ChaCha is coming back from a difficult period -- 2009 was tough for everyone -- but founder/CEO Scott Jones says the company is now profitable on a per query basis and heading toward overall profitability hopefully later this year or early next. The company has a massive audience of teens and young adults but has struggled a bit in getting its message through to advertisers.
Here are some slides from the presentation Jones shared with me this afternoon:
Response rates have been very high for the campaigns run on ChaCha. Jones told me, for example, that when the company runs polls or asks open-ended questions of users it sees response rates of 80% in some instances. Most campaigns are not at that level, but significantly higher than comparable online advertising response.
Distracted by apps and smartphones, the thing that many advertisers still fail to understand is that SMS offers the greatest mobile reach in the market. Smartphones are 15% to 17% of US handsets (though growing), and they text as well. Today in the US alone there are roughly 4 billion SMS sent daily. This is not the same thing as search query volume but it shows you the scale were talking about.
ChaCha has refined the way it uses human guides, it's original differentiator, so that queries are about 90% automated today. Jones also said that questions/answers on ChaCha.com are showing up in Google search results and that's driving considerable traffic to the dot-com site (where it can be monetized).
I asked about how coupons were doing. Jones said that the program remains restricted to one market but that it's doing fairly well. The company offers online coupons, which can be sent to mobile, but not mobile coupons per se. He said that some merchants are entirely comfortable with mobile redemption and many still are not.
Ultimately ChaCha offers a pure national or national-local advertising play rather than one for SMBs, given how hard they are to corral.
TechCrunch points to a promotion on the FourSquare site that gives the "mayor" of a particular organic food restaurant in North Carolina, Blynk Organic, a free meal. One becomes mayor by being the most frequent visitor to "check in" at a venue. Here's a full list of businesses offering what amount to mobile coupons or deals to FourSquare "mayors."
One should see this as a mobile loyalty program of sorts. I still don't believe that FourSquare is mainstream but these local business promotions potentially give it much broader appeal. Nothwithstanding my "non-mainstream" remark, in some ways FourSquare represents the perfect expression of the convergence of local, social and mobile.
ChaCha it appears is back from the brink. We've heard negative rumors about the company's financial condition for a long time. Now Mike Arrington (a former ChaCha basher, now kinder and gentler toward the company) has spoken to CEO Scott Jones and disclosed the following:
ChaCha recently introduced online and mobile coupons to boost frequency and the utility of the service, as well as diversify its advertising programs. ChaCha competes directly or indirectly with kgb, Vark, 800-Free-411 and search on smartphones.
Vlingo released what it calls the top 10 voice-powered mobile Web searches of 2009:
On first glance, this list is considerably different than Nielsen's top mobile sites of 2009:
Here's Yahoo's top PC search queries list of 2009:
Here's Google's main list:
As TechCrunch correctly points out the Vlingo list is "action oriented" -- people trying to accomplish some objective out in the world or on the go.
As we long ago discovered people calling directory assistance (the earliest form of "voice search") were usually “in the car" (where other search methods are more difficult). DA callers also emerge as “qualified” sales prospects typically on their way to potentially conduct a transaction in a store or other offline business.
The presence of YouTube on the top of the Vlingo list is curious, although smartphone users consume a great deal of mobile video. The presence of social networks however is consistent with broader mobile Internet trends.
The Vlingo search query results above are coming, of course, via Google or Yahoo search. So in that larger context, there's general consistency between the Vlingo and Nielsen lists above. However, I wonder if the "yellow pages" and "white pages" queries are not "yellowpages.com" or "whitepage.com" but stand-ins for a broader range of local and business or people searches.
My belief is that while mobile search queries will skew local in the near term they'll be generally comparable with PC search queries over time.
