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%
Zong uses mobile carrier billing and SMS to enable users to pay for online virtual goods and other small items with their phones. The individual transaction limit (set by carriers) is $9.99. And previously Zong could only be used for individual transactions, but the company has now expanded its services to allow for recurring billing.
According to Zong's release:
Photobucket, the premier standalone photo and video sharing site with 45 million unique monthly visitors, and OMGPOP, a real-time social gaming platform with more than a million daily game plays, are each extending Zong’s Recurring Payment Service as a payment option to their users. Photobucket users interested in upgrading to the site’s Pro service and OMGPOP users interested in upgrading to its Star Membership no longer have to enter up to 70 characters of identifying and financial information. Instead they can bill the membership fees to their mobile phone simply by entering their 10 digit mobile phone number online, receiving a four digit confirmation PIN by SMS text, then entering that PIN online to complete the purchase. The monthly membership fee then appears as a line item on the user’s monthly mobile phone bill.
This service first rolls out in the US and later across the globe. Here's our previous write up of Zong and how it works.
I'll admit that I was an early Twitter critic and now I'm a convert. So I may be similarly wrong when I say the following about Foursquare: it's not a mainstream app or broad SMB ad platform because of its limited appeal to select groups of people (read: college students and twentysomethings with time on their hands).
Recently Foursquare launched Foursquare for business, which is effectively a mobile coupon or loyalty program. There are a range of businesses seeking to drive visits via Foursquare. Here's an example:
Foursquare can create a kind of loyal, cult following and potentially drive meaningful foot traffic for selected categories of businesses (restaurants/cafes, bars, clubs, youth oriented hotels). But the commitment required to play and the mild complexity of the game creates a barrier for older (read: busy) adults and most SMBs.
This is not to say that Foursquare can't achieve success but it won't have the broad appeal that a Twitter does today. The appeal of Twitter lies in its simplicity.
Nokia has acquired the assets of a small social network platform called Plum. Plum is intended for small groups, friends and families. It allows users to create "private social networks." The way the site describes its service is as follows:
Plum is for anyone who wants to stay connected and share in a more private way than is currently possible on big social networks like Facebook. With Plum you can set up social groups for close friends, your family, roommates, co-workers, your church, your basketball league, school…
In its FAQs Plum tries to answer the question, "why should I use it if I'm already on Facebook?":
We're big fans of Facebook. It is a wonderful service for staying in touch with and broadcasting to large number of "friends" — people you may know. Yet, in real-life we all belong to many different social groups — family, school, work, sports team, church and so forth. Plum lets you set up or join different groups for different people and interests in your life. We are not suggesting you stop using Facebook. But we are asking that you try us out for groups of friends or family where you may not want everything you post and say to be visible to all your friends.
The amount of the transaction was not disclosed.
Among the companies it has acquired Nokia has bought two social networks: Cellity and Plazes, based in Berlin. The Plum price was probably not significant for Nokia and it helps the company as it transforms into a broader content and services play beyond simply being a hardware OEM.
Today at the Mobilize conference Motorola announced it's long-awaited first Android phone the "CLIQ" (from T-Mobile) with "Motoblur." For about 10 minutes it wasn't clear what the phone was called. It seemed like it was called the "Motoblur" but then T-Mobile took the stage and called it the CLIQ. It's officially called "Motorola CLIQ With MOTOBLUR."
This is some of the most confused branding in recent memory. To compound matters it's being called DEXT with MOTORBLUR in the UK and Europe. Putting all that aside, the phone is interesting for a few reasons:
The "MOTOBLUR" social software (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter) is the type of thing that carriers arguably should be doing (i.e., customizable home screen) to remain relevant to end users. Instead, they're building apps stores, which in my mind face very mixed prospects.
Two "top-tier" mobile apps previously missing from the Android pantheon are now available: Facebook and Pandora. Though not as complete as its iPhone cousin, the Facebook Android app is pretty functional. Here's a video demo of how it works.
In hardware news, Palm has now launched the Pixi (formerly EOS or Pixie). It promises to be cheaper (maybe $99) than the Pre, which is coming down in price to $149 to boost sales. Here's a "hands on" video of the new Pixi from Engadget:
It uses the WebOS like the Pre and in some ways appears more functional than its more expensive sibling (you don't have to slide the keyboard open to enter characters or queries). It also reportedly has a better keyboard. If the price is $99 it's going to be a much bigger hit than the Pre for sure. The big differentiator is that the Pixi has no WiFi; however that's not going to be an issue for most buyers who jump at the lower price point.
