Yellow Pages

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. uLocate Communications
  7. Trapster speed trap alerts
  8. AT&T Navigator: GPS navigation
  9. Kayak Flight and Hotel Search
  10. MotionX GPS LTE MotionX
  11. priceline Hotel Negotiator
  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.


Update: Bing is working an iPhone app apparently

Apple to Take iPhone Maps Away from Google?

The "tension" between Google and Apple is now well known. Indeed, Android and the iPhone are direct competitors (as are Apple and Google in several other contexts now) and Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned (or perhaps was ousted by Steve Jobs) from the Apple board a few months ago.

Google "owns" the iPhone Maps app, but for how much longer? A job posting on the Apple site received a great deal of attention over the weekend. Here's the job description: 

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"We want to take Maps to the next level, rethink how users use Maps and change the way people find things." This could mean services built around Maps but it could also mean the ouster of Google from the iPhone Maps app altogether. We'll wait and see, but Apple has created a geo-team and is putting a good deal of effort into location-based services -- although it doesn't have the holistic mapping assets that Google has developed with Street View, etc. 

Google Makes Mobile Coupon Push

Google has had a big opportunity in local coupons that it has largely neglected perhaps until now. But now Google is making a push into mobile distribution of local coupons for small businesses.

According to the Google LatLong blog, when local businesses create coupons through the Google Local Business Center those offers will be shown automatically on Place Pages for local businesses accessed via mobile devices (smartphones). Accordingly, just like paid-search ads, mobile coupon distribution is an opt-out according to the FAQs on the site:

Your Google Coupons may now be viewed and redeemed via mobile phones.

When users search for businesses from their mobile devices, they will now be able to see your coupons from the device. Rather than bringing a printed coupon into your store, they will be able to show you the coupon, formatted correctly, directly on the screen of their mobile device.

If you don't want to distribute your coupons via mobile phones, just un-check the box on the 'Edit Coupon' page.

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This is consistent with Google trying to minimize or eliminate distinctions between the PC and mobile Web experiences, as well as leveraging mobile for additional distribution of PC advertising. 

We know from lots of our own data as well as third party research that coupons/deals/discounts are a very popular mobile advertising vehicle that consumers are highy receptive to

SmarterAgent Now on 'All Carriers, All Devices'

As a kind of response to the AdWeek piece below, I would argue that real estate is a vertical that has really taken off in mobile; consumers are using smartphones to find listings and agents are increasingly getting mobile distribution through partners such as Trulia and Zillow.

SmarterAgent, which has been doing mobile for a long time, uses a white-label approach to help brokers and agents market to consumers. This morning the company announced that it has achieved near ubiquity on mobile platforms, devices and carriers:

Smarter Agent, a mobile technology company that provides GPS and MLS search applications to consumers and real estate agents, today announced general availability on all carriers, devices and platforms including key partnerships with Verizon Wireless and an application for the Android platform. Smarter Agent can already be found on wireless carriers Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile, reaching traditional cell phones as well as the iPhone and BlackBerry devices, making Smarter Agent the only company to have robust downloadable real estate applications on all major carriers for all US cell phones.

Here are some datapoints provided by their PR people:

  • Smarter Agent gets a new user every 1.5 minutes (via download)
  • Users look at 40-50 properties per search session;
  • Users log-in to search 12 times per month;
  • 22% of users who download app hit the call to see button, call goes to Realtor

The idea is that the realtor prompts the user to download an app containing MLS listings that is associated with and branded by that realtor. Then when they "call to see" the desired property the lead goes to that realtor:

Smarter Agent’s mobile phone application allows consumers to view all available MLS listing information on homes for sale around them anytime, anywhere from the convenience of their cell phone, iPhone or BlackBerry. They can search for properties based on their GPS location, address, city, or zip code. The application shows them detailed MLS information, including price, beds/baths, taxes, estimated mortgage, maps and photos! When a consumer is ready to see a property they simply hit the “Call To See” button and they are routed directly to an agent. That agent could be you!

The business model is a monthly licensing fee. 

I asked SmarterAgent President Eric Blumberg whether agents "got" mobile and how the apps and platform were being received. As one might expect he said that both consumers and agents were very enthusiastic about mobile and about the SmarterAgent apps and tools. Although the remarks are self-promotional, I believe him. 

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Loopt Offers Local-Social Approach in Pulse

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. 

