acquired by Apple for an undisclosed amount.

Vlingo is now releasing what it calls "Super Dialer," a local search tool that includes sponsored results from directory publishers. This also diversifies the revenue that Vlingo collects, which has largely been subscription based to date. TechCrunch reported that Gannon said that about 8% of users who try Vlingo convert to the paid version. 

Here's a general demonstration of Vlingo for Android devices:

Screen shot 2010-07-15 at 7.39.52 AM

What Is Facebook's Next Mobile Move?

At the Mobile Beat conference Eric Tseng, head of mobile products for Facebook (and former Google-Android exec.), announced that Facebook now has 150 million "active" mobile users (that means daily usage). That's up from 100 million in February.

Against that backdrop there are indications that, at least in the US Facebook's growth, may have slowed. The company however sees mobile as a driver of its next phase of growth. Overall, there are more than 500 million Facebook users globally. 

Tseng suggested that Facebook would soon become a "mobile platform." That means that Facebook will be extending "the social graph" to third party applications and sites. The Open Graph API and the Like button will also make their way into mobile according to Tseng.

Facebook is poised to roll out some sort of location-based service. Its exact form is uncertain. I've argued that instantly Facebook would be a huge mobile ad network should it decide that it wants to become one. Yet there are reasons to believe that won't happen in the near term. 

Facebook's forthcoming Q&A service is also one that could be a potent location-based recommendations engine. And the Like button data will be a huge source of local favorites and recommendations. Third parties will be tapping all this data to enhance their apps and sites. 

The company sees mobile devices as a growth engine party because in developing countries (e.g., India) mobile is the primary (and maybe only) tool for Internet acces. This is why Facebook developed its SMS-based "0.facebook.com" site earlier this year. 

Google Sends Maps to More Connected Cars

The car is the ultimate "mobile device" isn't it? And increasingly cars are becoming "connected" to the Internet. Google now has an impressive roster of car brands on a global basis to which users can send Google Maps directions.

According to the Google LatLong blog:

With today’s additions, drivers can send destinations from Google Maps directly to their connected vehicles in 19 countries and more than 20 different brands.

In the US alone, Send-To-Car is now available on more than 15 car brands and we hope to see even more partners join us soon.

 

On a smaller scale Mapquest and Nokia's Ovi Maps offer in-car integration. However Navteq (owned by Nokia) powers most of the PND devices that operate in vehicles in the US. In Europe it's Teleatlas, owned by TomTom. 

Google Offers Social Parking App: Open Spot

Google has introduced a social network (of sorts) for parking: Open Spot. Before you say, "How is Google gonna find open parking spots?" it's actually fairly simple and clever. The idea behind the new Android app is to create a network of people telling each other where there's available parking locally.

Open Spot app users indicate when they're leaving a spot. The phone's location awareness finds/locates that person on the map and broadcasts that information to other Open Spot users.

Spots are hypothetically "open" for a maximum of 20 minutes. There's a color-coded, time-based system to indicate the probability that spots remain open. According to the FAQs:

  • Spots are removed from the map after 20 minutes. We know that 20 minutes is a long time for a parking spot to stay open, but we think that more information about available parking is better than less.
  • Red pins are freshly-marked spots.
  • Orange pins are spots marked over 5 minutes ago.
  • Yellow pins are spots marked over 10 minutes ago.

Humorously Google has even created a name for those who might try and fool others by creating fake parking spots: "Griefers."

We call these people ‘griefers’. We’re watching for behavior that looks like a griefer spoofing parking spots. We have a couple of mechanisms available to make sure someone can’t leave a bunch of fake parking spots. If we see this happening we will take steps to fix it. 

This is a very clever and social approach to parking inventory. It sidesteps the creation of databases and other potentially costly or unwieldy mechanisms that could be used to indicate available spots. The drawback is that it requires people to download an app and join the network. 

Paradoxically this is a network that you don't want to be too small or too large. Too small and you don't have enough "inventory." Too large and you may have too much competition for that inventory. However, at least in theory, as the network grows so too will the available parking spots. 

Where to Now for Geodelic?

Geodelic is one of a handful of independent LBS content providers in the market. Where.com and Aloqa are also part of that group. They pre-date Foursquare and its geo-social-gaming kin. Geodelic has had some success with carriers, white labeling and with its consumer-branded smartphone apps; yet it remains a "tier 2" player for at least the time being.