The larger point here is that smartphone prices are creeping downward amid intensifying competition. The new Android Hero (from Sprint) is going to come in at $179. The Pre is now $150 and the Pixi may be $99. The iPhone 3G is $99 and Verizon was clearing out the Storm (in anticipation of Storm 2) for $50.
These kinds of prices will drive big smartphone sales, which drives mobile Internet usage.
Video: Google improves the Android Market. Right now it's a pretty mediocre experience and not very conducive to discovery of new apps.
Loopt was heralded last week as the first iPhone app to run "in the background" so that it can continuously update a user's location. As a technical and "policy" milestone I agree it's noteworthy.
But I immediately found myself asking the question "so what?" Loopt, arguably the most visible of the mobile-only social networks, with distribution across most of the carriers and smartphone platforms, is probably already an "also-ran." While the site claims "millions of users," Facebook has 65 million mobile users (globally). Twitter is also more established as an updates tool (though not for all groups equally) and if I'm looking for local business or entertainment information there are myriad mobile sources (Loopt uses Yelp reviews).
The thing that may keep Loopt afloat (unless or until there's an acquisition) is the fact that it has a subscription model ($3.99 per month). A smaller number of paying users will support the service vs. advertising only, which would require massive usage to generate meaningful revenues for the company.
Some have argued that Loopt has turned into a dating service. The central feature of Loopt, continuous location awareness, is also something that consumers are highy ambivalent about, although in practice they want relevant ads and offers:
Source: Opus Research, 4/09 (n=707)
Facebook's new mobile iPhone app is a considerable upgrade over its previous one. I won't do a review of the app, but it offers much more utility than before (including chat, notes, photo uploads, etc). We'll continue to see new features and various enhancements in future versions too (next up is probably video uploads). There's also been some speculation that it could become a mobile apps platform within an app (others are pursuing this approach). While all but a relatively small number of highly successful Facebook apps basically languish online, mobile offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the strategy.
There's also Facebook's payments strategy, which could expand to mobile (it's already got a relationship with Zong using mobile phones to pay for virtual goods online [watch for a potential acquisition of Zong by FB]). Then there's the recently announced expansion of Connect from the iPhone to the broader mobile Internet.
Facebook also just announced a relationship with Nokia integrating Facebook (via "Lifecasting with Ovi") into the N97 and new Nokia N97 Mini phones. Here's a promotional video showing how it works:
The company also said in August that it has 65 million users globally who access the site from mobile devices. That's reportedly more than triple what it was in December, 2008.
Clearly mobile is a very key part of Facebook's strategy now and could make it a dominant globaly player in mobile across a number of fronts, including, potentially advertising. It's probably only a matter of time before Facebook becomes an ad network. Indeed, if I were Facebook I would take a look at buying one of the leading mobile ad networks top accelerate that development.
Twitter execs say the company is developing an application programming interface (API) specifically to make it easier to associate geographic location with the content of Tweets. This is something that third-party applications like Twinkle have done for some time, providing a way for mobile Twitter users to communicate with those nearby. There have also been a number of user-driven initiatives to embed geographic "hash tags" (like #SF or #NYC) so that Twitter search could sort out geographically relevant comments, questions or queries.
Reports say that the new API is designed specifically for third-party platforms like Tweetdeck and Tweetie, and will enable Twitter users to link latitude and longitude information to their Tweets. An immediate improvement would be to associate the lat/long info with the designation of a neighborhood (using the facilities of the likes of Urban Mapping or Maponics). Associating location with neighborhood should benefit people who use Twitter to learn who's nearby, what's nearby, and what can be done without getting too specific about exact location.
There is already significant evidence that geocoding Tweets will sound the alarm among privacy mavens who oppose any openings for targeted advertising delivery. Yet there is also evidence of a critical mass of Twitterers and social networkers who enjoy publishing their specific locations for the purpose of promoting local activities. Still experience with Yahoo's Fire Eagle, Google's Latitude and Brightkite's (ahem) Brightkite have cultivated an increasingly sophisticated set of mobile users who are prepared to control (and game) the location-aware Twittersphere to serve their desired ends and objectives.
The forthcoming Yelp update for the iPhone adds a number of new features as well as brings more of Yelp over from the PC side. The new features include:
Click the image below for a video tour of the new features:
What's striking is that when Yelp first launched on mobile, at the behest of Palm three years ago it was kind of a fun experiment. Now mobile has become a strategic part of the business.
