Social Networks

Report: Social Nets Dominate Mobile Airtime

According to new mobile metrics provider, Ground Truth, "social networking activity comprises more than half of the time spent on the Mobile Internet." These data are drawn from "a census of 3.05 million U.S. mobile phone users," based in large part on mobile operator data.

It's not clear what the handset breakdown is. But the larger US market looks like this: about 20%-22% smartphones and just under 80% non-smartphones. Here a couple of charts provided by Ground Truth to illustrate the data:

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I have no trouble believing that people are spending huge amounts of time with mobile social networks. However, the company argues that these lesser known mobile-social networks are dominating Facebook and MySpace. There's not much context provided but it raises the question of the demographic and handset breakdowns behind the data. Who are the people that are on MocoSpace and MobaMingle? What is the hierarchy here?

I have to believe that most of these companies aren't going to survive over time given Facebook's aggressive march into mobile. Even MySpace is at risk. 

YPG Launches 'Urbanizer' Restaurant App

Yellow Pages Group yesterday introduced a nouveau iPhone app called "Urbanizer." It's highly social, focused solely on restaurants and very nicely designed. Yellow pages branding is almost non-existent. The app is intended to appeal to a young, urban demographic that might not associate the yellow pages with "cool" restaurants and entertainment.

The app incorporates data from YPG's CanadaPlus cityguide as well as recent acquisition Restaurantica. It utilizes Facebook Connect to build the social graph into the app as well as to broadcast information back through the Facebook news feed. One of the novel dimensions of the app is the ability to make restaurant choices by "mood." According to the press release:

With Urbanizer, urbanites can now discover local places by telling the app what they are in the mood for. For example, users can choose from a selection of pre-defined moods such as "romantic dinner" and "hipster snack" or use Urbanizer's equalizer function to create a custom mood based on combinations of cuisine, ambiance and service categories.

Urbanizer also enables users to tag places by "mood" and shows a "mood map" (vs. a heatmap) of the various cities it covers in Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Here are some screens from the app:

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Yellow Pages Group has recently been making very interesting moves in buying a number of online verticals and diversifying its sources of traffic. Like AT&T's Buzz.com (which has a mobile component at m.buzz.com) Urbanizer represents an effort to reach into new demographic segments and build vertical sites/apps that offer both targeted traffic and leads to advertisers but also offer new user experiences to consumers. 

Skyhook Enables Any App to Become 'Local' (and More Social)

Skyhook Wireless this morning announced a new developer SDK that enables anyone to add location to their content and apps. According to Skyhook there are roughly 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. Since its business is about location and local is the "heart of mobile," the company wants to further enable developers to add location in a painless way.

Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan also makes an interesting argument that location is a kind of "gateway to community." Morgan believes that learning about what people around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes abstract ideas and content such as news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance or experience that can enable people to discover and connect with one another. 

To that end Shyhook has created a "Local Favs" SDK. According to the press release: 

Local Faves helps developers create engaging communities within apps, driving user loyalty and more opportunities for monetization. In a Local Faves-enabled iPhone wine app, users could check-in to a restaurant via the wine they’re drinking, giving the wine app developer the opportunity to directly broadcast user location. Local Faves features fully customizable content tagging, allowing users to indicate that that they loved, hated,  ‘favorited’, saw, or read a piece of content within an app, and enables sharing of this content, and exactly where it was experienced, via Facebook and Twitter.

Morgan demo'd the functionality with a dummy app the company had created around drinks. They took the Esquire drinks database and created a very slick iPhone app around it. The idea is that users identify where they consumed, say, a Pina Colada or a Cosmopolitan or Sex on the Beach, etc. The location is captured and can be shared socially: I'm in Manhattan and just had a Martini . . .

Over time, you'd get a sense of the favorite alcoholic beverages in different areas of the country: Boston likes Scotch while Oregonians like beer -- hypothetically. 

Skyhook's SDK provides all the pages and functionality, making it very easy for developers to plug in these local and social features. Because of that and the fact that it's all free, it's a missed opportunity not to use this. 

Skyhook: Location a Gateway to Community

I caught up with Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless, and he gave me a preview of some exciting stuff to come out of the Boston-based firm. However I'm forbidden from discussing any of it right now.

We also spoke about the state of the major smartphone platforms and Morgan gave me some visibility into app developer perspectives on each of them. "It's not that different writing code for HTML5 apps vs. a native app." 

We also got into Windows 7, the iPad, Apple vs. Google and some other juicy and off-the-record topics. 

