Social Networks

The UK's Top 100 Mobile Search Queries

UK mobile content and search vendor Mobile Commerce revealed its analysis of the UK's top mobile search queries of 2010. Three out of the top 10 are Facebook:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google
  3. Bebo
  4. Youtube
  5. www. facebook.com
  6. Ebay
  7. Facebook.com
  8. Hotmail
  9. Yahoo
  10. Ebuddy

These are, almost without exception, navigational queries. The exception is Google, which would then lead to some other kind of lookup or search presumably.

For comparison here is Opera's November list of the top UK sites visited by its users:

  1. google.com
  2. facebook.com
  3. bbc.co.uk
  4. youtube.com
  5. wikipedia.org
  6. live.com
  7. my.opera.com
  8. amazon.co.uk (back on the list)
  9. ebay.co.uk (10)
  10. m2d.de (new)

Below is the expanded list of Mobile Commerce's "top 100 mobile search terms for 2010." Assuming that the MC list is generally accurate what's interesting and curious, among other things, is that Google Maps appears at number 60. Yet we know that Google Maps is one of the most widely used tools on the iPhone and Android devices in particular.

What that suggests is that much of Google Maps usage is coming via app and not through the search box (of course). But it's a potential window into the larger "apps vs. search" phenomenon. Similarly, compare Opera's list above (where Amazon is number 8) to Amazon's position at number 48 on the list below. This is again suggestive of app usage or another way to get to the site (i.e., bookmark) vs. mobile search. 

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One Price for Multiple Devices Could Be Winner for Sprint

Sprint has stopped bleeding subscribers in the US and has won many pre-paid converts. It has also held the line on unlimited pricing as AT&T and Verizon move to usage-based pricing (which consumers don't like).

Yet being the first "4G" network has not won Sprint many or even any defectors from other carriers. As Verizon and T-Mobile roll out competing "4G" networks any hypothetical first mover competitive advantage for Sprint is gone. 

However an idea floated during the recent "D" mobile conference by Sprint CEO Dan Hesse could be a real winner. According to a summary of his on-stage interview Sprint is considering offering a single plan (using the Clear infrastructure) for multiple devices, although he hedged on pricing and whether it would be truly "unlimited." 

From the AllThingsD coverage

Dan Hesse: Customers will pay a premium for simplicity. Even if it’s not in their best economic interest, they will go with the unlimited plan

Walt Mossberg: Are you not going to do tiered pricing?

Hesse: So far, we aren’t

Mossberg: Unlimited means unlimited or doesn’t it?

Hesse: No, it doesn’t . . . The trend is toward one plan for all of your devices, like tablets, phones, PCs, etc.

Mossberg: Are you going to offer plans for all those devices?

Hesse: We are thinking about it. That’s the next step to simplicity. Three years ago, it was about one device.

Pricing would be THE key to the success or failure of such a strategy, with performance a very close second. However, conceptually, this is a winner for Sprint and could gain the company plenty of new subscribers if implemented correctly. However if there were early signs of success it would be quickly copied by other US carriers. 

Survival Story: ChaCha Answers Billionth Question

ChaCha announced that it had answered its billionth question:

ChaCha, the #1 free, real-time answers service, today announced that it has answered the billionth question submitted by its rapidly growing user base of 25 million online and mobile users.

The ChaCha story is impressive. I won't recount it all here but it began as a "social search" engine online and then "found its voice" as a mobile answers service with voice and SMS input. It has since become a key ad platform (SMS) for reaching teens and young adults. 

Other data points released (verbatim from the release): 

  • The company hit a record of nearly one million unique visitors to ChaCha.com in a single day and hit a record of two million SMS mobile questions in a single day.
  • ChaCha.com is the fastest-growing website in the Top 100 as measured by comScore and Quantcast, recently surging past companies such as MTV, NYTimes, TMZ, Zynga, and Yelp.
  • ChaCha users tend to be online users spanning a broader demographic of ages 18 to 49, with mobile users skewing to the younger end of the spectrum.

The company says it still has 62,000 guides, though in the recent past more questions are answered via a database of existing answers.