In this post on Screenwerk, Greg Sterling explains what's so very interesting about Twitter's purchase of Mixer Labs. There's little more to add except to suggest that we all think expansively about the possibility of delivering rich, local content in 140 characters or less. The holidays are approaching; as is a new year which, based on my informal poll of everyone I know, we expect to hold better things than 2009. Twitter, in both good and bad economic times, has stayed true to its role of fostering a wide open interchange among self-identified community of interests in innovative ways that integrate or link to the full spectrum of Internet- and Web-based features and functions.
Twitter's purchase of Mixer inspired Greg to wax rhapsodic about the prospects for location-awareness to bring about the dawn of a new era in mobile communications and services, including new mechanisms for advertising. I, personally, have mixed feelings. I share in celebrating the prospects for new services that leverage a service provider's awareness of my location, coupled with knowledge of my expressed interest and past explorations and informed guesses about my current intention. But I want that information to be used on my behalf first and then accommodate advertisers, according to my (implicit or explicit) instructions.
The combination of Twitter, with its low barriers to enroll and transparent mechanism around natural selection of the people, companies or (even) brands one might choose to follow. In one sense, the purchase of Mixer by Twitter was inevitable. Recent press reports claim that Twitter is profitable in its present state. Almost every gathering of analysts and practitioners improvising around the "real-time" Web has featured a mash up of a mapping service with pin-drops depicting places where people are originating Tweets. Pins indicated liveness. Multiple pins indicate hotness. The scroll of comments add editorial content ranging from informative to snarky and everything in between. By bringing the API inhouse, Twitter can exert a bit of control over the quality and quantity of new, geo-aware twitter mashups.
Tweets are user-generated information that the originators knowingly put out there in the public domain. Individuals post them voluntarily and they are permanently associated with their names (or Twitter handles). Associating Tweets with specific geographic locations creates a ready-made venue for venue owners to post fresh information. Bald promotions come to mind, but they would be a wasted opportunity. How about a restaurateur telling expressing pride in tonight's special or a baker mentioning that he or she made way too many brioche and has them on special.
Townme made an effort to be the repository for locally generated content, but it staid interesting only as long as it contains information that is fresh. The stream of the Tweets form the Twittersphere is certainly a rich font of info with the potential to populate such local repositories. But as Google's Vic Gundotra is quoted in the Screenwerk blog, this is "the beginning of the beginning." Pouring content from real-time feeds like Twitter into local catch-pools for all to see will be an interesting [social] science experiment. Whether it better serves advertisers and "brands" or mobile subscribers and shoppers is an open question. I have my fingers crossed that the Twitter/Mixer combo turns into a virtuous combination of both.
This month Opera is focusing on Africa. I'm not going to elaborate on the findings there except to point out that Opera says:
Facebook has taken the lead in Africa; it is the most popular site visited by Opera Mini users in 6 out of 10 countries and the #2 site in three of the countries where it is not #1. Google is also very popular, and is ahead of Facebook in a few of the top 10 African countries. Yahoo and Wikipedia are also ubiquitous in the top 10 lists of the various African countries.
Here are the top lists for the US, UK and China:
As with all other such data (e.g., from AdMob, Millennial Media) it's important to note that these data are from handsets where Opera Mini is installed and not necessarily representative of the mobile Internet as a whole. However these data are going to be broadly consistent with trends among other users.
I'm not going to keep doing this for the next week or so, but here are JumpTap's and the MMA's predictions for next year:
10. Hypochondriac? We've got an app for that!
Ongoing global pandemics and concerns about socialized healthcare warrant a prescription for mobile content geared toward the sick and the paranoid. Symptoms to watch for include apps that diagnose, doctors that text and medical reminders at hand. Mobile health is just what the doctor ordered!
9. Back to Reality...
Oh, those boring old coupons - they get lost, forgotten, left behind or expired. Look for augmented reality to start playing a larger role in location-based advertising. Now, when you're walking into your favorite coffee shop, the real-time mobile coupon you receive gives you instant gratification with your discounted daily grind.