Skyhook provides location technology for the iPhone and most of the major location apps on the various smartphone platforms, although most of the action, from Skyhook's point of view is still on the iPhone. Skyhook in one way or another is seeing the activity on 80 million devices across North America, Europe and Asia and the company is sitting on a mountain of interesting data as a result. 

Morgan told me that Skyhook's servers see 300 million location lookups every day. Yet only about 5% of the apps across the apps stores are location aware. In particular Morgan said that there were about 8,000 location-enabled apps in the iTunes store, out of roughly 160,000 total. That's a kind of a paradox if one operates from the premise that location is at the heart of the mobile experience. 

Morgan discussed another more subtle and complex use for location on mobile devices, beyond finding places and people. He sees a location layer or location awareness as a way to build community: for example, news apps or music apps that show what's popular in a particular geography. Location is a layer or aspect but not the center of the experience necessarily. 

Morgan believes that learning about what people near and around you think is valuable or interesting can help these apps and sites build community and loyalty. Location becomes a basis for community because it makes the abstractions of news, photos, music more concrete in a local or offline context. Location offers a shared circumstance that can enable people to discover and connect with one another. 

With community and loyalty, Morgan believes, come new opportunities for monetization as well. 

Where Launches 'Hyper-Local' Ad Network

uLocate, which operates popular mobile site/app Where, has launched WHERE Ads, which it's positioning as a new "hyper-local" ad network. Last week I spoke to Where marketing kingpin Dan Gilmartin about it.

Gilmartin told me this initiative grew out of the company's (and it's users') frustration with conventional mobile display advertising and third party networks that too often supplied ad inventory wasn't very relevant, he said. The company has thus created its own solution and is going to make it available to third parties. As part of that Where also distributes local ads from other networks and sites (e.g., CityGrid).

The ads are geographically and usually contextually relevant. They appear at the bottom of pages, fairly unobtrusively -- one might even argue almost too unobtrusively:

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The release says that "Click Through Rates (CTR) on WHERE Ads has exceeded other mobile ads by as much as three times." Gilmartin discussed this better performance during the trial period with me fairly extensively during our earlier call.

I'm narrowly avoiding the cliche that relevant ads are "content" when I say these ads don't appear to be "ads" because of their immediate relevance to the category and location. Although they're not contextually relevant all the time. (I don't recall if there's behavioral targeting going on however.)

The more relevant the ads the more consumers will respond; it's pretty simple.

The general challenge has been getting the LBS inventory to provide enough fill. Now, networks such as CityGrid, V-Enable and Where are providing more specific LBS ("hyper-local") ad inventory, beyond the more conventional geotargeted inventory from traditional mobile ad networks. 

Dan Gilmartin will be on my panel on LBS monetization at Where 2.0 on April 1. Also on the panel will be Google, Placecast, de Carta, and Citysearch

Google Should Integrate Latitude and Buzz

There's an article in eWeek that discusses the potential integration of Google's somewhat controversial Buzz service with the pre-existing Latitude friend finder:

[Google PM Steve] Lee said that while these features showed how Google is "pushing boundaries in terms of sharing location," they are hardly the last stop for innovation with Latitude. "We're still investing in Latitude and we think it's extremely important. You'll see more and more great stuff around Latitude."

"Down the road, there might be points of integration between Buzz and Latitude, but they are separate products and have different use cases." Lee declined to provide specifics, but noted, "we're thinking of what apps we can build that have certain compelling use cases and how can location enhance those apps."

Google now has many location-oriented "point solutions" (Buzz for mobile, Local for mobile Web, Maps & Street View, Navigation, Latitude, etc.). As Lee says Buzz and Latitude are different offerings with different use cases; however the company should find a way to combine them into one or at least cross-pollinate them.

I imagine that Google's view is that these are effectively all "layers" within Google Maps and so they are integrated in a sense. I would also imagine -- though Google won't share specific numbers -- that Latitude has lost some momentum to newer rivals in the market: Foursquare, et al. Indeed, Yelp, Foursquare and the other location-aware mobile offerings have both a way to notify friends of your location and also see what others have said about the particular location or business. 

Google also now owns Aardvark, which offers a real-time advice or recommendations channel and has a very heavy local or real-world dimension. How the company will integrate that (or not) into these other layers remains to be seen.

Google has a kind of embarrassment of local riches but it needs to bring more of these capabilities together in an elegant and useful way. 