Yesterday the company announced new funding, bringing the total to $10 million over two rounds: 

Geodelic, a mobile media platform, announced today that it has raised $7 million in a Series B equity financing. MK Capital led the investment, and current investors Clearstone Venture Partners and Shasta Ventures joined the round.

Founded in 2008 and incubated by Clearstone Venture Partners, the company has quickly gained traction since the launch of their first application with T-Mobile in 2009. This latest round of financing brings total investment to over $10 million. To date, the Geodelic smartphone application has been downloaded over half a million times on Android phones. It is also available for iPhone, and currently in development for Blackberry devices.

There are lots of companies and lots of noise in the LBS segment and it's seemingly getting more crowded by the day. There's also the question of revenues. This is the same question that Foursquare confronts as it seeks to grow and develop a business model.

Without a sales channel it's very difficult to sell to local businesses; and without massive reach it's tough to get brands' attention -- though Foursquare has managed to because it's so "hot."

All the "traditional" Internet companies, with any interest in local are pushing into mobile. Google is coming at mobile and location from several directions at once. Twitter just announced Places. And Facebook, with 100 million active daily mobile users, is threatening to launch both a local capability as well as a Q&A service. Yelp recently announced that it had two million mobile users and that 27% of its search query volume was coming from the iPhone. 

Over time LBS on mobile devices will probably be dominated by the major online services and companies. There will be room for a few independents and start-ups. But most of those will need to focus and specialize. The "horizontal" market will probably go to the giants. 

One of the questions for Geodelic is whether to continue with its consumer strategy or push white labeling more aggressively. They're not mutually exclusive of course but it will be tough to have success in both areas equally.

The company refers to itself as a "mobile media platform." That may be an indication of its future direction. 

Report: Apps Trump Browser for Map Access

One of the long-standing debates in mobile is "apps vs. browser" and what will win over time. Many people are betting on mobile browsers because they're smartphone-platform agnostic and the "open" Web has to win vs. the "closed" world of apps -- right? Maybe not.

ComScore just released numbers that shows consumer mobile usage of map applications is growing and now trumps browser-based maps. That makes sense because the map-app experience is richer and offers more functionality than Web-based mobile maps. (We just wrote about the hybrid "wapplication" category, which to some degree will extend to maps.)

As you might expect, most of mobile maps' usage is for navigation in car (87%). ComScore also reported that 69% of users are accessing maps at least once a week, with 9% using them on a daily basis. Here are the comScore charts:

 Picture 22

Revisiting the Local Queries Question

One question making the rounds -- without a good answer -- is "what percentage of mobile search is local?" Let's put aside app usage, which can be a form of search, for the time being.

Google previously said that on the PC "20% of searches on Google are related to location." Because of the challenges in defining a local search -- is "flat panel TV" a local search because 95%+ are bought in stores? -- this 20% figure is probably conservative.

On the mobile side of the house, two Google employees have been cited (Paul Feng and Diana Pouliot) as sources for the metric that roughly one third (33%) of mobile search have a local intent. I asked Google to unpack this figure for me and I was told by a Google PR person that this number came from BIA/Kelsey Group.

I'm not confident that's actually the case, but if it is it's really weird that Google would repeat a piece of third party data when it has actual mobile query data. BIA's data are survey based and self-reported. Surveys are good directional indicators but not as accurate as actual behavioral data. 

Previously Microsoft presented data (from 2008) that argued if "local intent" is the value, at least 50% of mobile searches featured local intent:

Picture 218

Source: Microsoft (3/10, based on 2008 data)

This morning I was playing around with Google's keyword traffic estimator tool, which allows you to look up mobile search volumes for specific queries. I looked at a number of categories and query terms: doctors, restaurants, movies and a few others. One caveat here is that I selected terms that are predominantly local terms. Product-related terms are far less local (in Google's attribution) though most products are going to be bought in stores. 

 Picture 33

What I discovered was that the portion of queries attributed to "local" on a monthly basis varied, as one might expect, by query and category. The range was 29% at the low end to 67% at the high end for the terms I selected. The average of this small sample came out at around 43%. 

Someone with API access could probably do this calculation across a broad range of queries and get a better "average" than I got off my small non-scientific sample. But the point here is that there's a lot of LBS action in the query mix on mobile devices. And with specific local-intent queries there's going to be an accompanying "need it now" interest in many or most cases as well.