Bing Update Brings Visual Richness to Mobile

One of Bing's value propositions is that it's visually richer than Google. Today's update of the mobile version of Bing brings more of the PC-based experience into mobile, for touch devices in particular. If Bing can do this across the board, bring visual information and "answers" into the mobile search experience, it will grab attention and has a fighting change to grab more usage on mobile devices.

There are also some new features, explained on the Bing Community blog:

  • NFL feature – type a team or player and see upcoming games, stats, and scores. While the game is on, you can get real-time updates on the plays. (U.S. only)
  • Flight status – enter the airline and flight number and get the latest departure and landing times.
  • We optimized for touch navigation to make the most of your phone, and added a great new Movies feature.

Here are a few example screens:

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Google Custom Search for Mobile: Syndication Push

One of the ways that Google built its business and brand in the early days was by powering search on third party sites. Lots of newspaper publishers for example offered Google site and Web search on their sites. But it was pretty extensive beyond that and drove considerable volume over time.

Now Google is offering custom search to mobile sites. This is a syndication play that may help drive additional Google mobile search volumes, which have grown 30% Q over Q. Ads and monetization are also a part of it (and part of the appeal for some publishers). See, for example, this search for "sushi":

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Social Media Gaining with Small Business

We conducted a small business advertiser survey with MerchantCircle in early September (n=2,403). The results of that survey were released to I2Go clients in an advisory earlier this month.

Today we put out a press release and I posted a lengthy discussion on my personal blog Screenwerk (including about a recent contrary survey result). While there's a good deal of interesting data in the findings, here's the headline:

  • 45% indicated they had a Facebook page for their business
  • 46% indicated they had a presence on Twitter, either business or personal account or both

These results should not be automatically generalized to the entire SMB population. They're qualified by the following: the survey targeted the most frequent content-publishers among MerchantCircle’s small business members. However we believe these respondents may be a leading indicator of where the market is heading. 

Most SMBs, as you'd expect, aren't using mobile marketing right now. Mobile distribution for SMBs will, generally speaking, come through third party and sales channel relationships. But here's the mobile bit from the survey . . . the chart below shows the range of media and techniques that SMB marketers are using:

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Just over 8% of respondents said that they were doing mobile marketing and 5.3% of them rated it effective. As a ratio that's much better than the 53% who said they were using a profile on a social network as a marketing vehicle and only 22% found it effective.

New TMP-comScore Survey Data on Local Mobile Search

For the past three years ad agency/CMR TMP Directional Marketing (and now its search agency 15 Miles) have been studying local search behavior, using comScore's panel. During the past two years there's been a local-mobile component to the survey (n=4,000 US respondents). The chart below shows use of mobile devices to find local information (directory assistance is one of the choices): 

What the data reflect is that among these respondents 60% of smartphone owners have conducted a local search through an app or browser, while only 19% of non-smartrphone owners have. This goes to data pricing and cost factors as well as usability.

One interesting fact: smartphone owners (in this survey) don't seem to be substituting the mobile Internet for directory assistance usage. That may be because they tend to be more affluent and less price sensitive. But compare that with the attitudes shown in our April, 2009 survey (second graphic below) about the relationship between traditional DA and the mobile Internet.

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Source: comScore-TMPDM/15 Miles (10/09)

By contrast, we found that smartphone owners and those intending to buy smartphones were in general agreement with the statement that the mobile Internet was a substitute for traditional 411:

“Now that I can get the Internet  on my mobile phone I no longer need  to call 411”

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Source: Opus Research April, 2009 (n=707 North American mobile users)

Poynt & V-Enable Team Up for Lo-Mo Money

Multiplied Media's Poynt for BlackBerry app has been wildly successful, now with over a million downloads. One could argue that Poynt "owns" local search on the BlackBerry. Today the company announced that it had partnered with V-Enable for directory listings and corresponding advertising in the restaurants category:

Multiplied Media Corporation, an award-winning, Calgary-based provider of mobile local search services, and V-Enable, Inc., a leader in local search and advertising solutions for mobile and internet, are pleased to announce an agreement to deliver local directory related content and listings for the restaurant section of Poynt, Multiplied Media's flagship mobile local search application ...

V-Enable has partnered with multiple information and advertising providers to assemble one of the largest national local business listings and advertising networks offered through an automated turnkey platform that matches user inputs based on their search activity.