Rival paid service kgb has struggled to maintain and grow usage volumes and is placing increasing emphasis on its daily deals offering. The two companies are polar opposites with essentially the same consumer value proposition: human-powered search results or answers. ChaCha has always had traffic because it's free, monetization and revenues were the problem, while kgb had a business model but had trouble building loyalty because it isn't free.

Both services exist against the backdrop of declining 411 volumes as people adopt other tools and platforms.

Google Hotpot Could Really Shine in Mobile

Yesterday Google launched Hotpot, a local recommendations engine that leverages Web history, your ratings/reviews and those of your network to offer personalized local business suggestions as part of search results. I wrote about it briefly on Screenwerk.

The success of Hotpot in the aggregate and for any individual in particular is based on participation; you actually have to connect with friends and rate places to see the benefits. After about 10 minutes of doing that online I started to feel fatigue (I've also got jetlag). But mobile is where this really has the potential to take off in my opinion. Ratings generated via mobile devices will also show up online as well. 

Right now "rate and review" is a bit buried at the bottom of business profile pages in Google Places/Maps for mobile. But over time it will likely become more prominent, prompting people to quickly rate local business and attractions on the spot. Over time I could well imagine the majority of reviews from the system coming from mobile devices. 

Taptu: from Search Engine to Social News Aggregator

Taptu was an ambitious "touch-friendly" mobile search engine that didn't stand a chance of competing with Google or Bing. So the company has wisely reinvented its core product as a "social news aggregator," My Taptu.

When I saw the new look and feel -- a scrolling grid of cards or tiles that can be customized with any content source -- it reminded me of Flipboard. "This isn't just an RSS reader," CEO and former Yahoo executive Mitch Lazar told me however. Indeed the company's search technology and assets support the new app, which is available now on Android and the iPhone. 

 Picture 36

Each tile offers a summary of the content, often together with an image and a link to "read on website." Clicking the link takes users to the original source. 

Content can be easily added or deleted from the rows and columns of scrolling tiles. Within sections users can quickly move through lots of content very smoothly. Overall it's a really useful and visually pleasing news reader -- although I think it can go even further in that direction.

In terms of the monetization question, one can easily imagine contextually relevant, sponsored tiles; so an ad-supported model is pretty obvious here. However Taptu's job is to drive adoption which can later be monetized.

This UI and approach would be arguably even more effective on the iPad, which would put My Taptu in direct competition with Flipboard and other visual news aggregators like Pulse.

Visa Using Facebook Page As Mobile Landing Page

I'm sure this is becoming more common, but I hadn't seen it previously: an advertiser driving from a mobile display ad to a Facebook page (see images below). In this case the advertiser is Visa (and the NFL) and the ad appeared on the mobile Internet HTML homepage of Yahoo.

The Facebook fan page isn't optimized for mobile so arguably it's not going to be as effective in driving fan acquisition as would be a specific mobile fan page. It could either be a test of the utility and feasibility of Facebook pages as landing pages -- or it could just be sloppy.

Previously Millennial Media reported that the following was the mix of "destinations" for mobile ad campaigns on its network:  

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4032/5123123931_d0191803ee.jpg

The largest category of "destinations" was a corporate site, followed by a custom landing page and then an application download. Presumably the custom landing page is optimized for mobile and so wouldn't be a conventional Facebook fan page.

Here's the Visa banner ad and then the full Facebook landing page, which is too small to really be effective on the iPhone. 

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Pew: 7% of Mobile Internet Users on LBS

Pew has released findings from a recent telephone survey (n=3,001) that asserts 4% of PC Internet users and 7% of mobile Internet users are on location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. The first number is in general agreement with Forrester's survey numbers. There are other surveys that have found somewhat higher LBS usage numbers.

Pew found LBS users tend to be male and under 30: 

  • 7% the adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.
  • 8% of online adults ages 18-29 use location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group.
  • 6% of online men use a location-based service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, compared with 3% of online women.