So let's not call it "one third." Instead, let's say there's a "local intent" mobile query range from about 20% in ambiguous categories to as much as 70% (or more: e.g., restaurants) in some categories where fulfillment is offline. 

eBay Purchases RedLaser to Beef Up Mobile Offering

eBay has acquired the RedLaser mobile application and related technology from Occipital for an undisclosed sum. In this interview with ubiquitious blogger Robert Scoble, Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president of mobile, explained that RedLaser would be quickly integrated into eBay's mobile offerings (calling it a "close cousin to Shopping.com").

RedLaser provides an iPhone app that is highly rated as a UPC (barcode) reader. Yankovich sees it as a very accurate way to enter a product description for the purpose of discovering the best price or determining availability from a nearby retailer or online vendor.

The giant online marketplace, eBay, is morphing from an auction house, where mobile devices enable members to monitor the status of their bids into a deal-finder where mobile phones are utilities through which shoppers can enter keywords for the items they seek and then eBay finds the lowest price for goods, not just on its core eBay site but, more importantly, on shopping.com, which provides search tools along with both product and merchant reviews from the Epinions community. RedLaser becomes a mechanism for accurately entering product descriptions to initiate the shopping process.

As an immediate result of the acquisition, the RedLaser app (which used to carry a $1.99 price tag) is now offered for free in the iTunes App Store, where it had already been downloaded a reported two million times.

Bing Upgrades iPhone App, Adds New Features

Microsoft has relatively quielty released a new version of Bing for the iPhone. It adds a range of features and capabilities, as well as improving some existing features. Bing on the iPhone was already a very strong app and now it has a lot more to offer.

Among the list of things that are new:

  • Barcode (and cover art) scanning with the iPhone's camera
  • Bing Social integration with Twitter and Facebook. It offers search results from your social network and alternatively becomes a Facebook and Twitter client
  • More movie clips and trailers
  • Improved shopping/product results with "reviews, ratings, and prices" (accessible via the barcode scanning as well)

The barcode scanner, like others in the market, makes it possible to quickly check prices and product reviews in the store without typing in product names or other identifiers. The social features are also fun/useful. You can search on a product or place and see if your friends have said anything about it.

 Picture 15

The Bing iPhone app is underappreciated in my view. It's quite a bit richer and more user-friendly, for example, than the comparable Google app for the iPhone. Google offers many of the same capabilities spread out across Maps, Product Search and Goggles however.

These new Bing upgrades have made it more useful in my opinion. Beyond this, though not new, it has very good voice search. At some point soon, I'm going to do a quick "head to head" comparison of Vlingo, Nuance, Bing and Google voice search results.

This is just a quick overview. There's more on the new Bing iPhone app at Search Engine Land.

Where Launches Opt-In Deal Alerts

Where, which has built its own local ad network for mobile devices, is now lauching "Where Deal Alerts." These are SMS-based coupons, offers and deals, that factor in user preferences (by shopping category) and location:

By opting into the service, customers can set up a user profile that will allow them to receive WHERE’s Deal Alerts via text message. Consumers simply select proximity, day of week, time of day, and content categories such as restaurants and shopping, and WHERE will automatically send coupons via SMS based on preferences.

Where Deal Alerts launch first on AT&T (though not yet on the iPhone) but will expand to other carriers over time. The one limitation of the system is that users have to specify a single time of day for delivery of the alerts. 

Deal alerts are set up from within the Where application but, as mentioned, come in the form of SMS notifications tied to location. Thus proximity to a QSR chain or particular merchant (at a particular time of day) would trigger delivery. Because Where has access to location from the carrier, users don't need to be in the Where app itself, "check in" or even be "online" to receive the offers.

From the Where application users configure deal alerts from within the coupon widget. Here's how the site describes the sign-up process:

  • Within the Coupons widget, I went to the preferences page to manage my alerts. First, I selected “Restaurants”, then “Mondays”, and finally “6:00am”. This set me up to receive offers in my area that were related to early morning food, and Bagel Station happened to have a deal.
  • That’s it. WHERE will automatically update you with a text message every week at the specified time if there’s a deal available in the area. The combination of category and location-relevancy with day and time makes Deal Alerts incredibly useful. For once, you’ll actually want the coupons you receive.

Where has aggregated lots of coupon inventory from multiple partners (e.g., Valassis, ValPak) to provide sufficient coverage to make the program interesting. 

Picture 1

Placecast offers a conceptually similar program for the retail category with ShopAlerts, and individual marketers and stores are doing their own ad-hoc opt-in SMS-based loyalty marketing.