On the success of its Lucky Magazine app, NearbyNow has built iPhone apps for Seventeen Magazine and Runners World (with others to come) that allow users to review apparel and purchase locally, using NearbyNow's inventory monitoring and verification. According to the press release:
Seventeen Fashion Finder will feature a variety of fashion and accessories that are teens' fall must-haves. The application allows teen girls to search by product: jeans, tops, bags and shoes; by trend: rocker, bo-ho, classic and girly or by price point. The application then checks availability and reserves any of the products in stores nearby. Seventeen Fashion Finder is the first mobile application targeted at the teen market that allows users to locate and reserve products in their local area.
The best way to illustrate how it works is with several screenshots of the Seventeen Magzine app:
As I said this is the first of a number of apps that NearbyNow is developing for publishers. One of the other things that is reportedly happening, according to NearbyNow CEO Scott Dunlap, is that sharing among mobile users is driving additional volume. Dunlap told me in an email:
In the App next to every product image is a button that allows you to e-mail to a friend. The e-mail response also includes a button that says “find local." This means that any recipient of the e-mail can find the closest store next to THEM that has the product, even if they don’t have an iPhone. We’re already seeing this as driving substantial traffic.
As Dunlap has pointed out in the past (it's worth repeating): "iPhone shoppers are 17x more likely to click find local than buy online."
What NearbyNow is doing with publishers is bringing them a new engagement and advertising platform that extends the reach of their brands and advertisers to demographically desirable audiences.
MobilePeople Alum Claudia Poepperl, has started a new company called adaffix. The company's first product is Yellix. It essentially turns Facebook into "caller ID 2.0" for smartphones (except the iPhone). Here's how Yellix describes what it does:
YELLIX is a free application for your mobile phone. Once installed, it will automatically display a pop-up showing you the up-to-date status, photo and other relevant content of your Facebook friends when they call you on your mobile.
Friends must install the Yellix Facebook app and then the Yellix app on their phones:
Read the rest of this post on Screenwerk.
Latitude is very likely to succeed because it presents a compelling, simple proposition: “see where your friends are in real time.” It’s also easy to adopt and, as mentioned, built upon large installed bases of existing Google users, in the form of Google Maps for Mobile and Gmail.
Yet the iPhone implementation is curiously "flat." It's currently missing the messaging feature of the Android version, "shout outs," which makes it much more interesting and useful.
In Android, Latitude is integrated directly into the Maps app and there's a map view and a list view, which provides access to IM/Twitter-like updates (shout outs) with those to whom I'm connected. While it's difficult to describe in the abstract, it's essentially mobile IM (a la Google Talk). Thus Latitude becomes a location-based messaging platform, beyond a simple friend finder.
The Google Mobile Blog explains why the iPhone version of Latitude is a Web-based app, rather than a native app for the iPhone:
We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.
Google, like Apple, continues to push for improvements in web browser functionality. Now that iPhone 3.0 allows Safari to access location, building the Latitude web app was a natural next step. In the future, we will continue to work closely with Apple to deliver useful applications -- some of which will be native apps on the iPhone, such as Earth and YouTube, and some of which will be web apps, like Gmail and Latitude.
Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates in the same way that we can for Latitude users on Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Window Mobile.
As a Web app I'm guessing it can't do messaging, which is why the shout outs/IM functionality doesn't appear.
The paragraphs above from the Google Blog post are strange and interesting. Google is explaining why Latitude may fall short on the iPhone and it's also gently criticizing Apple for deficiencies in the functionality that Latitude is able to deliver:
"Unfortunately, since there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone (which applies to browser-based web apps as well), we're not able to provide continuous background location updates . . ."
This line: "After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles" is also very interesting. Apple wanted to avoid "confusion." Hmmm . . . Confusion may be a euphemism for something else.
I think Apple wanted to avoid Google totally taking over the the Maps app on the iPhone, one might say "colonizing" it. Even though Maps on the iPhone has Google branding and data, it's not completely Google centric at this stage.
As a consequence of all this Latitude for the iPhone (in its current form at least) will probably fall short of its potential.
The Google Mobile Blog announced that Symbian and Windows Mobile users can now add multiple search results and content layers -- including Latitude -- to Maps for Mobile:
To get started with Layers on Google Maps for mobile 3.2, hit the "2" key or select Layers in the menu. You can toggle various layers on and off, and you can mash up combinations like friends' Latitude locations against a planned route. Google Maps for mobile Layers is available now on Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile phones, and will come soon to other platforms. The upgrade is available for all countries where Google Maps for mobile is currently available.
