Archive for the ‘User-generated content’ Category

Consumer Reports: ‘Social Insecurity’

May 5, 2010

In a report intended to be somewhat inflammatory, stoke fear and sell magazines accordingly, Consumer Reports reveals data from its latest “State of the Net” survey. Here are two public bullets of interest to me:

  • 52% of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online (personal information, street address, kids photos, etc.)
  • 23% of the users of Facebook . . . either didn’t know that site offered privacy controls or chose not to use them

There’s lots of stuff about scams, fraud, malware and so on. I cite the report as further evidence that a meaningful number of Facebook users don’t fully understand privacy on the site and/or aren’t aware of the potential exposure of their information beyond their immediate friends on Facebook.

___

Related: EFF doesn’t Like Facebook Connections and points out all the privacy issues.

Sency, Location & Geotweets

May 3, 2010

I spoke with Evan Britton, who founded Sency a Twitter search engine. The company (at Chirp) was the first to launch a geographic lens on tweets. Britton refers to it as “real time location search.”

In New York for example I can find out what’s being said about the Times Square bomb in real time:

But one quickly can imagine that it could be used in the same way other engines are used to gain information on local businesses, places and events. The challenge with the “Twitter firehose” is cutting through the noise and organizing and filtering the information in usable ways.

Britton estimated that location information (either via geotagging or place information from Twitter profiles) covers more than 20% of all tweets today. That number, regardless of its precision, will grow as more and more tweets are geotagged.

Citysearch is obviously associating tweets about particular restaurants and places with their profile pages. But there’s a great deal more to come on this front. And those that can do the best job of separating wheat from chaff will be the winners.

You can bet that lots of folks will get into this game as more and more tweets become associated with places. And as Twitter posts are indexed by major search engines and secondary engines such as Sency you can also imagine how Twitter becomes an increasingly effective local-promotional tool for SMBs.

Angie’s List Now Doing TV Spots

May 3, 2010

In all the hype and frenzy around LBS and shiny new things, I often forget to mention Angie’s List. People from time to time mention to me that they’ve heard a commercial on the radio or, now, seen TV commercials for Angie’s List. As one of the few subscription-based models in Local the site defies the conventional wisdom.

Yet each time I’ve spoken the Angie Hicks or representatives of Angie’s List they’ve told me that the site continues to grow and that subscriber retention is very high.

Anyone have a sense (empirically or anecdotally) about how they’re doing?

Others Start to Index Facebook ‘Likes’

April 28, 2010

Real-time search engine “OneRiot” is now indexing Facebook Likes as part of the Open Graph API:

[W]e were very happy to see Facebook opening up public data with the Open Graph API and other products at f8 last week. For example, “Likes” can now be shared across the web in interesting ways. Realtime search engines can now process that “Like” as a social signal to help increase the relevance score of a page in the index.

At OneRiot, we have now started to experiment with this Facebook data.

Until today, we’ve been indexing the links shared on Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Delicious and by our own OneRiot panel to help determine our search results. Now, with the addition of Facebook data, OneRiot delivers search results that reflect the pulse of a much, much wider social web.

That’s very nice — using Likes as a relevance signal for the algorithm — but there’s something more interesting here.

I had previously thought that only Facebook would be able to access all the Like data and wrote about what that might enable in the local segment:

All the local publishers in North America and Europe implement Social Plug-ins, etc. Millions upon millions of businesses are “Liked.” That creates a master data set in the aggregate. Facebook will know:

  • The favorite sushi restaurants in every city
  • The favorite contractors
  • The favorite attorneys
  • The favorite  . . . in every category

They’ll know all these things in the aggregate and in terms of my network in particular. Each “Like” is a “vote” in the same way that each link is a “vote” in the SEO world. But a Like vote is much better than a link vote.

In a very short period of time Facebook will have a ton of valuable data. What will do with all this data (courtesy of all the local sites that will implement Social Plug-ins)?

I’m not a developer or engineer so I’m on shaky ground a little bit here. But if, as OneRiot says, all the Like data is available to third parties then they can do what I was suggesting only Facebook would be able to do: create a killer database of local favorites.

You can bet that Google will be thinking about this and tapping into that data if it’s public. Shouldn’t you also?

