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AskMeNow to Power Mobile 'Q&A' in Australia & New Zealand

AskMeNow is a mobile Q&A service that relies on offshore "call centers" (maybe we should call them "query centers" in this case) that process and answer user queries via text messaging. Essentially these are call-center reps using Google. The service has entered into a white label partnership with Ask Frank Limited, an "Australasian-based mobile infotainment service provider," which operates in Australia and New Zealand and other Asian markets.

From the release:

The agreement marks the first time AskMeNow has made its full answer service available to a third party under a private label agreement. The agreement allows Ask Frank customers to leverage AskMeNow's mobile phone Q&A service outside of North America with fees being charged through the local carriers as a premium SMS service.

In exchange for answering questions generated by consumers in Australia and New Zealand, AskMeNow will receive a fee per question in addition to set-up fees and a minimum monthly fee. The supply agreement is exclusive in the region and will last for a minimum of two years.

Mosio and Texperts are two other Mobile Q&A services we've also written about. While they have different business models, both use the distributed community of users (unlike AskMeNow) to provide answers to user queries. While the answers might be more of a wild card, relying on the community (because of the role of local information and expertise) is ultimately a better strategy than offshore call center reps.

Google Docs to Go

Microsoft Office is mobile; now too are Google Docs. There's considerable awkwardness in the rendering of spreadsheets -- and presentations are not yet available -- but "Word" docs do nicely. However, they appear to be "read only" -- there doesn't appear to be a way to edit existing docs or create new ones in mobile. I would imagine over time that would change.

Notwithstanding those limitations at the present, it's still a useful way to access content and important information on the go.

Google is quickly building out mobile versions of all its applications (e.g., Gmail and Calendar, etc.) in addition to search and Maps.

Touch Screens All the Rage

Here's a new HTC phone being introduced by Sprint in the U.S., which apes the iPhone by maximizing the touch screen and minimizing external buttons. That's fine, but somebody needs to ape the rendering and overall user experience not just the iPhone hardware.

Maybe the forthcoming Mozilla mobile browser will be able to -- maybe.

Apple to World: iPhone *is* Open; SDK Coming in February

Courtesy of a post (signed by "Steve") on Apple's "Hot News" Web site, the iPhone is, indeed, intended to be the insanely great open phone that the developer community has been craving. The problem is that the real SDK, as opposed to the non-existent one that became the darling of hackers around the world, won't be around until February.

Why so long a wait? The new platform must provide a mechanism for developers to be as creative as possible, while protecting iPhone owners for the inevitable onslaught of viruses, malware and unauthorized access that characterizes every other device attached to communications networks. Steve assures us that it will be worth the wait to keep the wireless world free of malicious activities and wrongdoers. It is, indeed, cold comfort for iPhone owners who had treated revision 1 as an open platform for portable apps of the non-malicious variety and are now not-so-proud owners of iBricks.

In the spirit of promoting local mobile search through the talking tablet computer called iPhone we hope that some sort of specification for the SDK can be made available in advance of its general availability to the developer world.

Live Search 411 Expands the Product Definition

Most of the "free 411" offerings are comparable, offering specific business listings and open-ended business category search. There are some differences however.

Jingle (800-Free411) offers residential listings, which Goog411 does not. AT&T's 1-800-Yellowpages is generally similar to Jingle -- both have ads and live operator fall back. Goog411 has no ads and no access to a live operator. Goog411 and Jingle allow for narrowing, 800-Yellowpages does not. Jingle allows searching near a landmark or in a neighborhood. Goog411 asks for a "nearby intersection" or zip code.

Microsoft's Live Search 411 has no ads currently (though they will come in time) and allows for refinement by neighborhood. But for purposes of this post, what's interesting is that it expands the product definition by offering "other services." Those include weather, movies and travel, which are built on well-established Tellme services and capabilities. Right now Tellme is also experimenting with restaurant reviews (allowing users to record them with their mobile phones).

Live Search Travel provides access to airlines, hotels and rental cars, which can be also obtained through the other 411 services by searching on a category or business name. However, the combination of this additional content makes Live Search 411 more useful in general. In my quick informal tests Live Search 411 was as easy to use and the speech recognition (again built on Tellme) worked very well and smoothly.

Dial Directions has used voice search to do some innovative things like (pseudo GPS directions to and from any point) and directions to local events, with more innovative features to follow. Accordingly, Dial Directions and the new Live Search 411 point to a range of services for voice that extend beyond the traditional 411 model and even beyond category search.

I wonder to what extend these additional services will catch on and force competitors to add content areas and capabilities beyond 411?