This is a mirror of what's going on with the PC side, where Maps enables layers of search results to be shown simultaneously. Right now on Android you can layer Latitude on top of a map with search results.
Google is also making Maps for Mobile more "browse-friendly":
Under Search, you'll find a link to browse popular categories, which helped us avoid the pain of typing on a mobile whilst out on the road (only available in the US and China for the time being).
On Android voice search on Maps works well to minimize typing. It's not clear how voice search will interact with layers in the Android or iPhone versions of Maps.
Don't call it an LBS service," Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa, told me when I spoke to him a couple weeks ago. He prefers the term "context-aware." Aloqa officially launched yesterday on the Android platform and announced $1.5 million in funding. Other smartphone platforms are coming soon. Aloqa currently works in the US and Germany.
Agrawal, preparing for his presentation at yesterday's Mobile Beat conference, was trying to come up with a quick way to describe Aloqa. The metaphor he often uses is cable TV channels or an "app store within an app store." I didn't stay to see his presentation, but it must have been successful because the company won the "people's choice" award at the show.
Aloqa has a menu of content modules or channels (image at right), which can be "owned" or developed third parties. (There will be an SDK soon.) This is almost identical to what MapQuest has done on the PC with its Local site.
Those modules range from brand finders to news, events, restaurants and social networking. All are location enabled. In explaining what differentiates Aloqa, which had been around for roughly two years before Agrawal joined as CEO, he points out that location on Aloqa can be calibrated to the specific app and may tap into different location technologies as appropriate to the use case. "If it's Starbucks you only need accuracy within 500 meters, but if it's your kid you need GPS level accuracy," he says.
I asked Agrawal about potential similarities between Aloqa and other "discovery" oriented local mobile sites or apps such as Where, Earthcomber, AroundMe or Places Directory among others (Yahoo! and AOL also had third party platform/apps strategies at one point). He explains that Aloqa can be entirely personalized and, more significantly, has push/notifications that rely on "dynamic data." And like the Android apps marketplace itself third parties are welcome to build their own channels; however Agrawal said there would be some oversight to prevent spam or other undesirable content. (This is again like MapQuest Local on the PC.)
Because the data in the various modules are coming from dynamic feeds he says that they're potentially changing all the time. News for example from Topix or events from Eventful will change continuously and notification of those changes are pushed to the user in the form of icons on the channel buttons.
The details page of any event, location or listing (depending on the content module) allows users to visit the site for more complete information, show the location on a map, call the business or share the listing.
Agrawal also points to Aloqa's Facebook channel, which allows users to set up what amounts to a temporary social network through Facebook. All those participating must have Aloqa on their phones, but if they do they're notified when their Aloqa-Facebook contacts are nearby. All of this is permission based.
Aloqa's channels can be added or subtracted with relative ease. The app is not without some bugs and awkward dimensions. But those will be found and addressed I'm sure. Agrawal envisions multiple revenue streams that could also include white labeling the service and premium channels for consumers.
A number of companies have developed or are developing location-aware apps that seek to be comprehensive or nearly so. Geodelic is one and MobilePeople is another, among some of those I mentioned. Apps stores are mostly vertical marketplaces at the moment. Aloqa and its competitors seek to go in the opposite direction and provide a "one-stop shop," literally and figuatively.
Conceptually I like the strategy because people don't want to have to constantly go in and out of apps, as a general rule, in getting to different categories of information. In terms of challenges, getting good data isn't always easy and developing the right UI/UX is another challenge.
When it came out of beta, last week, I wrote about "answer community" Aardvark. The service is building a network -- or leveraging existing networks like Facebook -- to enable people to respond to questions that search engines can't answer as easily or well. In my prior post above I discuss my experience when I asked Aardvark (Vark) for recommendations on "generally available pinot noir wines for under $15."
I've also written up a piece this morning at Search Engine Land on how Aardvark is starting to use Twitter as another "entry point" or onramp for the service:
You can now sign in to Aardvark using Twitter (as you can with Facebook Connect) and ask questions through Twitter, privately via direct message or publicly. The latter scenario will send the question to Aardvark as well as one's own Twitter "followers," broadening the pool of potential responses.
