Category Archives: Local Mobile

Making Local Appointments on line

Last week I reported on the new service, that elegantly closes the circle of consumers and small businesses. The New York Times reports on a new class of small business products that further brings local and smb’s together: Making Appointments for Doctor or Dinner that further embeds the internet in the lives of clients and businesses. The web based appointment generating services work on two different pricing models, a monthly subscription ($20 to $30)and a per appointment transaction fee ($3.50).

Greg Sterling is quoted in the article as saying: “This is something that’s been needed for a while, but no one has been able to do it successfully,” said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Marketplace Intelligence, an online consultancy. “With these new services, there are a lot of circumstances where it can work quite well for both the business and the consumer.”

The monthly subscription model of Hourtown would lend itself to higher volume appointment scheduling that would be more likely in larger, more tech savvy cities. If a business could schedule one appointment per day via this method it would put the scheduling cost at $1 per, a very appealing price point. At this price, if the volume were there, barbers and hairdressers with a lower average transaction amount could participate.

The per transaction model offered by BookingAngel would appeal to lower volume but higher average transaction amount clients like Doctors. This would work even in rural settings, assuming that the volume was high enough to offset the learning curve.

Given the current pricing models most rural businesses would be unlikely to benefit either due to high per transaction costs or very low scheduling volume. Going foward on-line appointments services could be used by a large number of local businesses in many markets and industry segments. Assuming that these services are easy enough to learn and provide significant value to the business in the form of more business or happier clients it will be interesting to see if and when these become widespread.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Ahmed Farooq Responds

Given the recent reports (A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam) of mapspam at Yahoo that I perceived as possibly criminal, several folks responded that I had overreacted or mischaracterized the event. I started thinking about the legal, social and technical context for Local in our lives and whether if we didn’t hold it to much, much higher standards on all fronts (business, technical, social, legal) it would succeed.

I decided that I would like the opinions of others that I respect. They come from a range of technical and social backgrounds but all have something to contribute to Local Search conversation. The first responses to my question by Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith can be found here.

Ahmed Farooq of iBegin has a unique perspective on the issues confronting Local as he has created a user facing local site for Toronto and currently provides basic business listing data to a number of clients through iBegin.

Here is the question:

As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?
Ahmed: I’ve argued for a while that what gave the YP books context were the ads.
The ads gave you information on each business – are they open 24 hours? Are
they civil or criminal lawyers? Do they have seafood? And so forth and so

Having played both the consumer-side and the business-supplying side, the
reason we decided to stick with ‘core’ data is because I don’t see any way
to normalize enhanced data across the entire US. When customers of base data
(competitors and us included – I don’t claim we are perfect) are always
complaining that core data is not right, how does one even begin to think
about tackling enhanced?

The two [current] approaches both fail:

1. Silo. Buy data from one or two sources, invite communities to
participate, and sit back and watch the profits roll. Problem is that while
the community may be willing to update information, they are almost always
restricted to (1) Base data and (2) ‘Sexy’ businesses (restaurants, clubs,
etc). Updating information on a printing company? Doesn’t happen. It may
work on a micro-level, but it does not work on a macro level.

2. Aggregated. Obtain information from various sources like Google does.
While this means more up to date information, it also means a mess of bad
data mingled in there. All sites have good and bad data – mix them all up
and you end up with a lot of good and bad data!

I have no solutions. I may very well be hurting my business here (always
more profitable to sell the full US than a state), but I do not see any
full-US local search engines attaining proper relevancy and context.
Specialized local search engines per city or even perhaps per state – yes.

So to get to the core question – local needs to be held to a higher
standard, because going to a dead website is nowhere near the same horrible
experience as going to a business that has moved (phone # same, address
changed) or dead. But will there be ever one or two sites that do local well
across the US? I don’t think so.

One last point – I believe the ones best positioned to do something
country-wide are the dominant YP publishers – eg YPG in Canada, and so
forth. Their conundrum of course is that the ‘precise’ context we need only
comes via ads. If the advertiser doesn’t pay, they won’t utilize the extra
relevancy, and the end-user loses out. If they allow that extra context for
free, they lose out greatly in revenue.

Seems like I’m rambling a bit now, hopefully got some new gears moving in
your collective brains 🙂

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith Respond

I have been thinking about Yahoo lately (big surprise that eh?) and have been mulling over in my head what is what in the world of Local.

Thinking that I needed some more voices to compliment what is rattling around in my brain I wanted to hear what others had to say. I sent the following off to a number of individuals, each having different expertise that they bring to the world of search that I respect, looking for their thoughts.

I asked them if they basically agree or disagree with the premise and if they would answer the following question:


The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.


As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?

Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith responded first so they will be first to go:

Danny: Well, fair to say Mike, I don’t think the standards are very high in local. There seems to be a large degree of trust over community contributions and edits, simply because I don’t think the companies want to expend the people power to clean things up. And I think they also feel most people still look more closely at web wide results, which they pay more attention to. But as local gets used a lot more, I think those standards will have to rise, especially if the players want to gain or keep market share.