Facebook Won’t ‘Like’ FTC Inquiry on Privacy

April 26, 2010

Some people believe that with Social Plug-ins and the “Open Graph,” Facebook  is overreaching. One of those people is now NY Senator Charles Schumer.

For quite some time I’ve been saying and speculating that if “the industry” isn’t careful the regulators will spring into action. Today Senator Schumer called on the FTC to create guidelines and regulate social networking privacy, motivated apparently by Facebook’s Open Graph announcements last week.

Here’s an excerpt from Schumer’s letter:

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to provide guidelines for social networking sites, like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter on how private information submitted by online users can be used and disseminated. Schumer’s call to the FTC comes on the heels of recent reports that Facebook has decided to provide user data to select third party websites and has begun sharing personal profile information that users previously had the ability to restrict access to. These recent changes by Facebook fundamentally change the relationship between the user and the social networking site. Previously, users had the ability to determine what information they chose to share and what information they wanted to keep private. Recent policy changes are fundamentally changing that relationship and there is little guidance on what social networking sites can and cannot do and what disclosures are necessary to consumers.

Under new policies, users must go through a complicated and confusing opt-out process to keep private information from being shared with third party websites. Additionally, Facebook has also created a new system whereby ‘interests’ listed by users on their personal profiles are automatically aggregated and shared as massive web pages. Users used to have the ability to keep this information private if they chose. These new common interest pages are a gold mine of marketing data that could use by used for spam and potentially scammers, intent on peddling their wares.

Schumer and his staff may or may not fully understand what Facebook is trying to do or the benefits the company asserts it’s providing to users and publishers. But this should be taken seriously and could be the beginning of a long-anticipated move into online privacy regulation by the feds.

The IAB (and Facebook itself) should head this off at the pass with voluntary moves and clearer disclosures.

More on Facebook, Privacy & Data Mining

April 26, 2010

Here are two unrelated pieces on Facebook that I ran across nearly simultaneously:

The first is from the NY Times, about how high-school students and college applicants are trying to make it harder for colleges to find them on Facebook (using aliases), for fear of the adverse consequences of institutions knowing too much about them:

For high school students concerned with college acceptance, Facebook presents a challenge. It encourages making public every thought and every photo, an opportunity for posturing and bravado nearly irresistible to teenagers. But this impulse for display clashes with the need to appear circumspect and presentable to college admissions agents, who some high school guidance counselors have warned are likely vetting applicants by trolling the Web.

Whether admissions officers really do plumb Facebook is up for debate, said Dr. Frank C. Leana, a prominent independent college counselor in New York City whose services cost $1,000 (for a one-time consultation) to $9,000 (for ongoing counsel throughout the college process). His students believe they are being watched, he said, but “it’s really hard to know how accurate their suspicions are.”

One of the big pitches for the Open Graph is “making the Web less anonymous,” more transparent. But Facebook being the de facto identity management platform across the Internet is not so desirable to everyone, as the above article suggests. And young people do care about privacy it would appear — or at least that third parties not be able to access their information.

Real and open identity is good as an abstract matter until the “big brother effect” kicks in and others are passing judgment and denying jobs or college admissions, potentially because of one-too-many drunken party images on Facebook. While there’s no documentation of the latter, the fear is clearly present.

The second article, an interview of sales VP Mike Murphy by eMarketer, reveals some of Facebook’s ambitions surrounding data mining and ad targeting vis-a-vis the “Like” button. Here’s eMarketer’s summary conclusion of Murphy’s comments:

Whenever a person clicks to “like” something they see on the Web, that information will go into their Facebook profile and marketers will be able to use the information to target advertising within Facebook.

This is a key point: all off-site “Like” activity will factor into targeting on Facebook. In other words, Facebook is mining actions across the Internet for targeting on its site. Brilliant and/or creepy? A little of both I think.

What many (most) people don’t realize also is that “Liking” something across the Internet will enable marketers or publishers to push content and “publish into [users'] news feeds.” This requires prior approval but it may not be clear that people are signing up for an ongoing stream of information or marketing messages.

WSJ Hooks up with Foursquare

April 26, 2010

The Wall Street Journal is another big media company to tie up with Foursquare in an effort to market itself on the go and boost its hip quotient

These are WSJ-centric badges and there’s a WSJ, Twitter-like follow page on Foursquare (same as other partners) that offer local tips:

The WSJ-Foursquare relationship is very much like similar partnership deals with the History Channel, Bravo TV, Canada’s Metro News. It’s now a kind of “template” — and it’s smart for everyone involved.