Movie Promo Uses Outdoor + Barcodes

One of the things that we've pointed out many times here is that traditional media gain "new life" with the incorporation of mobile (SMS, barcodes). A great case-in-point comes in the form of a promotion for the new horror/sci-fi movie Repo Men (not a remake of the 80s cult classic). The movie poster contains a traditional barcode that users scan for additional content and promotional information:

The barcode campaign, now taking place in 15 U.S. cities, involves outdoor creative for the movie that includes a small barcode in the corner of the posters. Users can scan these codes with an iPhone equipped with reader software from Red Laser, decode them and link to pages of apparent sales brochures for artificial hearts, kidneys, livers, eyes, and so on.

Other codes link to video clips showing a cable shopping network show touting the latest and most expensive artificial organs—"artiforgs," in the world of the movie—or to a guerilla Web site supposedly representing a movement to resist The Union, the finance arm that underwrites these costly organs and then repossesses them when the owners default.

In the absence of this the movie poster might be provocative and build awareness for the film's release. But this approach will create much more "buzz" and will likely boost sales at the box office. The only question is whether the specific mobile approach (smartphone barcode scanning) is aligned with the target audience, which might be younger and more inclined toward SMS. However, you can't do the rich media/content stuff with feature phones. 

Forget about this particular promotion, SMS and/or barcodes should be thoughtfully incorporated into more traditional media campaigns increasingly as a matter almost of routine. Not only does it make these ads dynamic and interactive, but it offers metrics on response rates as well.

Mobile Becoming Focus for Social Networking

According to data released by comScore, 30% of US smartphone users access social media sites via mobile browser (they're not counting access via apps in the data). Facebook says it has 100 million are "active" mobile users around the globe. That number is destined to grow, as is the number of mobile Twitter users. 

Here's the top-level comScore data:

In January 2010, 11.1 percent of all mobile phone users accessed a social networking site via mobile browser, an increase of 4.6 percentage points from the previous year. Much of this growth has been driven by smartphone owners, 30.8 percent of whom accessed social networking sites on their mobile browsers, up more than 8 percentage points on the year. By comparison, just 6.8 percent of feature phone users accessed social networking sites on their mobile phones.

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Here's Nielsen's parallel demographic view of US mobile social networking (in the aggregate):

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Note that the female audience is larger and that older users comprise more of the mobile social network user base. The largest single group is over 35 (probably owing to the economics of mobile data plans). However what's very clear is that mobile devices are becoming a primary tool for social media access and status updates for ever larger numbers of people. 

Pew: 88% of Mobile Internet Users Get News

The Pew Internet project has come out with a report, which I've written about at Search Engine Land and Screenwerk, on digital news consumption. It's based on US consumer survey data. Below I summarize the mobile news portion of the report.

Overall, 26% of American adults say they get some form of news via cell phone – that amounts to 33% of adult cell phone owners and 88% of adults who have mobile internet.

The typical on-the-go news consumer is a white male, age 34, who has graduated from college and is employed full-time. 

Among this subgroup of internet-using mobile phone users, we found that the vast majority get some kind of news online:

  • 72% check weather reports on their cell
  • 68% get news and current events information on their cell
  • 49% have downloaded an application that allows them to access news, weather, sports, or other information on their cell
  • 44% check sports scores and related information on their cell
  • 35% check traffic information on their cell
  • 32% get financial information or updates
  • 31% get news alerts sent by text or email to their phones
  • 88% say yes to at least one of the above

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Source: Pew Internet Project 1/10 (n=2,259 adults)

No surprises here, news is one of the top mobile content categories. The report overall shows a multi-platform news enviornment where people are looking at news in traditional media, online and in mobile.

The "Internet" is now the third most common news source, outstripping traditional newpapers and radio (following local and national TV). Online, portals and aggregators are the dominant sources of news for consumers. 

Report: Facebook Looking at Loopt

Loopt has been scrambling to reinvent itself and gain traction -- despite its longevity in LBS -- in order to not be made totally irrelevant by more visible competitors: Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare and mobile couponers. While it's still possible that Loopt would find the right mix of offerings or the right formula to succeed as an independent company that train has probably left the station.

TechCrunch, which loves to report rumors and tech gossip that also often turn out to be correct, is saying that Facebook is doing due diligence on Loopt. Facebook is the dominant mobile social network and a general force to be reckoned with. I recently speculated that it was only a matter of time before the company became a mobile ad network or platform. 