8. I want my Mobile TV.
In the coming year, both the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2010 World Cup will heighten mobile video consumption. The introduction of new ad units, including interactive and partial screen, will subsidize free content.
7. Practice Safe Text
Governments and safety advocates around the world warned against texting and driving in 2009. We expect 2010 to bring about technology solutions that disable handset features when the owner is driving.
6. A guy walks into a Barcode...
Proliferation of standardized technology and higher quality camera phones will not only lead to increased adoption of mobile barcodes and coupons, but will also offer a whole new access point to content.
5. Have you hugged your aggregator lately?
Look for aggregators to expand their businesses beyond shortcodes. Aggregation services in the areas of location, customer service and mobile commerce will begin to emerge.
4. Turn free in 1.2 miles
Free is a very good price. We're keeping an eye out for no-cost turn-by-turn navigation applications rolling out on more devices in 2010. The end of stand-alone GPS is in sight. What great news for consumers...and McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Dairy Queen.
3. Your Skype is Showing
Services that enable video conferencing and the networks and handsets that support it (like cameras on the front of the phone!) will proliferate in the coming year. More consumers will connect via WiFi, offloading traditional non-wireless video conferencing services.
2. How does mobile measure up?
Moving into 2010 and beyond, campaign effectiveness will be measured in a variety of different and very creative ways. The number of eyeballs, shakes and finger swipes. The number of blogs, articles, tweets and diggs. The number of acquisitions, conversions, calls, responses or purchases. Total basket size, consumer recall, loyalty and recommendations. Check-ins on foursquare and check-outs on Amazon.
1. Mobile's Sixth Sense
Over the past few years, the mobile device has moved beyond standard technology inputs. We're no longer talking, typing and clicking. Now, we're photographing, recording, touching, locating, shaking, accelerating and blowing. What's next? We're rooting for smell recognition.
Yelp has gone from a company that just a couple of years ago was relatively passive about mobile -- people at Palm were the ones that got Yelp Mobile going -- to one that now is intensely focused on mobile and has apps for iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre and mobile Web. Today Yelp extended that to Android.
It offers basically the same functionality as on the other mobile platform apps. According to Yelp:
Similar to all of our other mobile apps, Android launches with basic search and browse functionality search. But we've also been able to work in sales and special offers (just in time for the holidays) and "Hot on Yelp" (buzzworthy businesses according to yelpers - according to bookmarks in the past 30 days).
Here are a few screens from the app:
Yelp now sees the profound connection between the PC and mobile (in the local context) and the importance of mobile for the future of Yelp, its brand and user loyalty.
TechCrunch is reporting a rumor that answer community and social search tool Aarvark is considering a $30 million buyout offer from Google:
Social search service Aardvark is considering accepting a $30+ million offer by Google, say multiple sources close to the companies (one source says it’s $40 million). The company, which was founded by ex-Googlers, has raised around $6 million in venture capital to date.
The company is also talking with other potential buyers, say our sources.
Here's the dilemma and challenge: selling to Google or another will probably take the company in a somewhat different direction than the founders envision. Dodgeball launguished under Google and Jaiku was shut down. However, this is guaranteed money and the Aardvark business model is "embryonic" at best.
Is Aardvark a service that will continue to grow and become an alternative "word of mouth" tool that people use instead of conventional search (esp. on the go)? Or is it a promising service that won't quite live up to user expectations (which is what some are saying today). In the former scenario, Aardvark could potentially sell for much more. In the latter, $30 million would represent a good (and very quick) exit. Recall that Google early on tried to buy Friendster for $30 million.
This is obviously a tough choice and to some degree about predicting the future. The founders will need to evaluate their growth, look at how viable their intended business models are and search their gut instincts.
But investors and the "rational" decision may be to try and create a bidding war and then sell with some assurance that the new parent will allow development consistent with the founders' vision.