The Where program, however, is novel in several respects. And because it's category-based (after opt-in) it can function as a new customer acquisition program and not exclusively as a mobile loyalty vehicle. 

Citi Launches (Bad) Local-Mobile Shopping App

Citi Cards has introduced Citi Shopper, a smartphone app that offers deals and local product inventory information. It's partly a branding play and partly a loyalty play for Citi. The content is provided by mobile shopping platform Slifter (GPShopper).

According to the release the free app "delivers local offers and deals on products from electronics to apparel; compares prices; provides maps to nearby retailers; as well as reminds Citi cardmembers of offers and benefits specific to their Citi credit cards . . . 

Once installed on their mobile device, Citi Shopper lets users:

--Browse deals and promotions at major local and online retailers
--Be reminded of Citi credit card-specific rewards, benefits and offers
--Search local store inventory for over two billion products
--Sort products by price or distance
--View product details, images, availability, and a map to the nearest location
--Save products and promotions into a mobile Shopping List
--Share finds with friends and family
--Contact participating retailers with just one click

This is a smart idea and strong concept. The only problem is that the user experience absolutedly stinks. It may well be downloaded heavily if Citi promotes the app to card members in billing and marketing materials. However it will need to be dramatically improved if Citi hopes for repeat usage. 

This app is another example of a company thinking that it needs to do something -- with an app -- in mobile and not thinking the entire process through carefully. It's very similar to the more attractive but equally unusable "Priceless Picks" shopping app from Mastercard.

There are other product and shopping vendors that Citi could have worked with. And the bank should have paid much more attention to the user experience. Perhaps it will go back to the drawing board for version 2.0. There's clearly potential here; it's just very far from realized. 

Why Isn't Yahoo Doing More with Vlingo?

We met with Vlingo yesterday. The company is previewing some new functionality and we had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about the product and strategy. My question is: why isn't Vlingo investor Yahoo! leveraging the heck out of it? There was some initial fanfare about voice search on Yahoo! Mobile but since then there's been little or nothing.

I think that Yahoo! should aggressively integrate Vlingo into its mobile app as a discovery tool for all types of content and not just Web search. It should also build a mobile version of Yahoo! Answers and think about Vlingo as a front end to that experience. 

Alternatively our friends in Finland (Nokia) might consider buying a company like Vlingo and integrating it as a core component of its handsets -- for smartphones and not-so-smart phones. 

Voice will continue to improve as a tool for a broad array of uses on the handset. Apple obviously bought Siri, which is not about voice search per se, but about semantic understanding of voice queries and matching with transactional services. And Google continues to invest in voice and see it as a differentiator. 

Microsoft of course had formidable voice assets but has not fully exploited or marketed them. Perhaps with the release of Windows (Mobile) 7 handsets we'll see a more prominent role for voice on the device. 

But Yahoo!'s got to get into the game more here. 

New Terms in iPhone Developer Agreements Threaten 3rd Party Analytics and Ad Aggregators

The anomaly that is Apple just threw down another challenge to third-party application developers who look to mobile advertisements as the ultimate source of sustainability. Terms and conditions in the newly updated iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (which has been revised in conjunction with the release of iOS 4) starts with the wording that developers "may not collect, use, or disclose to any third party, user or device data without prior user consent" and then adds further strictures which, in the most damning case for many of the aspiring analytics providers, prohibit release for the purposes of "aggregation, processing, or analysis".

While the change in wording appears to be a broad prohibition against third-party analytics, it is most commonly seen as a direct attack on AdMob, the mobile advertising services company recently purchased by Google. Apple will only let developers release user information to a third-party only if it is "an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads." In other words, not an affiliate of the largest provider of sponsored search services on the planet. To turn the knife a bit, or perhaps to provide transparency, Apple provides examples of the sorts of third-parties that are not, by their nature, "independent", saying explicitly that "an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent."

If you take as a given that advertisers are often the companies with whom mobile subscribers want to carry out business, this is not an empowering move. Apple apparently doesn't think that it is in the iPhone user's interest to share data with third-parties even if the user consents to it, especially if release of such data might benefit Google, Microsoft, Nokia or dozens of other firms that pose direct threats to Apple's vain efforts for smartphone primacy.

Clearly, there will be work-arounds and arrangements to be made in the name of providing relevant messages (promotional, social, realtime or other) to Apple's mobile customers. Still, the message is clear. None of this will take place without prior consent from both Apple on behalf of its iOS-based device users.