I had previously predicted that Facebook would buy Foursquare but that looks less likely now because of Foursquare's deals with large media companies. It still could happen. But if Facebook were to buy Loopt what exactly would it be buying? It would be potentially getting some mobile development expertise and some technolgy as well as some carrier relationships (but it already has those). 

It wouldn't be getting and doesn't need mobile users, with 100 million active mobile users of the site. Thus the price is likely to be a big sticking point. Loopt has raised just under $20 million. Loopt's investors will likely want something approaching or exceeding $100 million. My guess is that what Facebook gets from Loopt won't be valued at that level. We'll see. 

Loopt will ultimately have to sell itself because I think its time has come and gone. I could always be wrong of course. 

Survey: IM Now Passé for Teens vs. SMS

That headline might have overreached a tiny bit, but Mediamark has found in its survey research that US teens now text more than send instant messages on the PC. Though it should come as no surprise, this is apparently the first time it's happened according to the firm:

Some 57% of teenagers report they text messaged on their cell phones in the last 30 days, compared to 42% who instant messaged on a computer in the same time frame, according to the TeenMark study . . .

The number of teens who text has increased 50% since 2007, vs. a 13% decline in the number of teens using instant messaging. Texting is now the top feature teens use on mobile cell phones, aside from making phone calls.

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How Long Before FB Is a Mobile Ad Network?

There's a nice summary (and video) of Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya's speech at the Mobile World Congress (via TechCrunch) in which he discusses Facebook mobile growth and engagement and makes a pitch to work with carriers. Facebook says it already has relationships with 200 carriers globally (compare to Yahoo, which says it works with roughly 80 but with the potential reach of 800 million).

Here are some quick facts from the talk:

 Palihapitiya pitched carriers on the idea that Facebook would help them grow data revenues. 

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Facebook's mobile usage and growth are nothing short of amazing. But let's talk about what may be coming sooner rather than later: Facebook as a mobile ad network and one that offers location (and potentially demographics) as part of that proposition. 

There are currently no ads on Facebook's apps, mobile websites or SMS. I would almost bet my life that's going to change in the near-to-medium term. Facebook will be clever and careful about integrating advertising into mobile, mindful of the potential to alienate mobile users. However the mobile ad opportunity may be at least as big for Facebook as it is on the PC. 

Facebook is about to make $1 billion in ads on the PC; however neither I nor anyone I know pays attention to and/or clicks on them. However I do hear from marketers anecdotally that Facebook ad targeting does work. But offers and mobile advertising from SMBs and brands tied to location is a potentially huge opportunity for the company. 

I think it's just a matter of time before we see Facebook start to roll out an offering. And, on arrival, the company would be as large or larger than any existing mobile ad network. 

Loopt Still Struggling to Find Identity

Loopt, an early friend finder and mobile social network, has been totally eclipsed by Facebook in the latter category and is suffering at the hands of fast-growing local social gaming newcomers, FourSquare, GoWalla and MyTown, as a friend finder.

Recognizing its inevitable defeat as a pure social network it next tried to become Yelp. But Pelago's Whrrl already tried and failed at that. Yelp is doing a great job of being Yelp in mobile. 

Seeking other, alternative ways to gain traction Loopt introduced Loopt Mix (dating) and Pulse (feed aggregation + recommendations). Loopt is on all major carriers but the company is still suffering an identity crisis and trying to find its way as the market shifts quickly around it. 

Loopt recently did a deal with couponer Mobile Spinach. And now it's done a deal with food and wine email publisher Tasting Table to add high-end "foodie" content to Loopt. I'm afraid this isn't going to help much either. 

Facebook the King of UK Mobile Media

Metrics firm comScore and the GSMA last week reported figures for UK mobile Internet visits, time on site and so on. Consistent with some of the other data in the market, Facebook is the winner across categories, followed by Google.

As you can see from the chart below, and unlike in the US, the carrier portals have a presence in the top 10:

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Compare the Nielsen "top 10" US mobile sites, which put Facebook at number five:

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See related post: Facebook's 100 Million Mobile Users.

ChaCha Now Answering 1M Questions Daily

ChaCha introduced a new Facebook app that submits questions to users' Facebook networks and to ChaCha simultaneously:

With ChaCha's Facebook App, when individuals pose a question to any friends within their social network, the question is also automatically submitted to ChaCha. ChaCha rapidly returns an answer from its huge database of hundreds of millions of answers. ChaCha will show up as another friend with an answer to the Facebook user along with answers from their network of friends. Users can also select "add to profile" to get a permanent "Ask ChaCha" prompt on their profile pages.