Here are previous posts on Aardvark:
Twitter has always been mobile and, in fact, was inspired by SMS character limits (160 vs. 140). But Twitter is making some powerful moves in mobile that may give it advantages vs its primary rival Facebook. Its geolocation API could have quite a dramatic impact on LBS content and services.
4INFO, a leading mobile media company and pioneer of SMS advertising and publishing services, announced today the integration between the 4INFO ad network and Twitter to create an exclusive SMS ad unit and functionality. This new functionality allows users to follow a Twitter feed by simply texting a keyword. Both publishers and advertisers will use this feature to allow users to sign up for their favorite tweets via SMS directly from 4INFO, without having to text in to a new number.
The company also just launched a new mobile site (pictured). To some degree this may compete with the various mobile clients around but it makes Twitter even more mobile centric as the company plans to grow and monetize in 2010.
In the wake of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States when retailers hope for sales to put them "in the black", SoundBite is teaming with loyalty-marketing specialist Mall Networks to issue alerts to tell mobile customers about each "Deal of the Hour" offered on Shop.org's cybermonday.com Web site. This is the third year that Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Federation, has sponsored this sort of eHoliday activity. The trade organization sponsored a customer survey that leads it to expect that "53.5 percent of workers with Internet access, or 68.8 million people, will shop for holiday gifts from work" this year.
The survey, conducted by BIGresearch in early November 2009, also showed taht 73.8% of young adults 18-24 with Internet access will shop at work. The notion of using text alerts to inform shoppers of impending bargains is merely reinforcing a well-established behavior.
Over 600 online merchants participate in Shop.org's activities. The majority of them have both brick-and-mortar stores, as well as a cyber-presence. When you count "free shipping" as an offer, nearly nine in ten (87.1%) of these retailers will have a special promotion for Cyber Monday. According to Shop.org, "the most popular promotions are expected to be specific deals (42.9%), one-day sales (32.9%), and free shipping on all purchases (15.7%). Half of retailers (50.0%) will distribute promotions and deals to shoppers through a special Cyber Monday email, and now self-identifying shoppers can register to receive text messages regarding the hourly specials from participating online merchants.
This morning Flook became available in the iTunes store. Calling itself the "worlds first location browser" it reminds me of a version of what Socialight was trying to do at one time: use community to enable people to use mobile devices to discover what's interesting or going on "right here." The following discussion from the Flook release explains the service and how it works:
Flook’s unique approach combines a web browsing concept with the physical world by allowing users to browse or make “cards” at their current location. Flook learns what the user likes and delivers new findings – without the user needing to search for them. . . The team has been mindful of creating an interface that is user-focused – letting the simplicity of design mask the complexity of the back-end technology.
Within flook, a colorful landscape of robots guides the user to browse or create. One can browse cards that capture what’s amazing nearby, including food and drink, local secrets, events, art and more. And when inspired, users can also create their own card to share what they’ve found . . .
As well as user-generated content, flook’s cards are also made from a quickly growing library of external sources, such as event information from Upcoming (upcoming.yahoo.com) and local tweets from Twitter (twitter.com). Sharing via Twitter, adds geo-location and photos to tweets. Facebook integration is coming soon. Browsing the world is now just as easy as swiping through an iPhone’s photo library – just flick one card away and another takes its place. If the user likes the look of a card, they can “flip it” to read the comments and view a map, or collect it so that it is easily available later. Cards are simple and quick to make. Users just take a photo (and add some text if desired), place the card, and it's done. The card will automatically be attached to the place where it was made (geo-tagged) and left for others to find.
Essentially then users create and discover Flook "cards," which contain text and images, at specific places. Geotagging is automatic. Users annotate and discuss these places, businesses, points of interest to enable others to discover what's happening "here" or immediately nearby.
Even though the idea of discovering what's going on around me isn't new, this interface and implementation in Flook is very interesting and pretty novel. In our last webcast we discussed what was potentially coming in local beyond "local search." Flook is very creative expression of "local discovery" -- StumbleUpon for the real world. It also uses the camera, location awareness and mobility in pretty compelling ways.