At one point I thought a Vark-like service or similar capability would emerge at Twitter. But I no longer think that Twitter will put any effort into formally developing it.
The LMS/Opus crew met with Aardvark yesterday and talked through a range of issues, including:
Voice isn't "quite there yet" so it's going to be awhile before people can speak their queries. Mobile input is already available via IM and email. But the Vark team recognizes mobile as a primary use case for the service. In terms of monetization, CEO Max Ventilla spoke about affiliate links and hand offs being mapped to the content of user queries and answers. This makes sense and would be potentially unintrusive. The challenge for Vark is volume and scale to generate any meaningful revenues from such deals. The team will probably need to look at other monetization scenarios later as well.
A great many of the queries that pass through Vark are going to be about places and things to do, making it a kind of local-social search tool. Indeed, travel and entertainment will be primary use cases for the service.
There are now a number of companies that in one way or another are trying to provide human answers/responses to queries. These include ChaCha, kgb's Text411, Yahoo! Answers and a number of online Q&A communities. The site that Aardvark is most like is the original incarnation of Mosio, which is changing and taking on a more enterprise flavor.
ChaCha is trying to find the right balance of humans and automation to control costs as ads ramp up. Text411 is a consumer pays service, which might limit demand. Yahoo! Answers, which is now showing near real-time response, offers inconsistent quality and generally anonymous answers (although you can invite friends to be a part of your network).
For its part Vark may have challenges generating revenue, although the affiliate model conceptually makes lots of sense. However the Vark consumer experience is very strong. Community members are not getting paid to respond and have lots of control over how often they receive questions and what types of questions they get. So there are controls to avoid Q&A fatigue.
Another interesting thing here is the notion of decentralization implicit in the model. Vark doesn't need a massive audience of users (me --> the world) to provide a good user experience. The site needs people to bring their immediate networks (via email or Facebook).
If my friends can't answer my queries, their friends probably can. Over time a landscape of smaller communities connected through Vark will create the kind of scale the site is hoping to achieve. But I only get and respond to questions that flow within my extended network. Consequently the experience could work quite well at 10K users, a 100K or, eventually, 20 million (or more) users. I'm not asking the world for a response, just my network and their friends.
There were three of us at the meeting yesterday with Aardvark. Everyone uniformly was impressed with the consumer experience and the thinking behind it. However there was some skepticism about Vark's ability to monetize effectively. Of the three of us I was probably the one who'd consumed the most kool-aid. But I'm genuinely impressed with Aardvark.
Facebook is getting ready to launch an improved and expanded app for the iPhone. According to a post yesterday, the new app has a range of enhanced features that make it more mobile self-sufficient:
1. The "new" News Feed
3. Events (including the ability to RSVP)
6. Create new photo albums
7. Upload photos to any album
8. Zoom into photos
9. Easier photo tagging
10. Profile Pictures albums
11. A new home screen for easy access to all your stuff, search, and notifications
12. Add your favorite profiles and pages to the home screen
13. Better Notifications (they link to the comments so you can reply)
14. Quickly call or text people right from the Friends page
15. Messages you are typing will be restored if you quit or are interrupted by a phone call
Push notifications -- now possible in the iPhone 3.0 software -- won't be part of this release.
Mobile access to social networks is growing according to our data and third party reports. Earlier this year Facebook reported that it had 25 million mobile users around the world, with 4 million daily mobile users. That was in February and those numbers are probably larger now.
Update: Video uploads are part of the new app as well (via TechCrunch). The new iPhone (with video) was reportedly driving a 400% daily increase at YouTube. Facebook can probably expect a comparable onslaught when it releases (and Apple approves) the new app.
Earlier today I wrote about a rumored Dell "mobile Internet device" that might use the Android OS. But this afternoon Dell announced that it would be integrating the "Dell Wireless 700 location solution" into its Mini 10 netbook. The Wireless 700 location solution consists of GPS + triangulation:
[A]n internal GPS card with built-in Wi-Fi locationing. These two technologies work in tandem, which means the technology works both indoors and out. In other words, it can calculate your position using Wi-Fi access points or using GPS satellites. The Dell Wireless 700 is powered by Broadcom's A-GPS and Skyhook Wireless' Wi-Fi position solutions.
So what is Dell going to do with this user-location information? Two things to start, turn by turn navigation and a local content portal:
On the software side, the Dell Wireless 700 location system features CoPilot navigation software to provide turn by turn directions. I offers things like 2D and 3D map views, lets you save up to 50 addresses for one trip, offers trip optimization to provide the most efficient route, can provide instant detour information when you encounter expected delays and provides continuously updated information about the trip.