Like Twitter in the past, however, it’s not clear that Foursquare gets any direct monetary value out of corporate use of the site and brand association. For now that may be just fine. This adds to Foursquare’s credibility, visibility and brand. And it helps the site differentiate from others seeking to do similar things (e.g., Gowalla).

With Golden Data Will Facebook Push Local?

April 22, 2010

Earlier this year at the Borrell local conference Yellowbook executive Pat Marshall made the remarkable statement that the site was getting more traffic from Facebook than from Google. I never was able to get complete clarity there or unpack the remark to fully understand it and the underlying data. But it’s symbolic of the growing importance of Facebook in the local ecosystem.

Now with the advent of the Like button and Open Graph local publishers will race to integrate these tools. Indeed, they’ll make local sites more social and personal by showing friends’ activities and so on. They also provide a simple way for local businesses and the publishers to gain greater exposure to networks via Facebook. This was already true to varying degrees with Connect; the new tools merely amplify the effect.

The potential “dark side” of all this is the fact that all the data that emerges from all the Like button clicking will be in Facebook’s hands. Other third parties in the network will be able to access some of that data with permission but no single party in the “Open Graph” ecosystem being created will have the entire data set — except Facebook.

Facebook has given no indication that it will do anything like what I’m suggesting here, but let’s play out a scenario.

All the local publishers in North America and Europe implement Social Plug-ins, etc. Millions upon millions of businesses are “Liked.” That creates a master data set in the aggregate. Facebook will know:

  • The favorite sushi restaurants in every city
  • The favorite contractors
  • The favorite attorneys
  • The favorite  . . . in every category

They’ll know all these things in the aggregate and in terms of my network in particular. Each “Like” is a “vote” in the same way that each link is a “vote” in the SEO world. But a Like vote is much better than a link vote.

In a very short period of time Facebook will have a ton of valuable data. What will do with all this data (courtesy of all the local sites that will implement Social Plug-ins)?

It could do nothing in particular or it could build the single most effective local directory and search site that exists. This data will be more valuable than anything Google has or any individual local publisher-partner possesses. That includes Yelp, YPG or anyone else that joins the Open Graph and implements these new Facebook platform tools.

Now let’s think back to Google a few years ago.

Google was originally regarded mostly a source of SEO traffic to local sites. It had maps but it wasn’t considered the local competitor it is today. Over time Google continued to improve its local offering and started showing maps + local listings increasingly. It’s to the point now where local SEO is a very limited option. The need for alternative traffic is fueling the rise of CityGrid, the anti-Google.

The story could well be the same with Facebook, should the company decide that local information is important to its users and/or that it wants to make local search a bigger part of the Facebook experience.

One could also imagine a mobile app, “Facebook Likes,” that provides recommendations from my network and from Facebook users in the aggregate. The “coverage” on such an app would be unmatched because of the data that Facebook will be capturing — data that nobody else will have.

Just like SEO in the past local publishers probably cannot afford not to participate in the Open Graph program. For them the benefits are clear and immediate. But in the long term the benefits to Facebook could be far greater.

The question and uncertain thing is the degree to which Facebook wants to offer its own “local search” results or apps. No one at Facebook has given me any indication that they’re going to do something like this. It just popped into my head yesterday at the F8 event. And Facebook wouldn’t do anything for at least a year or two at the very earliest.

However given the goldmine of data that will be coming from the Like button it will be very tempting to do something at some point.

YPG Launches ‘Urbanizer’ Mobile App

April 21, 2010

Yellow Pages Group yesterday introduced a nouveau iPhone app called “Urbanizer.” It’s highly social, focused solely on restaurants and very nicely designed. Yellow pages branding is almost non-existent. The app is intended to appeal to a young, urban demographic that might not associate the yellow pages with “cool” restaurants and entertainment.

The app incorporates data from YPG’s CanadaPlus cityguide as well as recent acquisition Restaurantica. It utilizes Facebook Connect to build the social graph into the app as well as to broadcast information back through the Facebook news feed. One of the novel dimensions of the app is the ability to make restaurant choices by “mood.”

The rest of this post is at Internet2Go.