Take a look at the video and you get a better sense of how it looks and works:
Loopt has been struggling to reinvent itself since Facebook came to dominate the mobile social landscape (and to a lesser degree Twitter). It's very hard to compete with an installed base of 300 million, with more than 70 million using a mobile app to access the social network. Hence LooptMix and now Pulse.
Mix is a dating app and Pulse is much more of a ultiliarian local search tool, with social recommendations -- rather than a mobile social network that has local listings. The (re)positioning is important.
There are two modes in Pulse: search and "pulse" (discover). Here's what the NY Times said earlier this week:
Loopt aims to distinguish itself by making its service comprehensive. It incorporates feeds from 20 sources, including listings and review services like Zagat, Citysearch and Eventful as well as content sites like DailyCandy, Thrillist and The Village Voice.
Pulse produces a personalized and ever-changing list of recommendations based on where you are, the time of day and Loopt’s own data on where you and your friends have been. It shows editorial descriptions and reviews from the partner sites and averages the ratings a business has received.
The two differentiators are thus content breadth and the push-recommendations. At a high level, however, this is the same conceptual discussion we had with Aloqa this afternoon. Having said that Loopt is better off through diversification and repositioning as a local entertainment source rather than being primarily a friend finder.
Yet there are a lot of companies in the mobile-local segment and the incumbents will not cede the space easily. Witness Whrrl (from Pelago) that was aiming to be what Pulse aspires to. The company was unsuccessful gaining traction as Yelp, Citysearch and other established companies moved more aggressively into mobile.
However Loopt seems pretty scrappy and adaptable. We'll see how the new direction fares.
In this new era of branded handsets and OEM app stores carriers are having to scramble to figure out how to remain relevant to users and prevent connectivity from becoming a pure priced-based commodity. Several US carriers, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, have all anounced apps stores and are courting developers. I'm very skeptical that these app stores will be very successful among smartphone users (given the competition from the OEM app stores); however I could be wrong.
I think there is an opportunity for carrier app stores among lower-end phones. (See also Microsoft's OneApp, along these lines.)
In the UK Vodafone, minority owner of Verizon Wireless, has officially launched Vodafone 360, a multifaceted service that offers social networking apps/tools, photo tagging/sharing, online backup and enhanced mapping. Will this turn out to be like "bloatware" on PCs or will it be a valuable suite of services that prove compelling and "sticky" among users?
he group communication aspects of the service could prove to be quite popular. Of course it all depends on how well these things work in practice.
Vodafone is very aggressively marketing 360 across London and chiefly emphasizing the social elements of the service. The marketing and "value proposition" are not unlike the social software layer on the Motorola CLIQ/DEXT (through Orange in the UK).
If the Vodafone 360 service proves to be a hit it could be something of a model for other carriers -- value-added services built around contacts, with a PC tie-in -- which must be creative, even experimental, to now avoid the "dumb pipe scenario."
According to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life, 19% of US Internet users are using Twitter or a comparable capability on a social network to update their status or follow others' status updates. This is even more true for mobile users and those who have multiple connected devices. According to the report:
Three groups of internet users are mainly responsible for driving the growth of this activity: social network website users, those who connect to the internet via mobile devices, and younger internet users – those under age 44.
In addition, the more devices someone owns, the more likely they are to use Twitter or another service to update their status. Fully 39% of internet users with four or more internet-connected devices (such as a laptop, cell phone, game console, or Kindle) use Twitter, compared to 28% of internet users with three devices, 19% of internet users with two devices, and 10% of internet users with one device.
These findings make sense given that mobile users are likely to be concerned about staying "connected" and multiple device owners are inclined to be "early adopters."
Does this mean that Twitter is "mainstream"? I would say not quite yet . . .
