Here are some recent announcements that have not been covered widely that I found of interest:
Maps as art and politics (nothing to do with local search per se but interesting none the less)
Ahmed Farooq of iBegin.com contacted me several weeks ago to alert me to a new product that his company is releasing today: iBegin Source, a free and low cost source for business data in the 50 states.
Traditionally business data from InfoUSA and the like is expensive and very restricted in its use. For example, InfoUSA quoted $101,038.34 for every business in NY State as opposed to the $1000 for the iBegin commercial data set for New York. While InfoUSA includes more and different fields in the data, for many uses the geocoding available with iBegin may be more valuable.
The availability of free or cheap local data that is updated regularly has the potential to shake up not just the internet yellow page business and local search but direct marketing as well. To quote Ahmed: “We want to help promote enthusiast and hobbyist sites (just look at what happened with mapping applications when Google released the Maps API).”
Here is an interview that I did with Ahmed over the past few weeks that provides more insight into his service:
Q:Tell us about your company and how you got into local search
The parent company is Enthropia Inc., a webdev firm based in Toronto. We are self-funded, over four years old, and we build our own sites (no client development).
We got into local search because the current crop wasn’t good enough. From massive errors in data to slow searches, it was a headache to find anything near me. Canadian local search is especially horrible. We didn’t want to take a shotgun approach, covering all of Canada/US. We opted for a city-by-city approach (ala CitySearch).
Describe your new service to provide local data
Local business data is expensive. The data itself is full of duplicates and errors. I remember processing 34,000 records for a city and ending up with only 8000 unique records. Brad Fled had an interesting post on how bad local data is, and how the suppliers provide of no way for direct updates.
So iBegin Source does four things differently:
1. Perpetual license. Once you purchase our data, you can use it for however long you want.
2. Cheaper data. An entire state is only $1000. The major data brokers (that everyone uses) are roughly 300-400% more expensive than us. Some are high as even 1000% more! We want to help promote enthusiast and hobbyist sites (just look at what happened with mapping applications when Google released the Maps API)
3. Open system for updating. Anyone can submit an update, and we also have a trackback system for automated updates (akin to what Brad Feld was suggesting). All of it revertable just like Wikipedia. No more closed systems.
4. Geocoding comes included. Six decimal accuracy and major intersection included. Simplifies the entire process.
What do you think will be the impact of making this data available?
The entire idea is that helps launch new local-oriented sites. If I wanted to setup a local site right now, the cost of the data is a major barrier. With iBegin Source I can self-fund my project.
We also intend on becoming the centralized place for local data. On the iBegin city sites we have received thousands and thousands of updates, of which a fraction of one percent were incorrect. Why not just give users the power to do the changes themselves? Worst case situation: we do some reverts.
As a partner in a small firm that relies heavily on technologies that support and enhance telecommuting to maintain customer contact, I found three (totally unrelated) announcements of interest:
Microsoft acquires TellMe. I have been a big fan of 877-520-Find as a safe and productive tool for cell phone calling. It demonstrates effectively how voice (even though frustrating 10% of time) can move local search data easily into the mobile world. It avoids the DWT (driving while typing) offense that seems likely to kill people and is less frustrating than talking to directory assistance in a foreign country. The TellMe acquisition will put this type of service on the front burner as Google, Microsoft and others compete for the next generation of mobile search.
Gizmo SMS has rolled out a new service that allows you to send SMS text messages from your browser to mobile phones around the world, for free. I have always thought that texting was an effective business communication tool but just never could bring myself to pay for a web to phone service. It is simple, effective and even works from dial up via an old browser.
David Pogue of the NY Times writes (reg. req’d) of a new service that provides â€œOne Number That Will Ring All Your Phonesâ€. A new service by GrandCentral.com (free for 2 numbers, $15/month for 6 phones) will ring all of your phones simultaneously and keep all of your messages in a single web based voice mail box.
All of these services integrate existing mobile phone technology with the internet in a way that increases the value of both without requiring new hardware for either. They all could be used for delivery of ads and all offer a glimpse of the immediate future of integrating data with our cell phones.
Greg Sterling’s recent post: Print Yellow Pages: Whatâ€™s the Real Story? is one of the best summaries of the issues and realities of the print Yellow Pages and their positioning vis-a-vis the internet yellow pages and local search.
