Social Networks

The Challenges of Foursquare's Amex Deal

This past weekend Foursquare announced a deal with Amex, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. The partnership essentially offers discounts and rewards for checking in at participating local businesses:

Under the arrangement, AmEx customers can register their cards in the Foursquare system to get access to special offers from merchants who are also Foursquare participants. Customers who shop at those merchants with an AmEx card will receive credits and electronic notification that they have redeemed the offer. Merchants who participate in the program would potentially see more sales. . . .

The Foursquare partnership is AmEx's latest offering aimed at people who are roughly a generation younger than the company's traditional customer. AmEx has introduced several new cards targeted at the hip and tech-savvy generation in recent years, with mixed success. 

The move is positioned in the article as a way for Amex to associate itself with a "hip" new mobile app and thereby attract younger users. It's going to be initially tested at the SXSW conference coming up next week in Austin, Texas: "Sixty local merchants will honor the 'spend $5, save $5' promotion."

It's great PR and a great high-profile deal for Foursquare, which now has more than 8 million users globally. Amex claims, however, this isn't simply about younger users but about new forms of loyalty and cardmember engagement.

On paper it all makes sense; however there are some potential challenges with the deal. I couldn't find empirical data but my understanding is that on average Amex cardholders are generally older than the bulk of Foursquare users, although there will be some overlap. According to Pew, here's the demographic breakdown of "location based services" users:

Demographics of location-based service users

This "generic" LBS user profile cuts more broadly than Foursquare specifically. And Google's Ad Planner (as well as Quantcast and Alexa) shows a user base that is somewhat older than Pew's profile. It also shows more female users on Foursquare.

Beyond the "demographic" challenge, is the fact that most local businesses don't use Foursquare to promote themselves. In addition many don't take Amex; you remember the Visa ads. ("They won't take no for an answer, and they won't take American Express.")

In our recent SMB survey about 8% of respondents said they were using Foursquare to promote themselves. This number cannot be generalized to the entire population of SMBs. That would effectively mean about 2 million SMBs actively on Foursquare marketing themselves. The 8% figure is larger than in previous surveys, reflecting Foursquare's growth and increased visibility. However the number of businesses using it to acquire new customers or as a loyalty platform is relatively small.

Accordingly you have to find SMBs or national-local entities that are on Foursquare (and take Amex), together with Foursquare users who have Amex cards to use in those establishments. This slices the potential pie pretty thinly. Yet this is the right direction for Foursquare, which will have enormous difficulty monetizing via SMB self-service. It needs to make big deals with channel partners and do national-local deals with retailers to generate meaningful revenue. 

Loopt Reinvents Itself (Again) with Push 'Rewards'

Loopt was an early friend finder and social network for mobile devices that has been forced to reinvent itself and try different things repeatedly because of the entry competitors and better-known brands into its space: e.g., Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, Google.

The most recent effort to do that is with its new "Reward Alerts," which are limited-time offers that are pushed to users based on location. This is similar to an AT&T-Placecast ShopAlerts initiative that was also announced this week. In that case AT&T handset users opt-in to receive deal alerts and they're pushed to users via SMS/MMS depending on location. 

Initial advertisers for the Loopt program include Participating companies include Altec Lansing, FOX Broadcasting, Gilt City, Jawbone, Microsoft, OkCupid, Southwest Airlines, TabbedOut, Twelve South, TiVo and Yurbuds.

Screen shot 2011-03-02 at 10.28.28 AM
In order to participate, users must download the new version of the app, turn on "rewards" then the deals start flowing based on where users are. Loopt has had a deals/coupons product for some time in Loopt Star; however this is a more interesting and potentially successful implementation. 

Deals have become immensely popular and the opt-in/push dimension of Placecast's and now Loopt's programs will make them compelling to marketers. For Loopt scale will be key. The company has more than four million users (compare Foursquare's 6+ million). However the Placecast program, because it's text-based, has an addressable audience of 95 million hypothetically (the entire AT&T subscriber base).  

WHERE also offers location-based push couponing. 

Apps Beat Browsers for Time Spent: Report

GSMA, the organization behind the Mobile World Congress, commissioned research in January that showed mobile apps generally beating the browser for time spent. The research had a global scope and was performed by European mobile analytics company Zokem

However apps vs. browser access differed by category according to the findings:

News, search and commerce apps and sites receive much more usage still from mobile web browsers, with 86%, 85% and 66% of mobile web browser users using them monthly. Only 22% of web browser users access web-based email services, and only 18% use games through a web browser. For email, native apps reach 76% of smartphone users monthly, and games reach 45%.

Multimedia related services, like online music and video, are predominantly used through native apps rather than a smartphone web browser. Apps and web browsing usage patterns, therefore, are quite different, and the usage balance between browsers vs. native apps is driven by the type of app in question.

Mobile apps are responsible for 667 minutes of use per user each month according to Zokem. Compare messaging (671 minutes), voice (531 minutes) and web browsing (422 minutes).

Social networking apps (the category is not clearly defined) consume "almost 10 percent of all smartphone 'face time.'" Facebook and YouTube are the most heavily penetrated social media apps. (I disagree with YouTube being characterized as social media.)