One of the "issues" here is how questions are formulated and explained over the phone. What definition of a "location-based service" is being used for example? (Pew typically posts survey questions but in this instance they're missing.) In addition, if you asked people about the importance of location on mobile devices the numbers would be far larger. And once again, frustratingly, Pew doesn't segment or break out smartphones vs. non-smartphones. 

Twitter, social networks

Pew does however segment LBS usage by users of Twitter and social networks. Twitter users tend to use LBS much more than other populations. This makes sense in many respects.

If the extrapolate these Pew figures (from the 4% figure above) and turn them into real numbers, we can say that there are about 8 million users of these services in the US.

People want to focus on scale and volume in these discussions. Yet talking about how many users there are today misses the larger point in a way. The larger point is that these services have brought together something interesting and relatively new, combining local-social-mobile, and created a model for a next-generation cityguide, among other things. 

I had been thinking about LBS chiefly in terms of coupons and direct marketing opportunities. However these services can equally be brand engagement tools or mediums. In fact, in some ways they're more effective in that context. They can equally work as new customer acquisition platforms and as loyalty vehicles. 

There's something very interesting going on with LBS and it's important to study that carefully. The market is changing and LBS is a new model for future services. Any of the individual companies may not survive but the larger phenomenon of social + local + mobile definitely will. 

Facebook Mobile Deals Coming on November 3?

As is now widely known Facebook is having a "mobile event" on November 3. There have been many rumors of a "Facebook phone." That would be pretty interesting and exciting but it's fairly unlikely. So what will be announced?

My guess is that Facebook will first rattle off some impressive mobile statistics. Here's where Facebook's mobile stats stand today:

  • There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
  • There are more than 200 mobile operators in 60 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products

I'll guess that we'll hear that there are now more than 200 million active mobile users on Facebook among other juicy tidbits. 

I've long speculated that Facebook would eventually become a mobile ad network. The amazing thing, if it were to do so, is that it would have equal or greater reach than any mobile carrier and probably any other mobile ad network today. But Facebook isn't immediately concerned with making money in mobile; there's no internal pressure to monetize mobile. Some have estimated that Facebook is on track to do $2 billion in online ad revenue. 

Another reasonable guess is that we'll see the debut of "Facebook Deals," which may be partly tied to Facebook Places. It may also have an entirely independent existence on the PC. Right now Facebook Places doesn't offer any "reason" for users to check in -- unlike other LBS services that offer badges or coupons. I've seen estimates recently that Facebook Places has "7X" the check-ins of Foursquare, which now boasts about 4 million users. 

A deals product could offer a check-in incentive and a nice advertising vehicle for brands and SMBs alike. Regardless of what gets announced next Wednesday, Facebook is a kind of "sleeping giant" in mobile and LBS. Anything it does in these realms has the potential to shake up (or accelerate) the industry. 

Yahoo Answers Goes Mobile

It appears, without much fanfare, that Yahoo Answers has now gone mobile. It's a "Web app" so there's no download. It should accordingly work on most if not all major smartphone platforms through the browser. 

The failure (until now) to mobilize Answers has been a big "missed opportunity" for Yahoo. It has a huge Answers community and should have mobilized the product some time ago. However now that it has the question is: will it be widely used?

The company has done a nice job with the interface but I don't find it to be a particularly interesting or useful on the go. Beyond the nicely designed UI there is little recognition of the differences between PC users and mobile users, whose needs and interests are more immediate and in some cases quite different.

For example, there's no "local" angle other than browsing prior answers, which are difficult to navigate and not necessarily relevant. 

Loyal Answers users will likely appreciate and use it on the go. Otherwise it's not particularly useful for mainstream consumers who aren't already hooked into the Yahoo Answers community and who may be seeking information in near real time. However Yahoo says that the community is so large that responses come in quickly with little latency. That may well be.

In my limited usage of Answers over the past few years, I've found quality to be uneven. Sometimes it's effective and sometimes answers are weak or too general. Ask.com is preparing to launch its mobile Q&A app and we'll see how that performs. 

Otherwise there are more than a dozen "social search" or Q&A services, most of which fail to really be useful enough to replace the conventional search box or specialized apps. 