Buzz.com Opens to Public

April 20, 2010

I’m at the AD:TECH waiting to do my turn as a marketing master — master! AT&T has just opened Buzz.com to the public:

Buzz.com is accessible at m.buzz.com on select smart phones so users can access friends’ favorites while on the go. Users can expect additional mobile options as the buzz.com teamtaps AT&T mobile app development capabilities through the recent Plusmo acquisition.

At its core, buzz.com leverages the same foundational assets that YP.COM uses to connect millions of users and businesses. Over 21 million business listings, AT&T mobile assets, local business advertiser insight and 5,000+ local market sales counselors contribute to AT&T Interactive’s footprint in the local search industry – and commitment to evolving the experience for consumers and advertisers.

More later . . . but check it out and give me your impressions.

City.com Goes Up Against Yelp

April 20, 2010

When Yelp launched I didn’t dismiss it but was skeptical of its chances in what I thought was then a relatively well-established market. Clearly that skepticism was wrong.

I say that because I also have a sense of skepticism about the chances of the new City.com that just launched last week. However I’m willing to acknowledge that I could be wrong.

City.com is a great URL and offers a generally nice/clean design but is undistinguished otherwise (in my quick tour of the site):

The site aims to be a consumer cityguide destination but also a “one-to-many” marketing resource for SMBs. According to the press release:

In addition to facilitating the creation of hyper-local content, City.com is developing practical direct marketing tools for local merchants . . . City.com is focused on becoming the preeminent relationship manager for local businesses who are seeking cost effective local marketing strategies.  The company has established syndication and content partnerships to enable businesses to better control their business profiles centrally at City.com, while having their invaluable listing data syndicated to over 100 local search providers including Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and YellowPages.com.

One of the ways that Yelp established itself was through local SEO. That route is tougher today than it was in early 2006 when Yelp was first gaining momentum.

The CEO is seeking feedback and opinions about the site. What do you think of it now and how would you assess its chances in the market?

Predicting Twitter’s Impact on Local

April 19, 2010

Andrew Shotland has “penned,” as they used to say, a provocative post at SEL this morning on Twitter’s potential impact on Local with its various geo-related announcements from Chirp (stay tuned for Facebook this week). To summarize this is what Andrew says:

Points of Interest. With Twitter’s points of interest feature, the game is finally afoot. Essentially this means that Twitter will need to create a page or profile for each local business. While it will be cool to see the Twitter stream and the accompanying links, photos, tips, reviews and other info that accompany these geo-tweets, sooner or later (methinks sooner) Twitter is going to want to add standard yellow pages listing data to these profiles to round them out and make them truly useful.

Essentially Andrew is arguing that Twitter will be creating its version of Google Place Pages, with YP listings data.

Promoted Tweets. Now the local chiropractor can have a significant voice in discussions that involve his business (I can hear the reputation management consultants salivating) and he can also target geo-specific discussions about his specialty (e.g. a guy in his service area tweeting about his aching back) . . . Of course, the only way for businesses to do this kind of stuff is to verify that in fact they are the business—you wouldn’t want your competitor impersonating you and buying your keywords would you? And this leads me to believe that Twitter is going to have the equivalent of Google Local Business Center’s verification process. Which again leads me to believe that Twitter is on its way to creating a local search monster. They could quickly become a significant source of accurate, up-to-date business data . . .

Three predictions here: Twitter local business center, Promoted Tweets as paid marketing tool for SMBs and master database

Annotations. The thing I find intriguing for local is that “annotations” is just a fancy word for “tags.” And in local tags can be things like “cool bar,” “best dui attorney,” etc. Now it’s unclear if these tags will start showing up on Twitter, or just on third party applications. But when I think about it, this kind of stuff starts sounding like a yellow pages on steroids.

On the last point (Annotations), I agree that we’ll probably see lots of “reviews” (more like tips) coming out of Twitter associated with particular places and maybe with particular businesses. We’ll have to see the context and structure that gets developed around it. I also think that Twitter will be generating lots of data/metadata but don’t agree that the company will eventually generate a master local database.

On Points of Interest, I don’t agree that Twitter will be creating Place Pages with YP listings data. However a third party (or multiple third parties) might do something like that and Google will likely add related tweets to its Place Pages. Other third parties will do some version of the same. Citysearch was the first among the local sites to do so. (This also raises and implicates the @Anywhere strategy.)