Chris: I think it’s a great question. Data quality is one of the biggest issues in local search and IYP, and it seems to not be getting as much play as it really should.

We’re all so dazzled by the whiz-bang interfaces brought to us by Google Maps, iPhones, and other systems that we’re not asking the big questions about whether the data behind it all is reliable. A huge percentage of the time, it simply isn’t.

There have been many times when I’ve sent family and friends to a business, only to find it had closed. I’ve also used online maps many times only to find the pinpoints incorrect — the very worst instance was when I made the maps in printed instructions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending dozens of cars full of hungry friends and family to an incorrect location (streets often have both north and south or east and west numbering systems, and interactive maps sometimes pinpoint them wrong when online addresses don’t include the cardinal qualifier).

It’s all the more ironic if you know that I spent the earlier part of my career as a professional cartographer — I’m at an extreme end of expert users of maps and shouldn’t be messed up by charts and directions as frequently as I have been by online maps. Even knowing the high percentage error rates involved in the services doesn’t help me much — other than if I sense a reason to question a map’s accuracy I may call ahead to get verbal confirmation from a business or other info source.

Quite a number of years ago, John C. Dvorak did a little informal survey of yellow pages results from the major IYPs, and on the basis of it he beat up on Superpages quite a bit for incomplete or erroneous info. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair because I thought he should’ve taken our data suppliers more to task or should’ve done a broader sampling than one or two searches, but his point was pretty salient and our company beefed up data quality improvement efforts. But, here we are five-plus years out and local search and IYPs would still likely fail his informal test. (Dvorak later stated that he was giving up using 411 and using Superpages instead, so I’d guess he eventually forgave us for sometimes having bad data.)

Inaccuracy in local search info is a really big, complex beast, and there’s no quick cure for it. But, it would likely help if the industry had a lot more transparency as to what they’re doing about it — this is an area where we should have them show their cards in the consumer interest. What if each provider was to set up an info page outlining how they deal with: removal of listings for closed businesses; capturing and updating business info that has changed; criteria for choosing which data source trumps another data source if the two have disagreeing info; computation of map pinpoints; and quality improvement of address locations on interactive maps.

From my perspective, it’s time for each of the major players to stop passing the buck on quality, and work on it more intensively than the cute graphic interfaces.

What if we started rating the various local directory providers by how complete/accurate their data is? It would probably start exposing the fact that the local search emperor has no clothes.

Local Links of Interest


Would you want other people to know, all day long, exactly where you are, right down to the street corner or restaurant?…..wireless carriers are betting that many of their customers do, and they’re rolling out services to make it possible.

…Verizon Wireless is gearing up to offer such a service in the next several weeks to its 65 million customers, people familiar with it say.

Malware Cited in Supermarket Data Breach AP, NY Times

…the massive data breach that compromised up to 4.2 million credit and debit cards.

The breach has prompted concern in the industry because it appeared to be the first large-scale theft of credit and debit card numbers while the information was in transit.

Local Links of Interest

Dash’s Car Navigator Gives Smart Directions, if Others Participate – Walt Mossburg, WSJ

I have not really been following the Dash but after having read Mossburg’s article in the WSJ it struck as quite significant that your car would act as a data “probe” to provide real time traffic information to a community of users. Very Cool.

Announcing, Free Service for Local Businesses – Michael Jensen, SoloSEO

This is very useful product that I will hopefully have more time to write about later. It vastly simplifies the process by which a small business gets reviews from his/her customer. It is the last 50 feet of local and creates a “virtuous cycle” with benefits for all.

Facebook Pages & Local Search Engine Optimization – Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide

I am not a facebook maven but this technique appeared to be valuable.

Global Temperature Trends for Google Earth – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

I never ceased to be amazed at the wondrous information that makes it way into a map these days. This is one of those cases and what you see in Google Earth today, you will see in Google Maps tomorrow (not literally but you knew that).

Google Maps for mobile gets native on UIQ – Sean Cooper, enGadgetMobile

I recognize that this is old news that I meant to post a while ago. When you combine this effort to claim prime real estate on your cell phone screen with the reports of a new interface for Google mobile I see Google maneuvering to become the habitual choice in the world of mobile with or without the carriers.

Local Links of Interest

Google’s LBC: Now With More Fiber– Mike Boland, Kelsey Group

A good summary of how the inclusion of video in the Google LBC can benefit local search marketing. Interestingly, he points out that Google was allowing (c)ompanies such as TurnHere and eLocalListing were already uploading this content for their SMB clients via direct partnership, but this essentially makes it possible for more firms to do it with less friction.

State-of-the Art: Trends in Mobile Search – Jeff Quip, AimClear Blog

An good summary of the session at SES New York 2008 search marketing conference. Outlines in broad details the history & future of the mobile search market and why it makes sense to be there now

Google search plug-in for Windows Mobile promises more of the same – Tim Conneally, BetaNews

Notes the availability of a plug-in for Windows Mobile devices, which provides a shortcut on the home screen to Google’s search. He also provides anectdotal reports of Google mobile search dominance and how this supports that dominance.