ChaCha Raises Another $20 Million

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.

Foursquare Wants to Beef Up Check-In-centives

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.

Report: Skype & Facebook Planning 'Deep Integration'

It makes a lot of sense. AllThingsD is reporting that Facebook and Skype are planning a "deep" integration, which may or may not (though probably will) extend into mobile. According to the blog post users will be permitted to call and SMS their Facebook contacts for free:

Skype had 124 million people using it at least once a month and 560 million registered users, which will be bolstered by the 500 million Facebook users who will now be able to use it more seamlessly within Skype.

That will include allowing users to SMS and call Facebook friends from Skype, which will now deploy Facebook Connect.

This should further boost Skype awareness and usage in the US, where it has fewer active users than outside the country. It will also add another "practical" dimension to Facebook. 

Indeed I've long thought that a more full-fledged "communications" role was out there for Facebook to seize or exploit. The company has gone some distance down this path (chat/video chat) but not anywhere near as far as it could. This deal may represent the beginning of the realization of that opportunity.

Screen shot 2010-09-29 at 5.52.54 AM

While the service could be enormously valuable to end users, the big question is: will Skype make any money off this relationship and precisely how?

Skype now makes money when users buy accounts that enable them to call mobile phones or landlines. It also makes money on SMS. It appears that most of the services contemplated by the deal will be free, although some "Skypebook" users might also convert to paid accounts as well. 

The likelihood that most or all of the services will be free raises the prospect of ads. At one time, after eBay acquired it, Skype saw itself as a PPCall advertising platform and more recently the company has done a few PPCall deals with yellow pages publishers (e.g., European Directories).

There are certainly some interesting scenarios here where relevant ads could be injected into the user experience in a number of ways and either sold by Skype (unlikely) or use Facebook Ads with a revenue share to Skype. And because users will be signed in to Facebook (obviously) there are also some interesting potential targeting capabilities. 

Where Buys LocalGinger, Adds Group Buying to Ads Mix

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:

Screen shot 2010-09-27 at 7.24.20 AM

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. 

Check-ins Gaining As Tool for Networks, Shows

What started as a phenomenon chiefly in the real world has quickly moved into entertainment. Foursquare has done deals with Bravo and the History Channel and yesterday GetGlue announced a big deal with a range of TV channels and producers: MSNBC, Disney, HGTV, AMC and Discovery. The company already had deals with Fox, HBO, Universal Studios and Showtime.

Users checking in to shows will get Foursquare-style badges, which will later become physical badges or stickers ("collect 'em all") mailed to them. 

Picture 34

GetGlue will make recommendations to users based on their TV check-in history, and will be used as a promotional tool as well as loyalty program accordingly. More broadly across its various entertainment and leisure categories, GetGlue is trying to build what it calls the "taste graph." 

Beyond the interesting use of check-ins and game dynamics/loyalty to promote TV viewing is the growing phenomenon of the mobile-TV connection. This marks the true arrival of what used to be called "interactive TV."

In the US American Idol was the first to do this with SMS voting. Others have experimented with QR codes on TV.  And some TV producers have also experimented with Twitter.

 Picture 36

We'll only see more of this mobile-TV integration to create engagement as well as incentives to show up for TV programs in this era of fickle viewers and waning and diffused attention. 

Here's more on GetGlue: 

Picture 37

See related story from AdAge: New Loyalty Apps Proving to Be a Win-Win for TV Viewers, Networks.

Geodelic Extends White Label Strategy with GeoGuides

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:

  • GeoGuides: Present brand messaging, information, and offers at targeted locations to consumers in real time, as well as navigation to promotions, events or amenities.
  • Proximity Based Ads: Advertising designed to deliver information and offers based on consumer location.
  • Sponsored Discovery: Associate your brand or business with high value locations, placing marketers and their messages in relevant consumer environments.
  • Comprehensive Brand Guides: Marketers can curate location-based GeoGuides based on brand values and consumer interests.

 

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. 