Regarding Promoted Tweets, I believe that Twitter will become a more and more useful marketing tool for SMBs. But this may not extend to Promoted Tweets. As Twitter gets more distribution and tweets become better organized and filtered it’s natural that many SMBs, among others, will adopt it. For example, Bing is starting to index tweets on SERPs that are related to the query, in a more structured way than Google is now doing. Google will probably do something similar over time.

What that means as a practical matter is that SMBs (and others) can use Twitter as a tool to distribute promotional messages in search results potentially tied to their category or business name. In the future someone might do a search, for example, for “San Francisco Dentist” and see a tweet on Bing and maybe Google that read: “50% off a cleaning for new customers.” That’s not being done today but it becomes very possible in the near future.

If Promoted Tweets is very simple to adopt and/or there are enough marketing channels that are helping do it (e.g., Yodle, YP, etc.) you might see adoption by local businesses directly or indirectly. More likely in my mind, however, is greater adoption of “organic” Twitter usage at the local level.

Regardless of whether any of these specific predictions come to pass, I agree with Andrew that Twitter will be impacting local in a potentially significant way.

We’re going to see tons more data at the local level from Twitter and soon Facebook. When you add that to Foursquare, among many others tagging locations, checking in and providing “tips,” it means we will be awash in location information. Not long ago there was limited local data, beyond the listings database and some reviews. Soon we will be swimming in local data and metadata and the challenge will be to organize, filter and make it useful for everybody.

Local Database to Become a Commodity?

April 18, 2010

TechCrunch, seemingly unaware of the the larger context of its suggestion, asserts that it’s time for an “open database of places.” This emerges logically out of the proliferation of local-mobile applications and the common-sense desire to have access to a single, accurate database of local businesses and points of interest (POI) that developers can rely upon. Trouble is, as TC points out, data is frequently regarded as a strategic asset.

Indeed, it is . . .That’s why the Telcos fought all the way to the US Supreme Court (Feist v. Rural Telephone Company (199)” to prevent third parties from gaining easy access to it. Feist made possible the various local databases that exist today and many of the sites that rely on local data. Without this decision there would likely be no Yelp or Foursquare.

This “open database” concept is different version of a similar conversation I had earlier this week with Localeze. We discussed the possibility that the local database would eventually become a “commodity.”

Placecast’s new Match API is an effort to reconcile all the conflicting local data being used by a growing number of players. If it gains widespread usage, what may emerge is a unified local database that can be “re-syndicated” for free or low cost. Regardless of whether this is the precise vehicle, the market is moving toward what TechCrunch is suggesting.

The three main local data providers, InfoUSA, Acxiom and Localeze, are trying to build enhanced datasets or developing new services on top of the base local data. (I wrote about this in the context of Localeze last week.)

All of them recognize that a time is coming when the local and POI data will be widely available for less money than it takes to access it today. Google, for its part, sees this data as strategic and so is collecting more of it itself (via Street View and UGC) and relying less and less on third parties (e.g., TeleAtlas). It’s possible too that Google would at some point seek to be that local data source. Witness the effect Google Navigation — which motivated Nokia to make its navigation free — has had on the PND/GPS market.

From the business side, it would also be great if there were a single database into which local businesses, national chains and other interested parties could enter, correct and enhance their information. However, despite several efforts toward this objective, it remains elusive. No single private company has been able to be the “single point of entry” or syndication for local data.

An effort to create a Wiki-based global directory of local businesses initially failed in the form of Yellowikis. Since that time Brownbook and Bizwiki have emerged, but they are destinations rather than open data providers. Citysearch is aggressively re-syndicating its local data and content though not providing an open database in the sense that TechCrunch is calling for.

Clearly the market wants a free or low-cost local database. So something will emerge that responds to that demand. The questions are:

  • When?
  • How will its accuracy be established and maintained?
  • What’s the business model to support it (e.g., donations, licensing)?

Bad local data can kill a local site or app. Conversely, giving everyone equal access to the same local data would not necessarily make all apps or sites equal; however it would put considerable pressure on the UI/UX and other variables to differentiate.

What do you think about all this and whether an “open local database” will come to pass?