Additionally, Facebookers can select "share" when they submit a question, and the question and answers will post to their friends' Facebook walls. Individuals receive points for questions they answer for pure recognition and fun, and based on points attainment, users receive different titles which are displayed on a leader board.

It allows users to ask select members of their networks or the entire network. 

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There are a few interesting things going on here in my mind:

  • This turns ChaCha into a Yahoo Answers-like service on Facebook
  • Facebook has this capability itself but it hasn't really developed fully on its own; this app (if successful) might further accelerate the creation of a Q&A culture on Facebook
  • ChaCha makes money through mobile advertising and by showing ads on its PC website, so it is relatively "agnostic" about where questions come from 

Google just bought Aardvark for $50 million. ChaCha might be attractive to Microsoft or another potential buyer for similar reasons; however 90%+ of ChaCha's answers are coming via an index of previously answered questions for cost/efficiency reasons. That database will provide the answers for these questions rather than real-time human responses; Facebook provides the human answers in this case. 

The company also says it's answering a million questions a day. Though very impressive that's much smaller volume than a conventional search engine.

ChaCha has raised $52 million in several funding rounds.

Related: ChaCha Growing, Now It Needs More Advertisers

Update: CEO Scott Jones provided the following clarifications and addition information to me in email:

Yes, we are at a million answers a day… which is less than online search, but perhaps a better comparison is that we’re ahead of google’s mobile text answers service which has been out for a few years AND it is radically higher than aardvark’s daily answers (through both web and iphones).

In addition to facebookers answering questions, we also will continue to have guides answering questions. Both human/social ingredients are important to provide relevance (which google lacks), accuracy (which google also lacks, hence the million results dumped in your lap for you to figure it out), and speed (which aardvark lacks even when they sometimes do provide an answer).

Google Buys Aardvark for $50 Million

After Google's failed acquisition of Yelp and on the heels of its launch of Buzz, Google has agreed to acquire "social search engine" Aardvark for $50M (per TechCrunch). A deal had been rumored for several weeks. I received confirmation also directly from the founders.

I'm a fan of Aardvark. (See the discussion of the company's distribution of queries.) It doesn't work in every situation, but it often does and when it does, it works better and more efficiently (in mobile in particular) than Google. In a vaguely ironic sort of way, this is a return to "Google Answers," a peer-to-peer paid answers service that was shut down following the rise of the free Yahoo Answers service a few years ago.

The acquisition also marks yet another -- and perhaps the most radical -- step in Google's attempted transformation from "machine" to human-powered network, or at least one partially powered by humans. 

Google will undoubtedly geocode all of the Aardvark questions/answers and push them out to Place Pages and, perhaps, Buzz (at least in mobile). Indeed, there are a range of ways that the company could integrate and utilize what is effectively a loosely knit social network of people. Among them it could push Aardvark answers into search results in the same way it indexes any content. It could also prompt people to ask a person (Aardvark) if the algo results didn't satisfy.  

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Facebook's 100 Million Mobile Users

Officially there are 400 million people on Facebook around the globe. Of that number 100 million are "active" mobile users, meaning they access Facebook on mobile devices. According to the Facebook blog post announcing the milestone:

This usage happens on almost every carrier in the world and comes less than six months after we announced 65 million people on Facebook Mobile.

The company overshadows all other "mobile social networks" (but see GroundTruth's assertions to the contrary). In my view it has forced mobile-only social nets such as Loopt to change their models. In order to survive as a "social network" in mobile, you either need to bring a "built-in audience," as with Facebook itself (or Yelp), or offer some utility or novelty that Facebook itself does not. Examples of the latter category include Aardvark or FourSquare. 

However the generic term "social network" will likely diminish in mobile because of Facebook's dominance. Companies will want and need to position themselves somewhat differently to avoid direct comparisons.

The following are comScore data regarding Facebook's PC metrics and performance for full-year 2009. 

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Aardvark: Mobile Users More Active

We've been writing about Aardvark since before its launch. I originally characterized it as an "answer community," but the company recently adopted the moniker "social search engine," which is a bit more familiar and something of an established "category" of search engines.

Last week Aardvark co-founder Damon Horowitz (one of the architects of its algorithm) and Sepandar Kamvar (who was behind Google's personalized search and now teaches at Stanford) wrote a research paper called “Anatomy of a Large Scale Social Search Engine." The document is something of an homage to an earlier paper written by then Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page "Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine."