New Gmail App for Java Phones, Voice Added to Live Search App

According to yesterday's post on the Google Blog, the company has released a new Gmail Java client:

The new version of Gmail for mobile is faster than before -- and consumes a lot less data. It also has a number of new features, including:

  • more than 30 percent faster overall, and 80 percent faster for some tasks
  • a contacts viewer to view your all Gmail contacts and addresses
  • an outgoing mail footer to let your recipients know you've sent an email from a mobile device
  • click-to-call phone numbers which you can call without retyping the number
  • emails are saved for later re-editing if connection drops or if you want to perform another task before sending out the message
  • Gmail keyboard shortcuts to perform tasks faster (on phones with full keyboards).

And Microsoft added voice to its Live Search application (which taps the same database as Live Search 411). I've been using it off and on today, in addition to calling Live Search 411. My results have been about 50-50 with voice on the Live Search app (which I'm just getting used to) and consistently good with 411.

I spoke with Microsoft's Erik Jorgensen today and he told me about some interesting things (e.g., reviews) that are coming soon to Live Search 411 that may further differentiate it from its competitors.

Mosio Project: Social Media and the Mobile Internet

picture

Precis

Local Mobile Search Advisory
The San Francisco-based Mosio Project launched a text-based mobile social network in mid-2007. It offered registered users the ability to "text any question" to a community of registered network members. Although it was framed as a form of "Cause Marketing" with the mission to raise $1 million by the end of 2010, it can be viewed more broadly as the prototype for the sort of social/mobile/search service destined to be the foundation of a range of local search-based businesses.

Featured Research is available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an I2G client, please contact Pete Headrick ([email protected]).


Yellow Pages Group (NZ) Taps Mobile People for WAP Search

New Zealand's Yellow Pages Group has decided to use Denmark-based mobile search provider Mobile People's "liquid" platform to power a WAP-based search solution. From the press release:

The new mobile offering will be based on mobilePeople's liquidTM platform and will enable New Zealanders using the Vodafone live! mobile service to benefit from a wealth of local information accessible on their mobile phones -- through directory search. Yellow Pages Group's solution will be browser based and seamlessly integrate into Vodafone live! It will combine directory listings from Yellow, a local map application and even give directions to a chosen destination.

Yellow Pages Group is already working with Local Matters and the new service will integrate with the Local Matters desktop search platform.

Mobile People works with a range of yellow pages publishers and newspapers outside the U.S., including Yell, Sensis, Eniro, Truvo and Schibsted.

Motricity Buys InfoSpace Mobile Assets

Infospace

Just a couple of weeks after InfoSpace sold its directory assets to Superpages/Idearc for roughly $225 million it's selling its mobile services business to Motricity for $135 million. (Motricity wants to go public and wants a better story to tell.) This had been rumored for some time but it's still something of a surprise.

Here's a description of the mobile services division/business including the carrier relationships, with AT&T, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. Accordingly, InfoSpace will no longer be doing anything in mobile. FindIt, the consumer-facing mobile brand, is a part of the Superpages/Idearc deal.

The mobile division and most of its employees will now presumably be going to Motricity.

What will now be left of InfoSpace? It will simply be an online search company with many fewer assets than before. And one has to wonder how long a small player in search can survive without any significant differentiators.

Dick Tracy Would Be Proud

This is clearly not a mobile Internet access device, but it's cool.

The watch-phone illustrates the dual move both up and down the device spectrum: wireless phones becoming ever smaller and more compact, while a range of other mobile devices seek to maximize screen sizes and usability.

Image from Phone Daily

Here's a device (HTC Advantage X7501) that goes in the latter direction, apropos of my "two device scenario" post.

Testing Free 411 Services

The San Francisco Chronicle's Verne Kopytoff informally compares (and writes about) Jingle's 1-800-Free411 vs. Goog411 vs. AT&T's 1-800-YellowPages. He concludes, "Given the results of my test, I would probably use Google's service for business and AT&T's for residential listings, for free 411 service."

Meanwhile, Google says that Goog411 has "graduated from labs" and has a new website with explanatory video to promote the service. It's also running a bit of a contest on YouTube to engage users:

When you watch the video, pay extra attention to the people you meet at the end. One of them is the real voice behind GOOG-411. Think you can guess who it is? When you call 1-800-GOOG-411, listen closely and see if you can identify which team member shown in the video is the voice. Then, post your answer as a comment on our YouTube page.

RESEARCH: Mosio Project: Social Media and the Mobile Internet

Local Mobile Search Advisory
The San Francisco-based Mosio Project launched a text-based mobile social network in mid-2007. It offered registered users the ability to "text any question" to a community of registered network members. Although it was framed as a form of "Cause Marketing" with the mission to raise $1 million by the end of 2010, it can be viewed more broadly as the prototype for the sort of social/mobile/search service destined to be the foundation of a range of local search-based businesses.

