Yellow Pages

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. 

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. 

Profile of North Face Local-Mobile Ad Campaign

The New York Times offers a really interesting piece about how the outdoor equipment retailer North Face intends to use proximity based marketing (via SMS) or "geo-fencing" to promote sales and products to consumers within a particular neighborhood area.

According to the story in the Times:

For now, the North Face will send texts about promotions, like a free water bottle with a purchase, and new arrivals, because the company’s gear is heavily seasonal. A text message would say, for example, “TNF: The new spring running apparel has hit the stores! Check it out @ TNF Downtown Seattle.”

1020 Placecast is the platform/enabler behind the campaign: 

Placecast created 1,000 geo-fences in and around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, cities where the North Face has many stores and areas that get a lot of snow or rain, so the company can tailor its messages to the weather. In urban areas, the fences are up to half a mile around stores, and in suburban areas they are up to a mile around stores.

The North Face campaign is an opt-in SMS campaign, which are relatively common today. The novel element is the fact that location will trigger delivery of the message when people enter one of the zones that Placecast has set up. 

These types of campaigns will be highly successful by their nature: people have opted-in and the highly local aspect will very likely drive people into stores. Placecast has an even more sophisticated notion of how to combine geography, demographics, context and time of day. But as you do more targeting you narrow your audience -- greater precision and response but smaller reach. 

Mobile marketing and advertising is a potentially much more precise and specific instrument than online (from a push standpoint). It will be very interesting to see how this campaign turns out (if North Face will allow Placecast to share that with the world). 

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. 

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.

Only 43 LBS Apps Offered Across Platforms

Skyhook Wireless has done a very interesting analysis that seeks to reveal how many of the thousands of location-enabled apps are available across multiple smartphone platforms. Curiously there are only 43 it turns out. According to the report:

There are nearly 6,000 iPhone location apps, 900 on Android and 300 on BlackBerry. Only 43 of these apps are available in all three stores. Of these, only six are paid. Each of these six paid apps, detailed on the next page, has a distinct per-platform price point. These apps are always significantly more expensive on Blackberry than the counterpart versions of the same paid app on iPhone and Android. For example, Wikiango is offered for free on the iPhone and for $19.99 on Blackberry.

The most fascinating aspect of this, beyond the lack of overlap, is variable pricing for the same apps. BlackBerry users are getting stuck, it would appear, with much higher prices for the same apps. Here are three "case stuides" from Skyhook showing these price differences by platform:

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As shown above, there's a $10 difference between the cost of the Zagat app on the iPhone/Android ($9.99) and BlackBerry ($19.99). Why is that? It may have to do with the demographics of the RIM user population and its legacy "enterprise user" base. Developers may simply believe they can charge more. There may be another explanation, but it's not evident.

More generally Skyhook also shows a comparison of free vs. paid apps across the three platforms. In the aggregate the iPhone has the most paid LBS apps, which is partly a function of having more apps in general:

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Free 411 Offers iPhone, Android Apps

Free DA provider Jingle Networks (800-Free-411) has launched iPhone and Android apps. They're generally useful and visually appealing but otherwise unremarkable, directory style apps. The noteworthy thing is that the company is seeking to grow volume and extend the brand through these apps. It also offers additional advertising opportunities for Jingle in mobile. 

Jingle says that it does about 15 million calls per month or 180 million per year, compared with billions of calls annually in the US directory assistance market. Jingle is arguably the best known of the "free DA" providers, followed by Google's Goog 411 service. The most complete is Bing 411, powered by Tellme.

Somewhat strangely, the public has not raced to adopt these services as once was expected (despite the money savings they offer). Lack of awareness is one factor, as is "inertia" around the number 411. Yet traditional directory assistance volumes also are in significant decline in the US. The decline of landlines and the rise of smartphones are likely also directly affecting traditional DA. Smartphones in particular make content and information available to users that far exceeds what is typically offered on a DA call.

kgb, which operates a "wholesale DA" business as well as a consumer-facing information services in the US and Europe, has reacted to the market with clever "reinventions" of the traditional offering on the iPhone (kgb answers and Knowtopia), which adds a game-like dimension to the service. The company is also doing Super Bowl advertising in an effort to further build awareness. 