The study found that iPhone and Android owners used roughly 15 apps per month; BlackBerry and Nokia owners used about half that number (8). The iTunes store and Android Markets enjoyed 95% reach with their users, while Blackberry App World has 50% reach and Nokia's Ovi store reached less than 30% of Symbian users. The data also showed that "iPhones generated more than 200 percent more traffic per month on average than Android devices."

Contradicting some other data and claims in the market the study found smartphone usage declined on weekends but "averaged more than 70 minutes per day with apps capturing more face time than any other activity at weekends."

'Facebook Phone' Surfaces: INQ Cloud Touch

The new INQ "Cloud Touch" is getting a lot of play today. Unveiled yesterday this is an Android-based Facebook-optimized phone. INQ is a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, which is based in Taiwan. HTC is also planning to introduce an Android phone that has a higher degree of Facebook integration.

INQ previously released a line of "social mobiles" that were social-networking optimized handsets. The Cloud Touch is the next generation of that line with an emphasis on Facebook in particular. 

What's most interesting to me from the video I've seen -- I haven't held the device in my hands -- is that the phone offers a new interface for Android and thus stands out from among the scores of generic-looking Android phones now in the market. It's the first really interesting new Android interface (Motorola's Motoblur and HTC's Sense interface are basically worthless).

According to the Financial Times, "users will only have to sign in to Facebook once, when setting up the device, allowing their credentials to be used automatically by third-party applications." That will help create some interesting user experiences; Facebook recenty introduced single sign-on for mobile. This is removes friction but also creates potential privacy issues. 

The Cloud Touch is also like Flipboard in a certain way in that it points to and reflects the media, links and content that are being shared; it's not all about the Facebook interface. The handsets also integrate streaming music service Spotify, which isn't in the US and may never be because of rights issues. 

The new handsets are coming to the UK market later this quarter (and probably Canada) but there's no word on a US release date. 

 Picture 2

The Android apps interface is in most respects a knock-off of the iPhone interface -- all touch-screen smartphones now in the market are derivative of the iPhone -- but this interface is innovative. It may mark the beginning of true differentiation among Android handsets. 

I suspect the INQ Cloud Touch will be quite popular when it's released. 

Related posts:

Facebook Pushes Growth on Feature Phones with New App

Facebook is the top free iPhone app of "all time" (so far). The site is also the top site or the number two site in most countries around the world according to Opera's regular reporting. The company has more than 200 million mobile users who are the most active of Facebook's more than 600 million global members. According to the most recently published public numbers from the social network:

  • There are more than 200 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 

Facebook also operates the "0.facebook.com" site to reach users on non-smartphones. But yesterday Facebook announced a new feature-phone app from Snaptu. The idea is to drive global penetration and usage even further, recognizing the strategic importance of mobile to the future of the business.

Smartphones will be in the majority in the "West" across the board at some point in the next five years. But around the world, inexpensive feature phones or not-quite-smartphones will remain dominant for the foreseeable future. This new app will help provide a better user experience than the 0.facebook mobile Web/Wap experience. 

Simultaneously Facebook is reportedly working with mobile-handset manufacturer INQ Mobile Ltd on a couple of Android-based quasi-branded smartphones. Facebook also recently launched Connect and single sign-on for mobile phones. In short the company is trying to penetrate and conquer the entire mobile ecosystem from top to bottom, from apps to hardware. 

What it doesn't (yet) have is mobile advertising. This will come without question. And when it does, Facebook will be largest mobile ads network/platform on the globe. 

Related posts: 

Paid Android Apps: Will Amazon Succeed Where Google Has Largely Failed?

Amazon knows how to sell things -- that's for sure. But will the leading e-commerce destination be able to sell apps for developers in a way that Google's own Android market has largely been unable to? My belief is, yes. The Amazon Appstore was formally announced on Tuesday.

Amazon must first get developers to sign up and participate; but I suspect that almost all serious Android developers will submit their existing apps for approval. The promise of a lower-friction consumer purchase funnel for apps will be a major part of the appeal. Amazon has millions of consumer credit cards on file and is a trusted retailer. The notion of a one-click purchase (like iTunes) could help developers make much more money off Android.

Here's Amazon's pitch:

Why should you submit your apps for inclusion in the Amazon Appstore for Android?

--For the first time, you will have access to tens of millions of active Amazon customers.

--Amazon’s proven marketing and merchandising features will help you get your apps discovered and in front of the right customers.

--The convenience of using an existing Amazon.com account will make it simple and easy for customers to purchase your apps - both online and on their mobile devices. 

The third one is arguably the most important.

There have been persistent developer complaints that consumers aren't buying apps on Android. As a percentage of overall apps downloaded paid apps are considerably lower on Android than other smartphone platforms, iOS in particular. Part of that is the "culture" of Google and Android -- Google favors the mobile Web over apps -- and part of it is the lack of a smooth payment system. (I wrote about how Google's failure to drive Checkout adoption is now hurting the company with Android developers.)