Advisories are available to registered users only.

For more information on becoming an LMS client, please contact Pete Headrick ([email protected])

[protect]Registered CAS Clients - Click Here to View the Full Advisory[/protect]

Microsoft Upgrades Mobile, Launches 'Live Search 411'

As part of a broader set of mapping and local upgrades released this evening, Microsoft has introduced some live search mobile enhancements. According to the release, these include:

  • Live Search for Windows Mobile with Voice Input: The updated Live Search for Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0 will be available for download for free on Tuesday and now includes voice input (beta), gas prices, and hours of operation for businesses. The service can also utilize global positioning system (GPS) data on GPS-enabled phones to provide location-aware local search for customers.
  • Live Search 411: Jointly developed with Tellme, acquired by Microsoft earlier this year, a new toll-free number will be available for anyone using any kind of phone to access the power of Live Search. Simply dial 1-800-CALL-411 and say the city and state, then ask for the business or business category to hear a list of options. Say "Connect Me," to instantly connect to the business, or if using a cell phone, ask for a text message, and a link to a map of the business will be sent to your phone.
  • Live Search for BlackBerry: Live Search for BlackBerry is in beta and will be available for download for free on Tuesday. It is a new offering designed for the unique hardware and interaction of BlackBerry OS 4.0.2 or later phones, and customers with GPS-enabled phones can use location awareness to enhance their searches.

The number for Live Search 411 is 1-800-CALL-411. The service is supposed to be working as of this evening and offers a broader range of content than Goog411, 1-800-YellowPages or 1-800-Free411 (e.g., movie times, weather). It will be interesting to see whether this will now become the successor consumer brand to Tellme or whether the Tellme voice portal and business search will live on and offer different services.

Voice Search: Will It Be Fully Monetized?

No one disputes that "free DA" or "voice search," as Google calls it, is a hit with consumers. It will over time chip away at caller pays, traditional directory assistance. As consumers become aware of these services and how much they're paying for mobile DA, they typically abandon the latter and opt for the former.

Absent some dramatic rethinking and pricing innovation in the traditional DA industry, its days are truly numbered.

TMP Directional Marketing's Gregg Stewart writes in ClickZ today about voice search/Free DA as a marketing medium. There is plenty of evidence that it's effective for advertisers. Jingle Networks (1-800-Free411) recently reported rates of 1.5% to 3% in selected categories. But once connected, close rates are 15% to 50%.

Jingle and AT&T (1-800-YellowPages) are currently ad-supported, Goog411 is not and Tellme has yet to really declare how it will proceed. It's quite possible, because it can afford to, however, that Google will serve no ads for some extended period of time on Goog411. However, given that Google is in essence an advertising platform I suspect we'll see ads show up at some point in the future on the service. Google's "MO" is typically to build usage, work the kinks out and then monetize.

While voice search, Free DA and a host of voice services that will come later are certainly the broadest consumer entry point into mobile search -- "local mobile search for the rest of us" -- it's not clear to that ad-supported DA is what will drive major mobile revenues. Again, that's not to say it's not a viable or effective advertising vehicle for marketers. It's just to suggest that this isn't necessarily where mobile ad revenues will be concentrated.

Why Didn't Virgin's IPO Fly?

According to the Wall Street Journal, recapping Virgin Mobile USA's public offering yesterday, "The much-anticipated stock offering of Virgin Mobile USA Inc. didn't receive much of a lift from investors yesterday. The initial public offering of the cellphone-services company ended at $15.75 a share in trading on the New York Stock Exchange, up 5% from its IPO price. Some 27.5 million Class A common shares were sold."

Virgin Mobile USA was jointly owned and is still jointly controlled by the U.K.'s Virgin and Sprint. It may be that investors see the Sprint relationship as a problem, given Sprint's recent woes, or limited prospects for the pay-as-you-go service given the general competition in the US mobile phone market.

It wouldn't seem to be a vote of no confidence about mobile in general, however. MetroPCS's recent IPO was quite a bit more successful.

ClickZ - Oct. 12, 2007

ClickZ covered the SMB online marketing survey we did.

Excerpt:

Most small business operators who shy away from online marketing fear they can't afford it, says a Opus Research survey in which 25 percent of respondents said online advertising would break their budget

Additionally, 20 percent said they believe Internet marketing is too complex, and 15 percent said they don't think they have the manpower to handle it.

The survey shows a need for educating entrepreneurs about the realities of Internet marketing, said Opus Senior Analyst Greg Sterling, author of "Small Business Attitudes toward Online Marketing and Web 2.0." Sterling's report is based on answers to an online survey conducted in August by Local Mobile Search and AllBusiness.com.

