Posts Tagged ‘Search’

Google’s IYP killer

October 6, 2009

In Google creates a new simplified ad unit for local business, Greg Sterling takes a new advert for small to medium enterprise, i.e. the Internet Yellow Pages market, through its paces. Google has been trying to enter the SME market for a while, but from everything we’ve seen their churn has been horrific. This means despite the numerous incentives that Google throws at SMEs to get them to sign up to start Adwords — normally anything from €25-€200 free ads — most SMEs quit within their first year. Google has hinted for a while that it will start a simplified approach that will appeal to small business owners, but has not done much in the market apart from some opening moves in the Local Business Centre.

The classical trifecta are all there: a great landing page, transparent reporting and the ability to buy additional visitors and leads. What makes this particularly interesting (and confrontational to IYPs) is that SMEs can buy traffic and leads based on a ‘cat-locale’ i.e. a combination of location (business or search) and search categories. In addition, typical IYP product add-ons such as a click-to-call are included, except now of course the call ‘whisper’ (the brief introduction at the start of each call before it’s connected) says “This call is brought to you by Google” and the delivered lead is reported in your overview. As you’d expect, reporting also means you see where your clicks and leads are coming from. Pricing is flat rate and contracts can be cancelled quickly.

Google continues to test whether (as IYP wisdom says) you require a real sales force to get SME market penetration. It is interesting that Google’s basic problem is less in sales and more in retention — i.e. customer acquisition seems adequate but their churn is painful. IYPs have started investing, and in a number of cases, succeeding with fully automated solutions to deliver guaranteed click and lead products (common in Europe, but for how long, we shall see) and budget-based packages. If they can do it without customer care, why can’t Google? It seems more likely that Google’s go-to-market and product approach was wrong. Whether they can achieve the penetration they want only with online sign-up, or whether they’ll need to take on a larger cross-media advertising approach, perhaps combined with T-sales, remains to be seen. One positive side effect of Google’s approach up until now (at least for Google) is that although SMEs may not have stuck with Google they are unlikely to have gone back to traditional IYP products since the perception is radically altered once you’ve bought a few clicks at €0.50 each, i.e. Google SME products accelerate the market fragmentation, even if they are not themselves successful. In this way, they become part of the baying pack of dogs trying to bring IYPs down, even if they don’t become the new top dog.

Although this is only a test in a couple of US metros, I can’t believe that IYPs will take this lying down. Google is still pretty dependent on IYP and telco feeds in the US, so I’d expect US IYPs to kick them back where it hurts: this means war.

Zcapes is live

February 11, 2009

It looks like the first phase of the Zcapes go live has started. You can check out m.zcapes.com (in your mobile browser but your desktop would work too) and start reading some of the content and widgets that are already there. You’ll have to wait another week or so before you can create your own Zcapes, but that’s not so far away.

When I first wrote about Zcapes, I was in I love the idea that context is a new long tail and the use of different plug-and-play meta-data and functional services and bots to define it. Since then I have talked to a couple of people who are also trying to get at the basic building blocks — the genotype — of what makes an online experience interesting and who are trying to find how to capture these basic elements into a consistent whole. Zcapes looks like a fun way of playing around with some of these ideas.
There you’ll see a range of services and bots, e.g. messages, poll, twitter search, flickr search, RSS feed, RSVP, tagging & location. Although you can’t create any yet, and the widgets are reasonably limited, you can browse some zcapes through their tags. One to follow.

Powerful white pages when it doesn’t brown out

January 29, 2009

TechCrunch has a great article on Pipl.com, comparing them to spock.com and wink.com. They explain that Pipl does better (‘scarily’ better) than some of these competitors by crawling the ‘deep web’. This means that Pipl spiders enter commonly used terms in search pages and interact with other dynamic pages in a more intelligent way. This means that they find pages that most spiders cannot access from static crawl directories and sitemaps and in this way extract more information. This is not as sophisticated as it sounds. Many crawlers use this approach to generate new seed pages to crawl from. I think the ‘deep web’ is more marketing than technology. Nonetheless, it does well.

I did a test search for my dad, Michael Allenson in the UK. It’s very useful that you can specify a country and that Pipl will only use sources for that country. The site found two traces of my father from scirus.com (a scientific information search engine, which I helped build a l-o-n-g time ago. At that time it ran on FAST, just like the Yellow and White Directories that Truvo runs) — two patents that he authored in 2000.

Most searches for Allenson on search engines, including people searches, return information about Gary Allenson, a baseball player. By being able to exclude US information, Pipl did better than most from the start.

A useful feature is that Pipl returns a number of image results inline with text links (a bit like Cuil.com). This meant that when I searched for my friend Nuno Macedo, although it quickly found his LinkedIn profile I was able to select this from the results even more quickly by clicking on his picture.