Android-Based 'Facebook Phone' Is By INQ Mobile

First TechCrunch reported Facebook was working on a phone or mobile OS. Then CEO Mark Zuckerberg went on the record to dispel the rumor so as not to hurt the company's relationships with partners and would-be partners. He explained that Facebook was looking to work with everybody in mobile and be as deeply integrated as possible into mobile OSs generally and serve as the social platform or enabler for mobile.

But Bloomberg is out with more details of an actual quasi-branded handset, which turns out to be a new and improved (perhaps) version of INQ's "social mobile" handset introduced last year:

Facebook Inc. is working with mobile-handset manufacturer INQ Mobile Ltd. on two smartphones that may be carried by AT&T Inc., according to three people familiar with the matter.

The devices, which will feature Facebook social-networking services, are due to be introduced in Europe in the first half of 2011 and the U.S. in the second half, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans haven’t been made public. AT&T, the second-largest U.S. wireless service provider, is still considering whether to carry the devices and hasn’t made a deal, another of the people said . . .

The new phones are slated to run Google Inc.’s Android operating system and will probably carry the AT&T brand in the U.S., according to one of the people. Facebook hasn’t decided whether its name will be used on the devices, the person said. 

Here's what Zuckerberg says in his TechCrunch follow-up interview about INQ:

[D]ifferent people come to us with different ideas all the time, and we mentioned the example of the INQ phone in the past, and I think you appropriately said that it isn’t some massive big thing, but it is cool and actually a lot of people bought it . . .

The INQ phone, I don’t think we had any engineers work on it. And certainly HTC modifies all their own Android stuff — Sense. I think a lot of companies are trying to figure out how to differentiate on that. A bunch of them are interested in talking to us, I think it makes sense. Social is becoming more important to make all these applications better. If we can help them do that, that can potentially be very valuable, but that’s more them. I don’t know — it’s a very decentralized ecosystem and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on.

It will be interesting to see how deeply integrated Facebook is on this device -- is it a "social layer" available to all the apps if you're signed in to Facebook -- and how prominently Facebook's brand shows up on the device. 

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Facebook Wants to Be the 'Social Inside' of All Mobile Experiences

A number of third parties are now involved in providing location to mobile developers and publishers, including Skyhook, Loc-Aid and Location Labs, in addition to carriers and OEMs such as Apple, Google, Nokia and RIM.

Facebook, it appears, wants to do something comparable for social on mobile devices. Last week the rumor erupted that Facebook is building a branded phone/mobile OS. Facebook denied it and invited the source of the rumor (TechCrunch) to discuss it. The resulting interview kills the branded phone rumor but confirms sweeping mobile ambtions on the part of Facebook. 

Facebook sees itself as a "social platform" for mobile -- a social layer (not unlike location) that everyone would and could tap into to make their mobile apps more social and engaging. It wants to be deeply integrated into the fabric of mobile and as widely (horizontally) integrated as possible.

Here are some verbatim Zuckerberg statements from the interview:

Our strategy is very horizontal. We’re trying to build a social layer for everything. Basically we’re trying to make it so that every app everywhere can be social whether it’s on the web, or mobile, or other devices.

On phones we can actually do something better. We can do a single sign-on if we do a good integration with a phone, rather than just doing something where you go to an app and it’s automatically social or having to sign into each app individually. Those are the two options on the web. Why not for mobile? Just make it so that you log into your phone once, and then everything that you do on your phone is social. 

[M]aybe we’ll build specific apps for iPhone and Android. And then, for something that is as important as iPhone or Android, we’ll also build integration into the operating system.

For platforms that are really important, but are hard to penetrate, like iPhone, we’ll just do as much as we can. For Android, we can customize it a bit more. Other folks are going to want to work with us on specific things. But, our goal is not to build a phone that competes with the iPhone or anything like that.

And this is the thing that was potentially really damaging about having that meme our there is: if all of the people that are our partners, who are the main people that we’re trying to work with to make everything social, think that we’re trying to compete with them, that makes them not want to work with us.

Our goal is to make it so that we can design the best integrations in the widest variety of phones.