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. 

Will FourSquare Survive Facebook's Onslaught?

Facebook is the dominant "mobile social network." We know this from Opera, Nielsen, our surveys and other third party data. We know for example that more than 70 million Facebook regularly access the site on a mobile device. No other network appears close (notwithstanding GroundTruth's assertion that MySpace is the largest mobile social network). 

Silicon Alley Insider now reports that "Facebook Is Working On A Foursquare-Killer." As a digression it's lamentable that "Fill-in-the-blank Killer" has to appear in every third technology headline. Having said that, here's the relevant part of the discussion:

A source briefed on the matter tells us Facebook is working on a feature that will allow users who access the network from mobile devices to "check-in" and broadcast their current location to all their friends.

If Facebook does add check-ins for mobile devices does it "kill" FourSquare? My answer would be "no." Facebook has a massive mobile user base, true, but FourSquare has a loyal following. Just as various Google products were launched in many instances with the moniker "X-Killer," only in a few cases has this actually turned out to be true. Navigation is one of them.

However, Google Checkout didn't kill PayPal. Google Base (now closed) didn't kill Craigslist. Knol didn't kill Wikipedia. Lively didn't kill Second Life (yes, it's still around). Okut didn't kill . . . well, it hasn't done very well outside a few isolated markets. And Facebook hasn't killed Twitter, despite becoming much more Twitter-like over the past six months. 

I had predicted that Facebook would buy FourSquare, but instead the social media site appears to be trying to adopt some of its functionality. FourSquare founder Dennis Crowley is a smart guy and understands that he has to keep ahead of his competitors with new content and features.  

Quoting Crowley on his reaction to the report, SAI reports:

For his part, Foursquare cofounder Dennis Crowley told us he fully expects Facebook and others to launch "check-in" functionality, making it "commodity by the end of the year."

Dennis says Foursquare's survival depends on providing "the most incentive for a user to check-in." Right now, Foursquare awards frequent users badges and calls the users who check-in at certain venues the most "mayor."

"I think we're doing this better than anyone else and I think we'll continue to do so. We have so much stuff on the whiteboard that we haven't even touched yet... we're really just getting started."

FourSquare's movement further into the mainstream is what could be affected by Facebook, if the latter copies FourSquare's features. However simply adding mobile check-ins alone won't truly impact FourSquare. As I've said, check-ins predate FourSquare and it's not all that FourSquare offers to its users.

Will Mobile 'Revolutionize' Local Advertising?

There's a very strong piece in AdAge about mobile trends for 2010. Here are the top-level predictions:

  1. Mobile will completely revolutionize the way local advertisers can connect with potential customers.
  2. Growth in adoption of mobile shopping applications will continue to alter in-store consumer behavior, increasing the significance of mobile in point of sale decisions making.
  3. Brands and agencies will continue to build branded apps, but will also have more attractive display media options, thanks to Google.
  4. Advertising's outdoor real estate is fast becoming another connected channel capable of delivering high-fidelity digital experiences as unique, varied and measurable as more well-established mediums.
  5. Consumers have new power to express their opinions through social technologies from anywhere, anytime. Smart marketers will do all they can to encourage and act on this real-time feedback. 

I think all these are good observations and predictions in general. However I take issue with the first prediction. Yes, from a consumer standpoint, mobile is revolutionary when it comes to obtaining local information (which includes products in my book).

Here's what the discussion of that first point in AdAge goes on to say in part:

While online display advertising has been incredibly effective for many companies, it hasn't offered all that much value to small, independently owned businesses. For one, the web is good at scale, not so good at precision. It's difficult for mom-and-pops to reach the relatively small audiences that might reasonably be expected to patronize their stores.