Sesam, a Norwegian search engine has for some time allowed users to search for a term, then show related images, web results, businesses and people that it’s extracted from the search results. This means that if you search for Steve Ballmer, both Bill Gates and John Markus Lervik (CEO of FAST, which was taken over by Microsoft) will come up as associated people, you’ll see some pictures of Steve (including one with his tongue out).

When I last visited pipl.com I got the following front page message:”

Sorry, we’re very popular…

Due to an unusually large amount of traffic we had to disable the search access for a short while. Please be patient while we upgrade our capacity or bookmark our site and visit us later.

Thank you for visiting Pipl.

Re-tweeting as a rank for twitter

January 12, 2009

Twitter allows you to re-tweet microblog posts you like to your followers. If sufficient people re-tweet, positive lock-in kicks in and the tweet takes on a life of its own. This can mean that checking re-tweets becomes a powerful mechanism to rank ideas flowing through the twittersphere. I really enjoyed Re-Twit’d which shows the top re-tweets.

The nearest competitor I can think of is the wonderful Twitscoop which shows a continually evolving tag cloud of the twitgeist — “what’s hot on twitter right now”. I also like the key tags appearing in Google’s universal search results.

I’m going to playing with Re-Twit’d in the next few days. It’s great to see more and more apps that are not owned by twitter, but use the API to make more sense of what’s going on in the twittersphere. I like the eco-system that is being build up around basic app.

Zcapes — contextual miniblogs

January 12, 2009

Zcapes is a new Dutch start-up. I love the idea that context is a new long tail and the use of different plug-and-play meta-data and functional services and bots to define it. Meta-data covers

  • the obvious — you, who, what, where and when
  • the emerging — physiological inputs like heartrate, accelerometers
  • or combinations like the geolocation of your social graph,
  • deductions: if you’re moving on a train line, you are on a train; if you’re at a friend’s house with many friends, you are at a party

Zcapes helps segment information into appropriate contexts so that you can find the useful and usable information quickly when you’re in the context. You could think of this as the first stage of implicit search. Since who you are, what you’re interested in and who your friends are are part of your context, a first step in segmentation is individual personalisation. The only way to get that to scale is to enable people to publish information services that are useful to them, and allow others in similar contexts to find it more easily. Zcape promises to allow people to interact and transact in specific contexts, aggregate the relevant content for them. SPRXMobile, the company behind Zcapes, believes that this will make advertising something between push and pull. This is a rather familiar refrain, but one you can imagine working if the contexts are sufficiently granular and there is sufficient content. It has failed pretty spectacularly pretty regularly mostly because contexts don’t work or content is lacking (e.g. Facebook advertising), but it is unobtrusive and successful in a few situations (e.g. Adwords on Gmail).

One nice thing that drops out of this context platform is that many of the common business ideas can be recast as zcapes, e.g. geotagging iPhone or Flickr photos or playing certain music for different segments of your regular run, and yet it also gives some ways to add more social aspects to this, e.g. seeing who plays what music for location, seeing what twinsumers based on context buy in the store you’re in now. I think a key question there will be sufficient context granularity and functionality that users will want to build contextual microblogs in zcapes rather than a geo-aware twitter with photos (like twinkle).

Some of the services and bots SPRXMobile have pre-announced include the pretty ubiquitous weather for your location, flickr pix, microblogging with twitter and facebook and RSVP for invitees. It look like the launch use case will be: meeting up with a few mates downtown night, who’s in and (via implicit context search) where shall we go and what shall we do?

Indeed some of the example zcapes include a regular Friday movie night at work. Later on the roadmap are things like what is currently on TV.

All-in-all it looks like a promising mobile context platform. I for one will be trying it out when it releases

Voice activated Google iPhone app?

November 17, 2008

John Markoff, writing in the New York Times, says that Google is about to release a new version of their great mobile search app that allows voice-activated searches — any day now. Google has apparently released the app and Apple is now testing it before it will appear (for free) in the app store.

As Mr Markoff writes: “Users of the free application… can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine. The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location.”

It sounds pretty incredible — although folks like Spinvox have been talking about voice activated search, implicitly baked into voicemail for a while. Google has, not surprisingly, been thinking similar thoughts. In fact, Google rolled out voice search by phone a few years back, but found the integration between phone and desktop unsatisfactory (and probably the voice recognition was not as good then).

“This is an expansion of types of applications Google has already been developing,” stated Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. “Google has GOOG411, which is the underlying technical engine. They also have a voice-search client for the BlackBerry which is limited to maps. So this is an evolutionary step.”

“Google has confidence now that voice recognition is good enough to open it up to the full Web search as opposed to the much more structured search on GOOG411.”

Microsoft’s Tellme does voice-recognition by mobile for films or for directions. Yahoo offers some services through oneSearch.

“In one sense this is new, but it’s not new, because Yahoo and Microsoft have been doing versions of voice recognition — and so has Google — for some time,” Sterling said. “A company called Dial Directions was the first to formally introduce voice search for the iPhone, but it was limited to selected local sites through the Safari browser.”


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