V-Enable, which came out of the directory assistance world, distributes local listings and ads from a wide range of directory and mobile advertising partners. Here's a video demo of Poynt in action on the BlackBerry Storm:

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AT&T Adds Video, PPCall Ads to iPhone App

AT&T has revamped its successful YPMobile iPhone app and included local business video profiles and PPCall ads. Previously there had been no ads on the app. According to the press release out this am. The main changes are the following: 

  • Tuning in to Video Profiles: Business video profiles found across tens of thousands of category and local geography combinations on YELLOWPAGES.COM and on the YELLOWPAGES.COM YouTube(TM) Channel are now easily accessible from the YPmobile App, giving advertisers another way to interact with consumers while on the go. 
  • Pay Per Call Ads: AT&T Interactive's Pay Per Call(R) advertisers now have the opportunity to be featured with their ads displayed at the top of relevant business search results on the YPmobile App. While YELLOWPAGES.COM subscription advertisers already have the opportunity to be distributed across AT&T Interactive's mobile applications, adding featured placement for Pay Per Call(R) advertisers leverages a unique opportunity to monetize the mobile local channel and offer businesses a cost-effective way to connect with mobile consumers.

It hasn't yet shown up (for me at least) in the iTunes store so I wasn't able to test out the video or take any screens of the ads. However PPCall is, for obvious reasons, well suited to mobile handsets and I imagine AT&T/ will see some nice volumes to their advertisers from the iPhone app. 

Beyond its own mobile app advertisers gain mobile distribution through Bing: 

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New Yelp iPhone Release Adds Content, Features

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:

  • Sales and deals near you: this is content that exists on Yelp that will now be available via the mobile app (the change may motivate more businesses to add sales and deals)
  • Maps: offer improved search and now they now take advantage of multitouch and can be pinched, zoomed and expanded
  • Talk: this is a feature on Yelp on the PC. However, now you can read and respond (Q&A) to community posts in mobile (becomes Twitter-like on the iPhone)
  • Comment on reviews: users can choose buttons that label reviews useful, etc (ranking/rating reviews). In addition, you can send the reviewer a compliment. Those on the receiving end can also reply. 

Click the image below for a video tour of the new features:

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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.

Aloqa: App Store within an App Store Goes Live

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.

Google Taps Safari for Location on the iPhone

As has been discussed, the iPhone 3.0 software update included location awareness in the Safari browser. That means that developers and publishers can incorporate current user location into their sites without having to develop a native iPhone app.

Google has now introduced its My Location feature for on Safari. It has been available through the Google Mobile App for the iPhone since the introduction of the app. It's also available via the browser on Android phones.

As a result of this move, local search results are slightly different on mobile vs. the PC site, where IP targeting is used to determine location (though on Chrome and Firefox now triangulation is used as well). Several searches I performed showed different ads (mobile vs. PC), with the mobile ads being more locally relevant.

The chief benefit to users is that they can enter a query without location and get locally accurate results (e.g., zoo, sushi). I don't have figures on the breakdown among iPhone Google users on the distribution of searches between the iPhone app and the browser. I would guess that much of Google search on the iPhone is coming first through the app and second through the search box in the upper right of Safari and third through people going to and entering a query. I could be wrong about that.  

Regardless, location is very important to the quality of the mobile search user experience and Google's ultimate strategy is not about developing native apps for the range of smartphone platforms but about the browser as development platform across phones. My Location in the browser is consistent with that broader worldview and approach. 

Gartner (Wrongly) Predicts Increase in Subscription LBS

IT research firm Gartner says that consumer subscription-based LBS services (e.g., navigation/friend finders) will double and continue to grow. According to the company's release:

Worldwide consumer location-based services (LBS) subscribers and revenue are on pace to double in 2009, according to Gartner, Inc. Despite an expected 4 per cent decrease in mobile device sales, LBS subscribers are forecast to grow from 41.0 million in 2008 to 95.7 million in 2009 while revenue is anticipated to increase from $998.3 million in 2008 to $2.2 billion in 2009.

Gartner defines LBS as services that use information about the location of mobile devices, derived from cellular networks, Wi-Fi access points or via satellite links to receivers in (or connected to) the handsets themselves. Examples are services that enable friends to find each other, parents to locate their children, mapping and navigation. Location-based services may be offered by mobile network carriers or other providers. They are also known as location-aware services.