Google Brings Nav to More Countries, Maps to GM, Upstart App Offers Free Nav to iPhone

Google is making its mobile Navigation app available in more countries, throughout Europe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. It's voice guided and offers voice search. In a related development, Google expanded the number of European languages for Google Voice Search. 

Google's free Navigation (which works well) has not yet come to the iPhone, whether for technical or competitive reasons. However a new free app from Berlin-Germany based Skobbler offers free turn by turn navigation on the iPhone. I haven't used it so can't comment on its quality. It uses OpenStreetMap for base data. 

Finally, Google Maps are now a part of GM's OnStar functionality. Users can email directions from PC-based Google Maps to select GM cars. Ford has also integrated Google Maps into its Sync system and will allow users to send directions to Sync from the PC or smartphones. Sync was co-developed with Microsoft so I would expect comparable functionality for Bing. 

Yelp: 27% of Searches Now from iPhone

Yelp said that in May it had 32 million unique visitors, making it one of the leading local sites on the Internet. The company also released some data about iPhone usage, which are quite impressive. This is verbatim from the associated Yelp blog post:

  • On average, 27% of all Yelp searches come from our iPhone App. That number dips during the week when Yelp.com traffic surges. Then on the weekend, it moves up again as people pull out their Yelp mobile apps when they're on the go - a trend we've already been seeing for quite some time!
  • Last month, over half a million calls were made to local businesses directly from our Yelp iPhone App. That's about 1 call every 5 seconds to a business as a result of Yelp.
  • Nearly a million people generated point-to-point directions to a local business from their Yelp iPhone App last month.
  • In the past 30 days, Yelp for iPhone has had over 1.4 million unique visitors.

Sites like Zillow and Trulia have expressed that about 10% to 15% of traffic comes from their mobile apps. The Yelp number is huge by comparison and shows how significant mobile has become to the company's overall brand and strategy.

Yelp's content and use cases, in most cases, are a direct fit for mobile. Non entertainment related verticals might not see the same levels of traffic and usage. But the data above illustrate that the mobile market and mobile strategies cannot be put off by publishers and advertisers for much longer.  

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Yelp has also taken another step in the direction of Foursquare et al by adding badges:

Now when a user checks-in to a combination of businesses, they will be able to earn "Yelp Badges." Badges you earn will help show off where you're checking in. For example, if a yelper loves to get their nigiri on at sushi restaurants, they can earn the "Sushi Sensei" badge . . . Once earned, badges can be shared with friends both via the Yelp iPhone app, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

If users are checking into the same businesses in a given time period and/or neighborhood, they can also earn "Royal" status. Got the most check-ins at a business? You're the Duke, good sir (or Duchess, for the ladies). Most Dukedoms in a 'hood? You're the Baron! Most in the city? You're the King! . . .

Loopt Does Foursquare with a Twist

Despite the fact that Loopt has more than three million users it's largely running in place. Superseded by larger and more established brands as they've entered the mobile segment (i.e., Facebook), Loopt has tried to reinvent itself a number of times. For example, it went initially from a pure mobile social network to a Yelp-like application. And now it's doing a version of Foursquare -- with a twist.

Loopt's latest effort to renew itself is called Loopt Star. The idea is almost identical in concept to Foursquare, however the rewards for checking in to local places are more direct and tangible. Like Foursquare, MyTown and Gowalla, among others, Loopt Star is a "game" but explicitly conceived as a mobile loyalty program for stores and consumers as well.

Check in at stores and branded locations, gain points and rewards that translate into tangible offers, discounts, free stuff and so on.  There's also a leaderboard. Users who check in most frequently can become the "boss" (rather than mayor) of their favorite places. 

Loopt previously added local coupons to its app but this is a more structured and coherent effort. And it could turn out to be the one that gives Loopt new appeal and finally attracts a buyer.

Loopt Star relies on Facebook and users' Facebook networks instead of trying to create its own "organic" user base. In so doing Loopt hopes that it can more quickly gain adoption and momentum for Loopt Star. Yet it's also possible that Loopt Star will strike its target audience as duplicative of their existing LBS "games."

The LBS gaming phenomenon has yet to go mainstream. Accordingly there's an opportunity to build an app or service that will broadly appeal to mainstream consumers. That app could be Shopkick, which has yet to launch. It seeks to marry LBS gaming and retail specifically. And depending on the execution, it could appeal to mainstream shoppers and women in particular.