Amazon may be able to use its celebrated recommendations and merchandising capabilities to create the leading Android marketplace. If it succeeds it will be interesting to see how Google reacts.  

LBS Apps & Brands: SVNGR & Nissan

Previously I argued that LBS apps are as much about brand engagement as they are about deals/coupons. (Indeed this is where the money is.) Here's another of several examples: the Nissan "Juke the City" promotion using SCVNGR as an engagement tool.

SCVNGR, which just raised a $15 million funding round is being used by Nissan in connection with a sweepstakes to help build awareness of the new car.

According to the company's blog, users with the app (iPhone, Android) check in and complete challenges at locations in several cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco) in order to be entered to win a new Juke. There are also lesser prizes involved. 

Picture 6

We'll see more and more smart brands use LBS apps to influence user behavior around new products this year and into the future. It's partly about location but mostly about brand awareness and affinity. And the gaming aspect works perfects in this context. 

Deals are great to drive people into stores and physical locations (and for loyalty). But there's an equally large if not larger opportunity for these LBS firms and brands to work together in clever and creative ways. 

Skype Will Mainstream Video Calling

In creating FaceTime Apple brought a differentiated feature to the iPhone 4: video calling. However it only works over WiFi. Fring stepped up to offer it over 3G but the company is relatively obscure outside tech circles. But now that Skype has added video and 3G support for the iPhone, it's truly poised to become a mainstream phenomenon.

Here's what the updated app does according to Skype:

  • Make video calls to people on their computers as well as other iPhones (details below)
  • Make free audio calls to anyone else on Skype
  • Make great value calls to landlines and mobiles around the world

Skype also repeated a stat about its usage: "approximately 25 million people [are] signed into Skype at any given time." That's a lot of people but a much smaller number than the broader group of "registered Skype users," numbering in excess of 400 million globally. 

Screen shot 2010-12-30 at 10.16.06 AM

I haven't yet tried it and don't know how good it is but I suspect it will be extremely popular.

Once the iPhone comes to Verizon it will be interesting to see how Skype is handled. Currently Skype calling on Verizon's other smartphones (e.g., RIM, Android) counts against voice minutes, which makes no sense from a user point of view though it does from the perspective of a carrier worried about users circumventing or sidestepping the limits of its voice plans. 

C3: The Collision of Marketing and Customer Care

Opus Research, the firm behind Internet2Go, is putting on a different kind of social media event in San Francisco on Feb 2-3, 2011: Conversational Commerce: The Collision between Marketing and Customer Care -- or "C3." 

Most social media events consider issues like "social shopping" or how community is changing consumer applications or social marketing to consumers on Facebook or Twitter. Those are interesting topics but we're aiming for something more specific and enterprise focused -- and we think we're unique or at least first with these topics. 

Customer service now has brand implications because it plays out in public on social networks. And marketing organizations can learn a ton from the data and interactions being captured by customer service units. Most of the time, however, the two groups don't communicate or coordinate. This is a big missed opportunity. And one could argue that social media now forces a "conversation" between these silos within organizations -- even as it's forcing "conversational marketing" on brands. 

The genesis of this event was from multiple conversations we were having with marketers and customer service platform providers. And we think we're bringing together a unique collection of speakers who don't normally appear together on the same stage. We've got companies and organizations like Cisco, RapLeaf, Yelp, iCrossing, Marchex, Innovation Interactive/360i, Edelman, Creative Realities, Acxiom, the MMA, Empirix, Lithium, Get Satisfaction, Orange Labs, Air2Web, Oodle, Closely, Vendasta, Praized, Comcast, Fair Isaac Corporation, Weber Shandwick and others still to be formally announced. 

We also think we've put together a provocative and meaningful agenda that isn't full of the normal social media "fluff." Here are a few of the sessions: 

  • Where Does Support End and Marketing Begin – and Vice Versa? 
  • The ROI of Social Conversations – What Metrics Should Apply? 
  • Shaping the Conversation: Search, Reputation and P2P
  • A Parallel Universe: Social CRM for SMBs
  • Customer Care in a Mobile and X-Platform World
  • The Age of the Individual: From CRM to VRM

The day-and-a-half event will also feature provocative case studies from Cisco, Marchex, Lithium and Get Satisfaction mixed with panel discussions.

The stakes are high for brands and marketers as they figure out how to use social media most effectively for marketing -- and customer support. Marketers and customer care people have a lot to learn from one another but they often aren't talking. This event will get them talking and will showcase best practices and concrete takeaways. 

This isn't a mobile conference, a search conference, a local conference or even a social media conference per se. But it will address all these topics. We think it could turn out to be the most interesting and useful conference you attend in 2011. We're also hosting it in a club (rather than a hotel) in SOMA, San Francisco. 

There are still a few speaking slots available. To inquire about them or to sponsor, contact Pete Headrick (pheadrick@opusresearch.net). Otherwise, Register Now, to get our early bird rate.

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. 

Picture 5

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. 

Screen shot 2010-11-07 at 6.29.53 AMScreen shot 2010-11-07 at 6.30.13 AM

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.