The article references FourSquare, Place Pages (Google) and GoWalla (but not Yelp) as a new and improved way for local advertisers to connect with customers. In isloated cases, it may be true that FourSquare is a boon to SMBs (See our related post: FourSquare Morphing into Mobile Loyalty Program for SMBs). Indeed, some advertisers might be able to find new business and improve loyalty and frequency with a FourSquare or GoWalla. But in another way these sites/companies simply add more noise to the local (SMB) advertisers' consideration set. 

I suspect the article's authors are not that familiar with local, small business advertising and are speaking at a conceptual level. They don't know that most local advertisers with any budget to spend are getting 10 calls a day before 9 am from sales reps of one sort or another. 

With an established brand, online reach (25+ million uniques), a strong mobile presence across platforms and, let's not forget, 200 telephone salespeople, Yelp is in a much stronger position than its newer mobile challengers to successfully sell to "mom and pops." 

The local world is full of clutter, noise, confusion and fragmentation. Yellow pages publishers and independent sales channels such as Yodle or ReachLocal are trying to knit all that together into a "network" or single point of contact and simplified selling proposition. Google, for its part, is almost in a unique position here (selling only its own traffic) because of its dominance of local search and huge mindshare. 

Beyond this there are lots of others selling to the local market: ValPak, daily and weekly newspapers and other specialized print publications (e.g., Pennysaver), other local coupon providers of one sort or another and others (the list goes on). Much of all this is "opaque" to the SMB owner. He or she is growing more savvy but doesn't have time to fully investigate all the options or test what works and what doesn't generally speaking. 

Most SMBs want a trusted partner that will help them navigate the complexity of online and mobile advertising. For those that want to DIY or go it alone, they're much more likely focus on a "brand" or big name: Google, Yelp, Facebook, even Twitter. It's very challenging for a little-known startup to get attention among SMB owners, let alone sell anything to them -- especially "at scale."

So while mobile and LBS on the consumer side is increasingly compelling and will lead to more connections between local buyers and sellers, local advertiers' lives are being made more difficult -- not less -- by the advent of more local-mobile players and options. 

Having said all that, I think that FourSquare has strong momentum among various segments of users and becomes a takeover target in the not too distant future by a larger player that has a stronger capacity to "monetize" the consumer traffic. 

Matching Google Nokia Ovi Maps Offer Free Navigation on Handsets

In late 2007 Nokia bought Navteq for approximately $8.1 billion (EUR 5.7 billion). But since that time the GPS/PND market that Navteq serves has seen its fortunes decline with the rise of smartphones. When Google introduced free navigation and turn-by-turn directions on Android 2.0 devices that market was further threatened. Now Nokia itself is offering free navigation (via Ovi Maps) in a bid to stop its smartphone slide vs. Apple and Google. 

Nokia sees Ovi Maps as a platform on which third parties will develop (there's an API and SDK) and which can integrate local content from various sources as well as social networks such as Facebook. In a month Ovi Maps users will be able to get content and data from Lonely Planet and Michelin.

According to the press release:

Nokia has today announced plans to release a new version of Ovi Maps for its smartphones that includes high-end walk and drive navigation at no extra cost, available for download at www.nokia.com/maps. This move has the potential to nearly double the size of the current mobile navigation market.The new version of Ovi Maps includes high-end car and pedestrian navigation features, such as turn-by-turn voice guidance for 74 countries, in 46 languages, and traffic information for more than 10 countries, as well as detailed maps for more than 180 countries.

There are also plans to eventually integrate ads onto the map. Navteq has been experimenting with advertising for over a year and last year acquired Acuity Mobile for LBS ads.

Nokia claims that its maps are more detailed, have better data and will work more often than Google's. While Google Maps requires a data connection, Nokia's do not because they're downloaded onto the handset. 

Two observations:

  • This probably does make Nokia handsets more interesting and competitive for some buyers; however it will be unlikely to stop the iPhone and Android's momentum in Europe (RIM is also growing partly at Nokia's expense outside the US.)
  • This further accelarates the decline of subscription-based navigation services and PNDs

YellowPages.com Would Benefit from iPhone-Bing Deal

BusinessWeek is reporting that Apple and Microsoft are in talks to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone. I've discussed this at some length at Search Engine Land. Given the intensifying competition between Google and Apple, this would clearly be a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

However, I don't think Bing will become the default. Rather I think Apple will add Bing as an option. But we'll see. 