The paper goes into how queries are analyzed and routed among people and offers a great deal of interesting information and data that I won't summarize here. You can get the report and take a look if you're interested. What I'm going to highlight is the distribution of queries:

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Source/image: Aardvark

A substantial portion of these fall into the traditional "local" (offline) categories as one might expect. But the range of queries is quite broad: people looking for advice and general information from "experts." Furthermore, here's what the paper says about mobile usage of Aardvark:

Mobile users had an average of 3.6322 sessions per month, which is surprising on two levels. First, mobile users of Aardvark are more active than desktop users. (As a point of comparison, on Google, desktop users are almost 3 times as active as mobile users.) Second, mobile users of Aardvark are almost as active in absolute terms as mobile users of Google (who have on average 5.68 mobile sessions per month). This is quite surprising for a service that has only been available for 6 months.

We believe this is for two reasons. First, browsing through traditional web search results on a phone is unwieldy. On a phone, it’s more useful to get a single short answer that’s crafted exactly to your query. Second, people are used to using natural language with phones, and so Aardvark’s query model feels natural in that context. These considerations (and early experiments) also suggest that Aardvark mobile users will be similarly active with voice-based search.

Mobile usage is more active than PC usage; this makes sense given the many information sources on the PC (alternatives to Aardvark), as well as the challenges of using conventional search on mobile devices (notwithstanding voice search). 

Aardvark, kgb and ChaCha exist along a continuum in a broadly similar category of peer-to-peer search -- a kind of DA 2.0. The three have different business models and different degrees of usage and penetration. Aardvark, similar to Siri, ultimately seeks to make money from affiliate referrals (but may develop a premium version for certain segments of users). ChaCha is entirely ad supported; kgb uses a more traditional per query consumer-pays model.

Pew Millennials Data Shows Mobile a Critical Medium for Reaching Youth

This may sound like data you've heard time and again (and it is): mobile phone ownership among younger people is nearing saturation. According to Pew, 75% of teens and 93% of 18-29 year-olds in the US have mobile phones.

New survey findings underscore that mobile is a critical medium (and by extension SMS because of its ubiquity) for reaching younger audiences. Here are some mobile-specific excerpts from Pew's recent millennial social media survey data:

  • Among teen cell phone users, more  than a quarter (27%) say they use their cell phone to go online . . . 35% of adults report that they access the Internet using a cell phone or other handheld device.

Extrapolating from the 35% number, which is admittedly self-reported survey data, that would mean something approaching 80 million US adults are accessing the Internet on mobile phones. Nielsen's number is 68 million; our survey data from 2009 argue that 27% to 29% of mobile users are accessing the Internet on mobile handsets.

Here's demographic data regarding US "wireless" Internet access by device category and age: 

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Daily teen activities, showing the primacy of SMS:  

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Related (per Nielsen): "American teenagers are using 3,146 messages a month, which translates into more than 10 messages every hour of the month that they are not sleeping or in school" 

VZ Navigator's Survival Depends on Facebook

Verizon just launched VZ Navigator 5.0. New and improved features include:

  • Improved Customer Experience – No need to wait for the entire route to download before starting their voyage because data will now be streamed, causing display screens to populate more quickly
  • Enhanced Points of Interest – Access to premium places of interest with detailed descriptions, clearly branded by Map Icons
  • Traffic Crowd Sourcing – Opt-in to anonymously send real-time location and speed to the VZ Navigator traffic reporting service, allowing quicker notifications and improved accuracy for all VZ Navigator users
  • Alerts for Other Road AttributesGraphic notifications for tunnels, U-turns, traffic circles and toll plazas  
  • "Say it Mode" – Select BlackBerry® smartphones and Windows Mobile® handsets allow customers to verbally search for and update destinations

The most interesting thing here is Facebook integration:

The service is now integrated with Facebook, allowing users to keep up with their friends, family and social networks by updating their Facebook statuses directly through VZ Navigator, with the option to include and share their locations.

It's this kind of value-add and expanded feature set that is key to the product's survival. Because it costs money ($9.99) and because the future of navigation is generally going to be free (see, Android 2.0 and Nokia), this product likely cannot survive absent big feature enhancements and price drops ($4.99 is probably sustainable or as part of a "bundle" with a more expensive data plan like Sprint provides). 

Putting aside the fact that there isn't an Android version available (Droid is a Verizon handset), there's no reason to purchase this if you're using a Google phone. I've been using Google Navigation and it works very well. That means the addressable market is Windows Mobile and RIM handsets. 

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That's a fair number of handsets but a thriving business it does not make.