New comScore IYP Data – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

The numbers indicate that network have a significant share of the IYP searches. But it is hard to tell since as Greg points out “(t)hese traffic data don’t capture local search on the main search engines, which is where much of the local query volume is.”

700MHz Non-Surprise: Verizon & AT&T Win Auction Blocks – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

Google’s wireless-auction loss called possible win – Eric Auchard, Reuters

Google Inc’s losing bid for coveted wireless airwaves may prove a victory for the Web search leader as it still stands to get access to mobile networks without spending tens of billions of dollars to build one, analysts said on Thursday.

Wall Street analysts said the Silicon Valley Internet search and advertising giant has succeeded in forcing open network requirements upon winning bidder Verizon Communications via Google’s apparent strategy of “bidding to lose.”

Local Links of Interest

From Camel’s Eyelids to Auto-geolocation: the Future of Mobile and Local Search AIMClear Blog
A good update of the local session at NY SES.

Steered Wrong: Drivers Trust GPS Even to a Fault – Jennifer Saranow, Wall Street Journal

What can you say?

M:Metrics Report: iPhone Internet Usage Far exceeds Market Average

In a report released today by M:Metrics it was noted that “the iPhone is already the most popular device for accessing news and information on the mobile Web, with 85 percent of iPhone users accessing news and information in the month of January.

Usage in other categories of internet access like watching video, listening to music, social networking while not quite as high significantly exceeded market averages. Of particular note was that 36 percent of iPhone users accessed Google Maps. In comparison, only 2.6 percent of all mobile subscribers checked out Maps. No mention is made of time on the service or total number of search queries but one has to assume that those were proportionately much higher as well.

Mobile Content Consumption: iPhone, Smartphone and Total Market:
 January 2008

Activity                                     iPhone   Smartphone*   Market
--------                                     ------   ----------    ------
Any news or info via browser                  84.8%        58.2%     13.1%
Accessed web search                           58.6%        37.0%      6.1%
Watched mobile TV and/or video                30.9%        14.2%      4.6%
Watched on-demand video or TV programming     20.9%         7.0%      1.4%
Accessed Social Networking Site or Blog       49.7%        19.4%      4.2%
Listened to music on mobile phone             74.1%        27.9%      6.7%

Source: M:Metrics, Inc., Copyright © 2008. Survey of U.S. mobile
subscribers. Data based on three-month moving average for period ending
31st January 2008, n = 31,389.
*Smartphones include devices running Windows, Symbian, RIM or Apple
operating systems.

This increased usage is a function of both user interface of the iPhone and the unlimted integrated internet access plan.

“While the demographics of iPhone users are very similar to all smartphone owners, the iPhone is outpacing other smartphones in driving mobile content consumption by a significant margin,” said Donovan. “In addition to the attributes of the device itself, another important factor to consider is the fact that all iPhones on AT&T are attached to an unlimited data plan. Our data shows that once the fear of surprise data charges is eliminated, mobile content consumption increases dramatically, regardless of device.”

I have noted in the past that penetration of iPhone like devices, with a decent interface and usability is likely to reach 50% of the market in 3 to 4 years. Obviously this depends on both the hardware and the internet access plans that the phone companies put in place. When the stars align and this occurs, local search will obviously benefit.

Local Links of Interest

Incomplete and Wrong Data in Google Local Search

– Bill Slawski,

Bill covers some of the patents that relate to the post here last week: Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?
Deer Blogs His Own GPS Position in Google Earth – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

A report on a very cool  real time animal  tracking experiment. I can’t wait until worried parents start the same experiment with their teenage children. Or perhaps overanxious citizenry implant this technology in sex offenders (only in America).

Google on SDK Competition with iPhone: We’ve Had More Downloads  – Greg Sterling, LocalMobile Search

Clearly the move from cell phone to mobile internet mobile platform will not be Apple’s market alone. Google is going to be right there. It will be interesting to see which of the two has more success convincing the owners of the “walled gardens” to open up their networks and if one of them becomes the leading mobile computing platform.

iPhone SDK: a tipping point for Local Search?

Apple’s announcement of their software development kit was big in the tech news arena but got scant coverage in the search world. From where I sit, it appears to be a seminal event that will define local search for the next decade and will lead to a dramatic upsurge in hyper local searches.

There was much speculation about the iPhone tools prior to their release and developers expressed fears about limited access and undocumented api’s. Apple seems to have exceeded developer expectations on that front and delivered a product that can access all of the capabilities of the iphone and iPod Touch while simultaneously offering low barriers to entry and ready distribution. The SDK, despite its early bugs, appears to have been widely embraced and there are significant rewards in the offing to the developers that create popular apps.

The release has moved the iPhone from being a very cool cell phone to being the archetype of the mobile internet device; always on, always present, no limits to what or when something can be retrieved. It will put gaming, calling, music AND search in the hands of users all the time in every location and will (or something very much like it), like the iPod before it, become annoyingly present in our lives.

Continue reading iPhone SDK: a tipping point for Local Search?