Now, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get the mobile environments that you see today to a state where you can build really robust social applications on top of it. So that’s the biggest driving force for us — to try to work with these folks and see how deep we can get on our own to make sure that we can build that plumbing. Our goal is to make it exist.

New Foursquare Features Make Bid for Utility, Usage and Broader Reach

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 separation of tips and to-dos
  • Everything is now visible on a map (e.g., tips, friends)
  • Profile pages are redesigned to include more information
  • The addition of an online "like" button equivalent . . . add to MyFoursquare.  

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.

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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."

--

Related: McDonald's Actual Foursquare Test Numbers: 2,865 Check-Ins.

 

Oy! Here Come More Operating Systems: Facebook, EU Carriers

Who's got a mobile "operating system"? Let's see: Apple, Google, Nokia, RIM, Palm, Microsoft, Samsung (not to mention Java and Brew). Now we discover that Facebook may be building a phone with a hardware OEM and the European carriers may be working on a joint, pan-carrier OS to combat Google and Apple.

First the EU carriers: they're reportedly considering a range of options that could include a common mobile OS. This comes from an article published friday: 

French newspaper Le Figaro has reported that Stephane Richard (pictured), chief executive officer of France Telecom-Orange, has invited the heads of Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone to discuss the possible creation of a common platform for mobile devices. The talks, which are scheduled to take place 8 October in Paris, are motivated by a view that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems have become a “Trojan horse” for these companies to establish their own relationships with mobile customers, reducing the significance of the operators in the value chain.

Due to the early state of the talks, it has not been decided what form the alliance will take, with options mooted including the formation of a joint venture or creation of a common apps development unit....

The article speculates that the joint venture could involve one or more of the following:

  • Creation of a common platform based on Symbian (or LiMo)
  • Creation of a highly distinct version of Android
  • Creation of a common middleware layer that is branded to carriers 
  • Creation of a new OS from scratch

The carriers will probably recognize that creation of a new OS is not likely to succeed. They're not software companies and will have difficulty competing accordingly. A custom version of Android and/or a proprietary middleware experience is more likely. Regardless they're not going to be able to "go back" to the days when they owned the customer entirely. It's pure nostalgia to think so.

The bureaucracy and cultural challenges within these large companies combine to suggest the risk of total failure for such an initiative is quite high. A case-in-point by analogy: at one point the French wanted to create a pan-EU search engine to combat Google, which completely failed.

A parallel development reported by TechCrunch is the rumor that Facebook is working with an OEM on developing a phone, similarly wary of Apple and Google's rising control of the smartphone market. However there have been many "social networking" phones that have featured Facebook to date, all largely unsuccessful. The most visible was Microsoft's ill-fated Kin.

Motorola's MotoBLUR software focuses heavily on Facebook but it hasn't really served to differentiate the phones that carry it. And INQ Mobile (owned by the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa) has put out a couple of "social mobiles," handsets that prominently feature Facebook: the INQ Mini 3G and the INQ Chat 3G. I don't have any sales data but they appear to be decent devices. 

If the "Facebook phone" rumor is true it almost certainly must be directed toward younger text-heavy users and not the higher end of the market. To succeed as a smartphone there would need to be more to the software than simply Facebook. Facebook has more than 500 million users around the world, but those users don't simply "do" Facebook. (Update: the OS is potentially Android, which if true addresses some of my critiques.)

Perhaps Facebook thinks it can revive "Platform" and compete there with apps and a developer ecosystem. However, it would be much smarter to go after the middle or lower-end of the market. For these and other reasons, I'm skeptical that the Facebook phone initiatve is quite as ambitious as the rumor argues, but we'll see.

New operating systems are unlikely to change the market substantially. Notwithstanding tools that allow developers to "write once" for multiple platforms (e.g, Rhomobile, Appcelerator) there's room for only about five smartphone operating systems to survive. That's partly why I think the Europeans will build whatever they decide to build on top of existing platforms (Android, Symbian/MeeGo) rather than create something new -- and probably mediocre -- from the ground up. 

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See related: How Long Before FB Is a Mobile Ad Network?

Weather, Maps Follow Only Games in Apps Race

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. 

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