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Related from TC: CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap Surges On Wikipedia-Like User Passion

While this isn’t the same as local business data, perhaps it’s a “proof of concept” for an open-source local database.

Localeze Is Now Like CityGrid (in a Way)

April 14, 2010

I got an update from Localeze yesterday. The company, which is still typically thought of as a local database provider, is evolving into something different. It still provides the local listings database to publishers and local sites. But it is seeking to be a kind of content hub between advertisers/local businesses/franchises and the many and varied online (and mobile) local distribution points:

  • Search engines
  • Directories
  • Verticals
  • Non-traditional local sites (mobile)

I wrote about this some time ago when the company’s new strategy emerged, although it has continued to evolve.

Localeze  has direct relationships with thousands of local (SMB) businesses and national-local businesses. As Localeze’s Jeff Beard was discussing all this with me it struck me that Localeze was now much more like CityGrid than database vendor Axciom.

CityGrid is taking in content (advertisers) and distributing those advertisers and its editorial content to multiple local consumers destinations online and mobile sites/apps. Localeze is is doing a version of the same thing, while trying to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data for the “ecosystem.” Its business model is just a slightly different one; it’s not distributing advertisers per se.

Localeze sees itself more broadly becoming the arbiter of local data for its partner engines/sites as well as the insurer of quality and accuracy for its thousands of local business customers across the Internet. As the one-to-many entry point for many of these businesses Localeze is also doing something that is conceptually similar to what UBL aspires to.

Beard and I spoke about how many people — even in “the industry” — don’t really recognize what Localeze is or is doing today. But in a way he doesn’t care, because his customers all seem to understand.

MerchantCircle Expands Q&A, Says ‘HelloMetro’

April 13, 2010

Social answers or Q&A is quickly becoming a larger part of the local experience. There are a range of Q&A communities and engines out that are wholly or partly local: Aardvark (now part of Google), kgb, ChaCha, Quora, YPG Answers, Yelp has forums, SuperMedia just introduced this today, AT&T’s coming Buzz.com and there are other examples (e.g., Facebook, Twitter to some degree).

And this morning MerchantCircle is expanding its successful Answers program to include the Demand Media-owned AnswerBag service.

The press release does a more succinct job explaining the reciprocal deal than I would:

Through this agreement, questions posted to Answerbag.com will be routed to more than one million members in the MerchantCircle network, and the top responses from merchants on MerchantCircle Answers will be shared with the Answerbag community. As a result, Answerbag users will be able to tap into MerchantCircle’s massive network of experts. MerchantCircle members will also realize a broader distribution of their advice around the Web. Launched in September 2009, MerchantCircle Answers has received nearly 80,000 questions resulting in close to 100,000 responses from MerchantCircle members.

There’s also a parallel deal being announced with city guide HelloMetro, which is somewhat broader in scope:

MerchantCircle has also signed a similar partnership with HelloMetro, a global network of 1500 hyper-local city guides that lets people get to know a city through local articles, history, attractions, real estate, jobs, business listings and more. Through the partnership, consumers will be able to ask questions on more than 1,000 HelloMetro city websites and get answers from local experts they can trust, all powered by MerchantCircle Answers. MerchantCircle will also help HelloMetro business users connect with one another with its social networking system. With both partnerships, MerchantCircle members will receive attribution for their contributions.

In addition MerchantCircle claimed listings (not an advertising category) will become the “featured businesses” on the 1,000-plus HelloMetro sites.

MerchantCircle’s Darren Waddell told me yesterday that roughly 2/3 of MC’s revenues come from advertising (by third parties, e.g., AdSense) and one third from SMBs who opt for MC’s advertising services. We talked a good deal also about future product direction and features. I also asked whether the company, which relies very heavily on SEO, had seen a decline in traffic in the wake of Google’s map and local results taking up more page one real estate.

Waddell said that because MC is more of a long-tail site than most local directories he said that he thought MC had been less impacted than others. He did say there was a drop in traffic but that it seems to be returning to previous levels.

While MC continues to be critiqued by some for its earlier, questionable sales practices it has now become a pretty valuable asset and business network waiting to be scooped up. (The site claims more than 1 million SMB “members.”) I predict we may see that this year or very early next. According to the public information I’ve been able to find the site has only raised about $15 million total. MC would be quite a bit cheaper for a Google to acquire, for example, than Yelp would have been.