Another piece of the location-based services that we're bringing to market is a location aware portal. For it, we've partnered with Skyhook Wireless and Loki. Loki is a browser plugin that comes preconfigured for Internet Explorer and Firefox. It works with Loki-supported sites to improve local search functionality by providing you details from nearby restaurants store locations and your friends' location information from supported social media sites like Flickr, Loopt and BrightKite.
The location aware portal looks like this:
It includes content from a range of partners and sources including Topix, Zvents, Twitter, Yelp, Weatherbug and a number of others. What's interesting here is how Dell is essentially approaching this netbook as if it were a smartphone and equipping it with location-awareness and widgets or apps of a sort with this location dashboard.
However this research from NPD on netbooks found that roughly 60% of the consumers surveyed never took their devices out of the house. But that still means that 40% did.
I think these tools and services reflect some progressive thinking at Dell about the features and use cases of the netbook.
Solutions Research Group Consultants (SRG) has put out research that reveals how popular smartphones and the mobile Internet are becoming with women, younger women in particular. The results of the North American study are based on "over 2,000 in-depth interviews and explores how women navigate in the age of broadband, mobile and social media."
Here are the findings:
The smartphone numbers are slightly ahead of the general market, but indicate that we could potentially hit 25% general market smartphone penetration by 2011. Also these data lend further credibility to the "mobile first" scenarios we've been talking about for some time, where the mobile device becomes the preferred Internet access method.
Ever since we wrote about Mosio in October of 2007 we've been watching and waiting for someone to really break-through with a human-powered mobile search utility that can archive scale. ChaCha and kgb to varying degrees have done that and represent a hybrid between traditional directory assistance and Web search; one can ask any question of a quasi-professional human in the background, while some query responses are automated via a database.
Yahoo! Answers uses community to answer questions but answers don't show up in real time; although Yahoo!'s Marc Davis has told me that increasingly there are responses in near-real time from the community.
Twitter and Facebook have the potential to evolve or develop angles that enable them to be used as Q&A services -- what I've called in the past "social DA." But those use cases are not fully developed on either site.
Vark is a private beta Q&A service that leverages IM and tries to organize people into networks and get them to self classify around areas of expertise . . . It’s not that far removed from Mosio (w/o the mobile dimension however) or ChaCha or the new text411. Yahoo Answers is also a cousin of this service . . .
This weekend the NY Times wrote a piece on Vark to coincide with the service coming out of private beta:
Once signed up, you submit a question to Aardvark via an instant message or e-mail, and its software looks among your Facebook friends, and friends-of-your-friends, for volunteers to answer it. You can exclude any friends from the potential contact list.
Those friends-of-friends may turn out to be a great fountain of hitherto untapped information. For example, none of your 200 Facebook “friends” may have recently stayed in Napa and be able to recommend a bed-and-breakfast. But if each of their friends can be tapped, the pool of prospective wine-country authorities jumps from 200 into the tens of thousands.
You wouldn’t want to bother those thousands, however, with your question about Napa B.& B.’s. Aardvark has devised ways to drastically narrow the search, asking only those who are most likely to have an answer, and asking only a few of them at a time, protecting your network of volunteers from being asked too often.
The Aardvark system assumes that no single answer will serve for everyone who poses the same question. It uses information about interests supplied by registrants and from outside social networking profiles to match interests, demographic characteristics, common affiliations and other factors. It also checks whether prospective advice-givers are presently signed into one of three instant-messaging services. (The company says an iPhone version is in the works, too.)
Thus the availability of "friends of friends" and the specialized routing of questions are the "secret sauce" here. This morning I asked about Pinot Noir recommendations:
Within about two minutes I got this answer in email:
And it turns out to be a very good wine:
This is a very specific question and answer. However in this particular case Google has arguably even better results for this question. But in many specialized contexts, or where trusted opinions are needed, there won't be equally good results (or any perhaps) at the top of Google SERPs.
Vark is trying to create scale without the costs associated with a ChaCha or kgb model. But it's also trying to provide the "real time" response of those services lacking in a more conventional online Q&A service such as Yahoo! Answers. Getting it right -- not an easy thing -- could drive huge mobile query volumes. ChaCha has seen dramatic growth since becoming a mobile service, with many people doing in excess of 40 or more queries a month.