I have fallen into the “detractor” camp for a number of years but have recognized that my personal point of view does not a trend make. Greg’s conclusion:
“Itâ€™s simply untrue to assert that all is well in print yellow pages land. But itâ€™s also incorrect to call the medium dead……paradoxically, as consumer usage continues to migrate online the bulk of the revenues will remain offline for some time.”
Speaking of schema and the semantic web, the NY Times today had an article on Freebase(registration req’d), from start-up Metaweb that has the goal of “trying to create the worldâ€™s database, with all of the worldâ€™s information,â€ based on the ideas of the semantic Web.
According to the NY Times, “since it could offer an understanding of relationships like geographic location and occupational specialties, Freebase might be able to field a query about a child-friendly dentist within 10 miles of oneâ€™s home and yield a single result.”….
â€œItâ€™s like a system for building the synapses for the global brain,â€ said Tim Oâ€™Reilly, chief executive of Oâ€™Reilly Media, a technology publishing firm based in Sebastopol, Calif.
Despite the articles fawning, messianic tone, it is interesting to me that the these ideas are now receiving coverage in the mainstream press.
Google slayers and purveyors of “all of the worldâ€™s information” will come and go. Some will survive and offer interesting developments and one might even one day unseat Google (and it might just be Freebase). Regardless, this road will be long, winding and interesting both in the technologies and the competitive battles.
Business Week wrote a piece recently (03/08/07): Where Search Stumbles criticizing most of the local search engines. Greg Sterling has repeatedly pointed out that accuracy is the potential achilles heal of Local and there have been plenty of complaints elsewhere and here about quality and about complexity. But as I tell my relatives: I love you anyways.
I by no means find the quality acceptable, although I have gone on record with the opinion that it is satisfactory and will improve. I recently, though, read a post called “Its the Schema, stupid!” by a search researcher for IBM that helped me understand the bigger issues. I am not a database expert and have limited understanding of search schema or the semantic web. However his point that what is exciting about local search is that the searcher is looking for something real, struck a chord. The searcher is trying to find a pizza parlor or a car dealer as opposed to a document in cyberspace that general search might return. And that only by using a structure (schema) that is based on the real world would you ever be able to find it.
This brought home for me both the elegance and complexity of what Google, Yahoo & Ask are attempting to do with local search.
In Google, an organic search returns ranked & relevant results from a selection of web pages. They can not be judged as right or wrong just more or less relevant to the searcher and only in the aggregate.
In Google Maps local search, on the other hand, Google is attempting to return ranked, relevant AND right results. The relevance can be measured from the local searchers point of view, the rank can be disputed by the local resident and the rightness (or accuracy) can be verified to see if Google properly captured the correct phone, street address, category, neighborhood, quality, recognition of a hopefully open local business. It is judged in the very specific.
The Ask.com announcement, The New Shape of Local Search has been widely reported.
However, not many commentators have noted how cool and useful this feature really is. OK so you can draw on the map, big deal I said to myself.
Then I started drawing. When I noticed the email and permalink I thought, how long is the image stored? Can my doodles be shared?
It appears that the drawing data is captured in the link (and not stored anywhere) and when the link is shared the map doodles go right along with it to redraw the custom map for the next viewer.
Here is a sample map with my input: http://city.ask.com/city?msid=f29535c07bc94e24c4c10fd0b697730c&msuserid=eeef09e483dbd0f315991e723912e733
The fact that there is a permalink to this image and that it can be emailed means that each users custom map can exist forever for whatever purpose…a temporary rendezvous, a map for a website…and possibly many more.
Greg Sterling does the best strategic analysis that adds to understanding the big picture of Local Search. Two of his recent posts about Local Search that I found of particular interest:
Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea also offers incredible insights on Local but from the technical viewpoint. His writings elucidate the technologies behind the scenes. His recently posted Google Local Search Glossary is a real gem.
LeeAnn Prescott at Hitwise reports: Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from January to February 2007. It appears that this increase was due to an increase in upstream traffic from Google, which occurred on February 7, according to this daily clickstream chart shown here. Did anyone notice a change in how Google drives traffic to Google Maps around this time?
This jump in traffic to Google Maps shown on the chart occurred one week after it was reported that Google upgraded the Local Onebox results on the main search results page.
m-spatial, in its most recent quarterly Mobile Local Search Index, has found that mobile searches in England, have doubled in the last quarter of 2006 compared to the first quarter “with Fast Food, Pubs & Drinking and Cinema topping the search league tables”. The report also noted siginificant seasonal shifts.