Correctly the company qualifies all this by saying that free LBS services will gain and eat into LBS subscription revenues. But the company doesn't take that far enough.

Those that are willing to pay for PND devices and navigation subscriptions will be a tiny minority in a very short period. Free (assuming a not-free data plan) will all but destroy the paid market unless those consumer fees are one-time payments or truly nominal monthly subscriptions. 

Too many folks will be offering maps and turn-by-turn directions for free (e.g., Google, MapQuest) and there will be a number of free friend finder products that will replace the paid "family locator" subscription products in the market today. In short absent some super-compelling, unimaginably fantastic applications (which Gartner is counting on), the paid LBS market is going to get smaller and smaller . . . not bigger.

AT&T Trying to Hold the (Land)Line

It's estimated by the US Center for Disease Control that 20.2% of US households are now wireless only. The major carriers are seeing their wireless businesses boom and their traditional wireline businesses decline at an accelerating rate.

In its recent quarterly earnings announcement, AT&T de-emphasized its wireline losses, disclosing them in SEC filings but offering little specific detail in the investor release and slides.

From the investor release from Q1 2009:

Total first-quarter wireline consumer revenues were $5.4 billion, compared with $5.8 billion in the year-earlier quarter, as declining voice revenues more than offset growth in video and broadband.

Here's what the 10Q filing said about wireline losses (in millions):

Our wireline segment operating income decreased $809, or 27.4%, in the first quarter of 2009. Our wireline segment operating income margin decreased in the first quarter from 16.7% in 2008 to 12.8% in 2009. Operating income continued to be pressured by access line declines due to economic pressures on our consumer and business wireline customers and increased competition, as customers either reduced usage or disconnected traditional landline services and switched to alternative technologies such as wireless and VoIP.

Local voice revenues decreased $632, or 10.8%. The decrease was driven primarily by a decline of $501 attributable to a decline in access lines and by a decline in revenues from AT&T Corp. (ATTC) mass-market customers of approximately $40. We expect our local voice revenue to continue to be negatively affected by the slowing economy and increased competition from alternative technologies.

  • Long-distance revenues decreased $517, or 14.2%. The decrease was primarily due to lower demand for long-distance service from global and consumer customers which decreased revenues $369 and expected declines in the number of ATTC’s mass-market customers, which decreased revenues $148.
  • Local wholesale revenues decreased $62, or 15.4%. The decrease was primarily due to declining number of Unbundled Network Element-Platform (UNE-P) lines sold to competitive providers.

GigaOM points out a campaign to "scare" AT&T customers into retaining landlines for emergency purposes. There is a valid point here, but it's being exploited for customer retention purposes.


Last week Verizon sent a letter to non-Verizon customers encouraging them to "cut the cord" and ditch their landlines in favor of a Verizon wireless plan. Verizon, too, is losing landline customers. 

The following data are from our recent consumer survey. The number who've given up their landlines (16%) is lower than the CDC number because this includes Canadian responses, where users are more likely to retain their landlines. 

Opus Research Landline intention 3-09

Source: LMS/Opus Research (n=707, April 2009)

Aardvark Launches: Social Search, Social DA, Answer Community

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. 

Now Aardvark, which we can call an "answer community," is trying to bring all these things together. I wrote about "Vark" on Screenwerk in March:

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:

It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.

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:

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Within about two minutes I got this answer in email:

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And it turns out to be a very good wine:

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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. 

MSFT: Mobile Will Be 5-10% of Global Ad Spend in 5 Years

Speaking in Cannes, France Scott Howe, VP of the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group at Microsoft, said that he believed mobile advertising "will account for 5-10 percent of global media ad spending within five years." That's quite a bullish prediction but we like it. 

Microsoft also recently announced that Hyatt is the inaugural client for its mobile partnership with Verizon. Here's a screen showing one of the Hyatt ads:

Hyatt ad on MSN

Here are some Bing-Verizon screens (Bing is now the default search provider on Verizon). This is mobile Web.

 Bing 1 (AT&T), as Microsoft's partner, is a huge beneficiary of the deal and is the sole (current) provider of local ads:

Bing 2

We're waiting for a rebranded and updated version of the Live Search client, which was very useful and effective but under-appreciated. This time around it will likely get more attention, given that Bing is having some initial consumer success and as part of the multi-million dollar Bing ad campaign. It will also probably offer an improved user interface/experience as well.