From the article, "Small Businesses Need Helping Hand to Embrace Web Advertising", by Fred Aun, ClickZ, October 5, 2007

EU Directory Publisher Truvo Launches Mobile App

Yellow pages publisher, World Directories, now called Truvo, has launched a mobile application powered by Copenhagen's Mobile People:

Truvo's searchable content includes yellow pages, white pages, news from De Telegraaf (in RSS feed format), weather, ringtones and wallpapers with fully integrated billing and WAP sites. Of particular interest is the direct link to Wikipedia, providing an invaluable search and information resource on the move. The integration of different content sources increases traffic in Truvo's mobile portal and ensures the stickiness of the service with users.

The solution utilises a single search box approach, when users type in a search term mobilePeople undertakes a search across all data sources and returns results by category. Then using a drop down menu, the user can also select to search by category. Furthermore, users can save results to their phonebook, call a business directly and contact a company by sending an email directly out of the search results.

There are two primary things that are interesting here from my point of view:

  1. The rebranding of the directory to be more "elastic"
  2. The introduction of content beyond native directory content into the application to make for a broader user experience

As the company's own release says: "The integration of different content sources increases traffic in Truvo's mobile portal and ensures the stickiness of the service with users." In addition, the brand change paves the way for interesting changes in the scope of the core product offering.

'Skype Phone' to Debut in the U.K.

PC World reports that U.K. mobile operator Three is about to introduce a new phone with Skype fully integrated, allowing for VoIP calling. That would effectively mean "free" calls on mobile. The quality of Skype's transmission, however, is an issue.

There are a number of handsets that have this capability and could move between cell and WiFi networks.

Coverage is an issue but WiFi in the U.K. and Europe is more developed than in the US. BT has promised a U.K.-wide WiFi network. Of course one would still have to pay for WiFi access, but that would be far cheaper than minutes.

More reliable WiFi in the US would also allow the iPhone/iPod Touch to have broader appeal and would potentially be distributive to carriers. But a time is coming in the US when the carriers will have less control over network access and devices.

Mobile Firefox Coming Soon

Firefox, the popular desktop browser alternative to Internet Explorer, is announcing that it's going to ship a mobile browser that will contain desktop integration. Here's what Mozilla has said:

  • Through Joey, we've seen how the desktop and mobile browsing experiences can be bridged to build a better experience for both. Wouldn't it be great if your bookmarks, history, extensions, etc. from Firefox on your computer just worked on your phone?
  • Mozilla will add mobile devices to the first class/tier-1 platform set for Mozilla2. This means we will make core platform decisions with mobile devices as first-class citizens.
  • We will ship a version of "Mobile Firefox" which can, among other things, run Firefox extensions on mobile devices and allow others to build rich applications via XUL.
  • Mozilla will expand its small team of full-time mobile contributors to focus on the technology and application needs of mobile devices. In particular two new folks just joined:
  • Christian Sejersen, recently the head of browsers at Openwave which has shipped over 1 billion mobile browsers, joined Mozilla Monday. He'll be heading up the platform engineering effort and setting up a R&D center in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Brad Lassey just joined Mozilla from France Telecom R&D. He's already been an active contributor to our mobile efforts and can now focus on Mozilla mobile full time.
  • These folks will accelerate the tremendous work already done by Doug Turner, Chris Hofmann and the entire Mozilla community. The efforts in mobile will be magnified by all aspects of our kick-ass community in everything from testing, to UI design, to core engineering. Together we will accelerate the development and use of mobile-ready Mozilla technology.

Apple's mobile Safari experience offers a "real" Internet experience on mobile phones, not a scaled down WAP version. We'll see what Firefox mobile turns out to be. People Rave about Opera Mini, but my experiences with it on Windows Mobile phones have been largely unsatisfying.

If the mobile Internet goes the way of the Apple Safari experience then, effectively, there will be no distinction between "the Internet" and its mobile extension.

AT&T's 800-YellowPages Expands to Texas

AT&T

AT&T has rolled out 1-800-YellowPages (800-935-5697) in Texas. Other markets where the service is available include Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma City, OK, and Columbus, OH. The service will eventually be national. Ad insertion is from Apptera.

This comes as Goog411 is being seen on more billboards in the SF Bay Area and elsewhere in the U.S. Expect AT&T to begin to advertise 800-YellowPages even as it cannibalizes the company's traditional product.

There are four major, formidable competitors: Jingle, Google, Microsoft (Tellme) and AT&T. All will eventually be ad supported, unless Google decides to indefinitely subsidize the service to differentiate it.

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Here's Dan Miller's analysis of Apptera and AT&T's deal and offering.