Regardless of the scenario, a beneficiary of any such increased exposure on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices for Bing will be Microsoft's local monetization partner YellowPages.com, which is owned by AT&T.

YellowPages.com's YPMobile iPhone app has seen good uptake but the volumes of searches coming through the Safari browser default would likely be considerably larger.  

Yelp Counters FourSquare with iPhone Upgrade

Yelp originally got into mobile in a kind of "back door" way a couple years ago, with Palm building the first Yelp mobile app in Q3 2006. Since that time mobile has become more and more strategic for Yelp, with each successive app release offering richer functionality, including augmented reality.

The rise of local-mobile "game" FourSquare and to a lesser degree Gowalla has threatened to steal some of the buzz and "cool factor" that is part of Yelp's public image and appeal for younger users. Neither of these sites has many users compared to Yelp and their "nature" doesn't yet make them mainstream enough to be a true threat to Yelp, which is a much more utilitarian site and app. (Local-mobile "check ins" or friend finding don't originate with FourSquare, BrightKite, Socialight and others had this earlier.) But Yelp isn't taking chances. 

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The new release of the iPhone app offers a number of features partly responding to perceived market demand and partly intended to match FourSquare et al and prevent them from stopping Yelp's momentum in mobile. Here's the upgraded feature list of the iPhone app update:

  • Yelp Profile: Not only are you able to log into your Yelp.com profile (v.3), but now you will also be able to see and interact with your Yelp profile as you would on Yelp.com.
  • Yelp Friend Finder: You can now see and invite friends from your iPhone's address book to join you on Yelp. If you've connected with Facebook, we'll also let you know if any of your FB friends are yelping, too.
  • Yelp Check-ins: We've now added the ability for yelpers to "Check-in" to businesses. This includes being able to broadcast your whereabouts and send Quick Tips to your friends on Yelp, Facebook and Twitter who, if they opt-in to these updates, will be able to see your location both via "Push" alerts, as well as on a map. Active users of this feature may receive "Regular" status of highly-frequented businesses. This means they are part of an active group of people who patronize a business and this moniker will appear next to reviews and tips and on business pages in the app, as well as on the business listing on Yelp.com.
    Sharing via Facebook Connect and Twitter: We've taken another online feature, offline. Yelpers now have the ability to share their check-ins and Quick Tips via Facebook Connect and Twitter while on the go.
  • Updates to Monocle: In addition to seeing reviews nearby in Monocle, Yelp's Augmented Reality feature, you can also see which businesses your friend's have "checked-in" to as well as a new "map" in Monocle view that will move with you. 

There will now be a leaderboard and a new category of "Yelp Regulars," frequent visitors or patrons of local businesses. This is a broader version of the FourSquare mayor concept. According to Yelp:

"Regular" status can be achieved by frequent patronage - or checking in - of a business. This title will show up on a user's profile, next to reviews and tips and on the business page in the iPhone app, as well as eventually on that business listing on Yelp.com. The Regular with the most Check-ins will not only be featured on that business page, but get to wear the golden badge of honor. The moniker can also be lost if patronage wanes, so Regulars must visit a business often to keep it.

FourSquare is getting (or trying to get) local businesses to offer some incentive or deal (e.g., free drink, appetizer) to the "mayor," the most frequent visitor to a local business. In this way it is essentially morphing into a mobile loyalty program of sorts. Yelp is doing something similar with "Regulars" but with potentially much broader application:

Will Regulars get access to Special Offers or Exclusives? It'll be up to the business owner if they want to offer exclusives to Regulars, but it's super easy to upload a Special Offer. For almost two years now, Yelp has offered business owners the ability to post free announcements that appear on their business listing on Yelp.com and our iPhone and Android applications. In fact, businesses have posted over 200,000 special offers on Yelp to date.