Promoted Tweets: ‘Pull’ and ‘Push’

April 13, 2010

Twitter’s business model has emerged. Ironically, yesterday, Bill Gross of IdeaLab (and founder of Overture) announced TweetUp, a keyword-based search marketplace built on a proposed better search engine for Twitter and a group of syndication partners. Last night Twitter announced its own, very similar idea with Promoted Tweets:

Q: What are you launching? What are Promoted Tweets?
A: We are launching the first phase of our Promoted Tweets platform with a handful of innovative advertising partners that include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks, and Virgin America — with more to come. Promoted Tweets are ordinary Tweets that businesses and organizations want to highlight to a wider group of users.

Q. What will users see?
A. You will start to see Tweets promoted by our partner advertisers called out at the top of some Twitter.com search results pages. We strongly believe that Promoted Tweets should be useful to you. We’ll attempt to measure whether the Tweets resonate with users and stop showing Promoted Tweets that don’t resonate. Promoted Tweets will be clearly labeled as “promoted” when an advertiser is paying, but in every other respect they will first exist as regular Tweets and will be organically sent to the timelines of those who follow a brand. Promoted Tweets will also retain all the functionality of a regular Tweet including replying, Retweeting, and favoriting. Only one Promoted Tweet will be displayed on the search results page.

Image source: AdAge

The NY Times echoes how this will work:

When a Twitter user searches for a word an advertiser bought, the promoted message will show up at the top of the results, even if it was written much earlier. The posts say they are promoted by the company in small type, and when someone rolls over a promoted post with a cursor, it turns yellow.

This is paid-search advertising around keywords (though pricing is apparently CPM to start). Ads will also appear in third-party clients and syndicated streams.

This is all very familiar, well established, no big deal. That’s the “pull” dimension. But there’s another “push” (AdSense-like) dimension to all this (per the NY Times):

In the next phase of Twitter’s revenue plan, it will show promoted posts in a user’s Twitter stream, even if a user did not perform a search and does not follow the advertiser.

For example, if someone has been following people who write about travel, they could see a promoted post from Virgin America on holiday fare discounts.

Anyone who uses Google has grown accustomed to seeing ads alongside their search results, but Twitter users could resent seeing promoted posts in their personal content stream.

Twitter is aware of that risk. It is still figuring out how to determine which promoted posts should appear. It could be based on topics they are writing about, geographic location or shared interests of people they follow.

This second, “involuntary” dimension of the program will apparently roll out later and very carefully. Though all the ads are substantially text-based, what you’ve got in the two components is direct response and awareness ads.

Predictably there’s positive and negative reaction to the second part, which is premature. We can’t begrudge Twitter a way to make a living.

______

It’s worth revisiting the Twitter “business model contest” that happened a little over a year ago. Search and contextual advertising are of course among the many suggestions in the submissions.

Yelp: We Were Sued Because of Funding

April 12, 2010

As the various Yelp class actions proceed and rumors about sales practices swirl he company is making stepped up efforts, using the unfortunate phrase, to “open the kimono.” We’re seeing more PR outreach and visibility from Yelp, now a major Internet brand.

Yelp executives have been speaking at more conferences and there have been many more news articles, in part driven by the controversy, about the company. When Yahoo dropped out of the “local search engines” panel at SMX West at the last minute it was logical to replace them with Yelp, given the stature of the company.

In a piece appearing on the CNN Money website the argument is made that Yelp is being sued by lawyers who want a piece of the company’s recent $100 million funding:

The lawsuits, [Corp. Communications VP Vince] Sollitto points out, came after Yelp’s $500 million dalliance with a Google buyout fell through, leading to a new $100 million investment from Elevation Partners earlier this year. Yelp believes it’s dollar signs, not business practices, which brought out the attorneys. “Lawsuits often come to companies around financing rounds, that is a fact of life,” says Sollitto.

While it’s the financial prize that undoubtedly caused some lawyers to find the plaintiffs to bring the various suits, the confusion and frustration animating them were building for some time — partly a result of some early arrogance on Yelp’s part. Now that the company has “grown up,” as the article headline asserts, it has taken a much more balanced view and made greater outreach to local businesses recognizing that it much educate them in order to get their ad dollars.