The NY Times has a very flattering piece on mobile-social-local gaming network Foursquare:
Just seven months old with about 60,000 users so far, Foursquare is still getting off the ground — especially when compared with supersize services like Facebook and Twitter, which have millions of members. But that underground status is part of Foursquare’s appeal, its fans say. It is not yet cluttered with celebrities, nosy mothers-in-law or annoying co-workers.
It's striking to see a 36-year-old quoted in the article praising the game/site/network:
“On Twitter, there are more than 3,000 people that follow me, and Facebook is more of a business community now,” said Annie Heckenberger, 36, who works at an advertising agency in Philadelphia. “Foursquare is more of the people that I actually hang out with and want to socialize with.”
My guess is that the quoted individual is single and has plenty of time on her hands. That's my thesis about who Foursquare appeals to; it's game-like nature makes it engaging but limits its mainstream appeal. Perhaps I'll be proven totally wrong. In the beginning I was a Twitter detractor.
In a related vein, Loopt has launched a new service called Loopt Mix, which is effectively a dating app with push notifications. There's substantial reason to believe that this is the future of Loopt and they've decided to embrace the way many people were already using the app: for hooking up.
LBS app maker Geodelic has launched an iPhone app in an unual way. The company built Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Night app that is being promoted for use within the Southern California amusement park during the month of October. The app shows park maps and ride wait times, places to eat and restroom locations, all tied to handset location awareness within the park. It also promotes Universal horror films and has third party ad units. The same app is available for Android devices.
Although Geodelic hasn't officially launched an iPhone app, once users leave the park the Halloween Horror app will transform into Geodelic proper. Here are some screens:
There's an interesting opportunity for apps that are focused on events and festivals or institutions. MobilePeople has also spoken to us about what they perceive to be the opportunity to build apps for, say, Jazz Fest or the Olympics, etc.
Aardvark has relaunched its site and rebranded to a degree as a "social search engine." The site is sexier but the service is the same. I've also written about this at Search Engine Land. One can now access Aardvark via Vark.com, Twitter, IM and the iPhone.
Aardvark competes with a range of companies, but most directly with companies such as ChaCha, kgb and of course Google, because of its ubiquity. My guess is that Aardvark would see itself as a unique company in many respects but in the context of "human powered search" it has a number of other firms to contend with. The challenge for everyone in this space is how to differentiate from Google and establish a service that is more:
Siri is coming soon too; it's not human-powered but will also be potentially competitive with Aardvark, kgb, et al. Here are our previous articles about Aardvark:
We all know from personal, anecdotal experience and emprical information that social networking access on mobile devices is growing. However mobile software and analytics company OpenWave put out some data this past week from a "tier one" carrier in North America reflecting growth in the use of social networking sites from mobile handsets. (With few exceptions, mobile only social nets are all but history.)
The data reflected below don't match up with the broader distribution of traffic seen on the PC side or other mobile social networking access data that we have or have seen. MySpace as the top site suggests a younger demographic, possibly pre-paid users. Also the handsets presented in the report suggest a lower-end user base as well. So that leads me to believe that the carrier is not Verizon or AT&T in the US. That would leave T-Mobile and Spint (maybe with Boost included). However, it may be a Canadian carrier because of the "North American" characterization.
At any rate here's the data, drawn from a five day period last month:
Market research company Synovate released findings from a wide-ranging survey of 8,000 mobile phone users in 11 countries (504 respondents in the US). The markets included Canada, Denmark, France, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK and US. Here are some of the top-level findings (largely verbatim):
More than two phones + smartphones:
Most used features:
Beyond voice and text messaging, the most regularly used phone features were:
Mobile Internet access:
SMS behavior, dating and lying:
What these data show (once again) is that people find their mobile phones an indispensible piece of personal technology and communications tool. They love them; they're more attached to them than the PC.
The figures above on mobile Internet access are consistent with what we've independently found -- 27% of US users accessing the Internet on their mobile phones. We also found an identical number regarding social network access via mobile phone among US users: 15%