On Yelp there will not simply be a single mayor but a larger category of "regulars," who might gain access to special offers, coupons and deals from local businesses. Here the pieces come together for Yelp, which has a 200-person-strong telephone sales force to promote mobile and special offers to local business owners. And the strength of the Yelp brand doesn't hurt either.  

This new version of the Yelp iPhone app sits at the nexus of social networking/mobile friend finding, LBS and mobile couponing and loyalty. 

Will Barcodes Bring New Life to Print?

There's lots of discussion about whether the avalanche of new tablets/eReaders/slates will "save" traditional journalism and media. No is the short answer; journalism and publishers will have to save themselves, although the new devices may create new opportunities.

What's more interesting is the way in which mobile can integrate with traditional print to enable the medium become more dynamic and more "accountable." This has been going on some time sporadically here and there, most notably with ads including short codes. More publishers are experimenting with QR/barcodes now. 

The NY Times has a lengthy piece about it: 

[M]agazines like Esquire and InStyle are adding interactive graphics to their articles, while Entertainment Weekly and Star are including them in ads.

Meanwhile, publishers using text-messaging programs to try to enliven their pages are packing information into the messages and using reader responses to calibrate their coverage.

The article also discusses the early and failed CueCat print-online convergence effort that attempted to do something similar but relied on specialized hardware. Now with smartphones everyone has (or millions have) the necessary device. 

Meanwhile Time Inc. is using QR codes to promote this year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in interesting and creative ways:

Print ads containing the promotional barcodes will begin to appear Jan. 25, two weeks before the issue’s Feb. 9 publication date. The ads will run in SI and other Time Inc. titles like Time, People and Fortune.
 
The barcodes also will appear on Las Vegas hotel room keys and in New York City subway car ads.
 
Users who snap a photo of the barcode with a camera phone will see photos of this year’s “rookie class,” or first-time swimsuit issue models.

The technology is from JagTag, which doesn't require end users to download a barcode reader and delivers multimedia content as well as text. This opportunity exists for magazines, newspapers and Yellow Pages. 

The media get the added value of measured response rates, which may capture activity that call metering does not. And the consumer gets immediate, additional information -- and the potential ability to make a purchase on the spot (or save for late purchase). 

In all it makes traditional print media much more interesting to advertisers and potentially consumers as well. Accordingly we should continue to see the growing integration of mobile and barcodes into print media advertising and editorial over the next 12 to 24 months. Publishers and advertisers will have to continue to experiment and find the most effective and useful implementations. 

Right now we're still in the early "novelty" phase. 

The Genesis of Google's 'Near Me Now'

People are abuzz about Google's "Near Me Now" link on its mobile homepage. This was demo'd at Google's Search Evolution event several weeks ago. Many bloggers have added inflammatory headlines suggesting this is a "Yelp Killer" and the like.

First, it's not a Yelp killer and it's not new. It's really the "escalation" of something that Google's been doing for some time.

In March, 2008 Google created what it called "LCB", which experimented with a category-based browse interface. Location was manually set. A year or so later, in June 2009, Google created the Android Places Directory app. It was a much more polished version of LCB and still exists. It similarly emphasized browsing but used built-in location to avoid the need to enter that manually. 

Then in September, Google turned the "local" tab into a browse interface:

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Now this has been elevated and refined with the new "New Me Now" home page link:

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The prominece of this on the Google homepage does represent a major challenge to all the no-name local apps that have limited consumer awareness. It's not going to kill Yelp. However it could well negatively impact yellow pages app usage if those apps are not upgraded and enhanced. 

FourSquare Morphing into Mobile Loyalty Program for SMBs

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.