As I’ve said before I tend to be very skeptical of the review manipulation claims but the facts will out.

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I like how Yelp CEO and co-founder Russell Simmons look less like startup execs than members of an indie rock band in the photo associated with the CNN Money article:

Credit: David Yellen

Yelp Makes Changes to Promote Trust

April 6, 2010

In an effort to create more trust and “transparency,” Yelp said this morning that the company was taking two additional steps:

  • Adding the ability to see reviews filtered by the company’s review filter
  • Discontinuing the “Favorite Review” feature that’s part of the Yelp advertising package

According to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s post:

Why? Because while Yelp has seen tremendous growth in just a few years, we’re still new to a lot of people. Despite our best efforts to educate consumers and the small business community, myths about Yelp have persisted. We’ve said all along we believe these incorrect notions stem from the combination of the filter and this advertising feature — and we’re practicing what we preach. Lifting the veil on our review filter and doing away with “Favorite Review” will make it even clearer that displayed reviews on Yelp are completely independent of advertising — or any sort of manipulation. We also hope it will demonstrate the importance of a safeguard such as our filter and the unique challenge we face daily to maintain the integrity of the review content on our site.

As indicated by Stoppelman, this is a direct effort to combat perceptions and claims that Yelp is manipulating reviews on the basis of whether or not a local business is an advertiser. It’s obviously a positive step for Yelp and is in part motivated by the lawsuits pending against the company.

Do you believe these moves will address some of the (mis)perceptions of local advertisers?

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Here’s the press release.

YPA Research Head Defends Print YP

April 5, 2010

Larry Small, Yellow Pages Association research director, defended the yellow pages (print) today in a column at Search Engine Land, and further unpacked the recent study I also blogged about:

In order to make an informed decision, however, local businesses need to be up-to-speed with current usage patterns as they relate to both traditional and new digital advertising options. They also should be aware of how Yellow Pages companies are integrating new platforms into their portfolios in order to deliver a hybrid model that maximizes consumer reach and drives business results. In some cases, one’s perception about how people are searching for business information and the services that Yellow Pages partners provide is different than the reality.

The bottom line is that that local market continues to fragment. The challenge for local businesses is to decide where to put their limited resources in that fragmented market, when they’re getting 10 calls a day from competing publishers and sales channels. The noise and confusion show no signs of abating.

Increasingly some of those SMBs will turn to self-service and free social media (FB, Twitter) and some will turn to group buying, which doesn’t represent an upfront cash outlay. But there remains a big opportunity for trusted third parties to manage the SMB ad spend across multiple platforms.

The challenge for traditional media and publishers of all stripes is how to prove the value of their more expensive traditional offerings (e.g., print) as usage further fragments, though remains strong among some demographic segments.

Fablistic: Getting to the Short List

April 2, 2010

Malcolm Lewis’ new startup is called Fablistic (Lewis was the founder of PremierGuide, which he sold to Local.com). It’s part of a new group of local sites — though Fablistic is broader than local — which try to “get you to the short list,” in Lewis’ words.

There are no reviews, only recommendations as reflected in the compiled and ranked lists.

The site is evolving so it’s a bit of a work in progress, but the concept behind it is compelling: enable people to see recommendations (lists) from friends and colleagues (or those they follow) across a broad range of categories. It’s a bit like the old LivingSocial, which shifted and become a Groupon clone.

Of course it’s integrated with Facebook Connect.

It shares a conceptual approach and orientation with AlikeList and Tellmewhere – and with the new direction of CityVoter. In a sense it’s a cousin of “best of” lists that have been around forever, but reinvented in a post-Facebook, post-Twitter world.

People develop lists over time and then those lists and rankings can be shared and sorted according to several criteria. I can search, for example, for books, wines, movies and restaurants (among other categories) and then sort by a variety of filters.

Those filters include most popular, people I’m following or “just me.” The latter capability means I can use this site as a way to compile my own lists, as a “memory aid,” and consult them online — or in mobile later. (No app here yet.)

While many of the use cases are going to be similar to existing verticals or IYPs, these new types of “recommendations” engines or directories — Buzz.com is AT&T’s entry — are a potential successor in many circumstances. We’ll have to see, but they’re more mobile friendly and, if they can get the content and gain adoption, many people will likely embrace them as new directories for a more “cloudy” and socially networked world.


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