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Vlingo Top Search Terms/Categories of 2009

Vlingo released what it calls the top 10 voice-powered mobile Web searches of 2009:

  1. YouTube
  2. Facebook
  3. MySpace
  4. Weather
  5. Movie Times
  6. Twitter
  7. Yellow Pages
  8. MapQuest
  9. craigslist
  10. White Pages

On first glance, this list is considerably different than Nielsen's top mobile sites of 2009:

  1. Google Search
  2. Yahoo! Mail
  3. Gmail
  4. Weather Channel
  5. Facebook
  6. MSN Hotmail
  7. Google Maps
  8. ESPN
  9. AOL Email
  10. CNN News 

Here's Yahoo's top PC search queries list of 2009:

  1. Michael Jackson
  2. Twilight
  3. WWE
  4. Megan Fox
  5. Britney Spears
  6. Naruto
  7. American Idol
  8. Kim Kardashian
  9. NASCAR
  10. Runescape

Here's Google's main list:

  1. michael jackson
  2. facebook
  3. tuenti
  4. twitter
  5. sanalika
  6. new moon
  7. lady gaga
  8. windows 7
  9. dantri.com.vn
  10. torpedo gratis

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. 

Distimo/Skyhook Report on Location Apps

App store analytics provider and Distimo and Skyhook Wireless have put out their latest report on location-based apps. Skyhook used to do this alone and recently teamed up with Distimo for a more complete picture of location apps on multiple smartphone platforms.

The top free location apps in the iTunes store contain some household names and some surprises:

  1. Google Earth Google
  2. MapQuest 4 Mobile AOL
  3. Yellow Pages Avantar LLC
  4. Urbanspoon (IAC)
  5. Yelp
  6. Traffic.com uLocate Communications
  7. Trapster speed trap alerts
  8. AT&T Navigator: GPS navigation
  9. Kayak Flight and Hotel Search kayak.com
  10. MotionX GPS LTE MotionX
  11. priceline Hotel Negotiator priceline.com
  12. WHERE uLocate Communications
  13. GPS Tracker InstaMapper LLC
  14. NYC Subway Map Gotham Wave Games
  15. Restaurant Finder Softweb Solutions Inc.

What this illustrates is that PC brands have significant "equity" but that doesn't immediately or always translate into mobile leadership. And now the rest of the data (charts by Distimo/Skyhook):

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I haven't included the paid apps lists but take a look and compare the free apps in the Apple, Android and RIM apps stores. Multiplied Media's Poynt is the top LBS BlackBerry app but not available on the other platforms yet. Yelp is only on the top list for the iPhone. Where/uLocate is the only app present on all three lists:

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Yelp Launches Android App

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:

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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.

New Bing Mobile Client Launches

The old Microsoft Live Search mobile app offered a very strong and competitive user experience and featured voice search as well. I liked it quite a bit and believed it was not well appreciated. Today, in addition to a major upgrade of Bing Maps for the PC, Microsoft relaunched (or launched) the Bing mobile client for Sidekick, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. I haven't yet had a chance to try it but I would imagine that it's an improvement on the old Live Search app.

According to the Bing Community blog, the following are the prominent features of the new mobile app:

  • Type Less, search more: Typing can be tough on small devices. Now you can easily speak your search query into your phone and let Bing do the rest. We’ve really worked to improve the quality of recognition and level of understanding we have when you speak – I always use this first now.
  • Map Your Way: Quickly access maps, driving directions and traffic information so you can find where you are and get where you are going. The new application also includes an improved auto-locate feature to show your current location.
  • Act Locally: Wherever you are, Bing makes it easy to find a nearby business, a new restaurant, or even a local movie theatre with the latest show times. You can quickly and easily bookmark locations and businesses for later reference.
  • Get Quick Answers: Make decisions fast and on the go with the top web results and instant answers for your pressing questions. Save favorites and recent searches to a list so that you don’t have to repeat searches.

Voice search is by Tellme. The branding of the Bing mobile app is consistent with the PC, including changing photography on the homepage of the app -- one of the most well liked features of Bing the PC search engine.

If we can assume that the user experience here is good, the missing piece is availability on more platforms such as the iPhone, Android, Nokia and webOS. Microsoft can't afford to neglect these other platforms, especially the iPhone. Collectively all these platforms offer an opportunity to gain exposure to more people and acclimate them to the Bing brand and user experience.

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Update: Bing is working an iPhone app apparently