February 4, 2009

Google Launches Dodgeball…sort of

A while back, Google acquired Dodgeball…a tool that used your phone’s SMS feature to network with your friends to find out where they are so you could hook up with them.

After Google’s acquisition, Dodgeball seemed to get lost in the fray and Google never did anything with it, leading to a public blog post on why the founders quit.

It’s no real secret that Google wasn’t supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us - especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I’m actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.

Recently, Google started cutting a number of their properties/features. The Dodgeball site warns that the site will be shut down in stages.

This prompted Dodgeball cofounder, Dennis Crowley to say:

So what’s next? Well I don’t know how many days we have left (30 days? 90 days?), but I’ve always said that it Google ever kills dodgeball, I’l build you guys a new one, so stayed tuned.

Fast forward to today: Search for “dodgeball google” in Google Search and you’ll find a sponsored link for Google Latitude.

Ad for Google Latitude

Google Latitude appears to be another way for users to hook up based on feedback from Google users who wanted to find their friends on a map. It also allows you to provide a short status similar to Facebook or Twitter. It uses maps instead of SMS as the interface and can be accessed either from your desktop’s web browser or from a phone by visiting google.com/latitude in your phone’s browser (it is unclear when/if this could be integrated in a future firmware upgrade for the iPhone to integrate into the Google Maps Application rather than requiring access through a browser but it is easily foreseeable having his integrated into the Android phone OS at a minimum).

Some screenshots provided by Google are below:
Google Latitude - Your friends on a map Google Latitude - Your friends’ status messages

Greg Sterling provides us with more details at SEL. including a statement that Latitude is not based on prior technologies (i.e. Dodgeball or Jaiku) but utilizes their triangulation/GPS capabilities.

Unfortunately, accessing the service through my iPhone shows a coming soon page. Apparently, J2ME and iPhone versions are not yet available:
Screenshot of Google Latitude on iPhone

Google Latitude is a feature of Google Maps for mobile on these phones:

  • Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
  • iPhone and iPod touch devices (coming soon)
  • most color BlackBerry devices
  • most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
  • most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)
  • many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices (coming soon)
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October 21, 2008

Mapquest iPhone Site Launches

Mapquest announced that they launched their iPhone/iPod touch site.

I went to check it out. Just go to their homepage with an iphone and you’ll be taken there automagically.

The web-based application is pretty slick, acting like Google’s app that sits on the deck by allowing you to use your finger to pan around, etc. Other than a bit of lag time during some requests, I’m surprised it hasn’t crashed on me yet…Safari tends to be fickle with lots of sites utilizing enough javascript. I do, however, wish that they pre-populated the forms based on prior searches (conducting a map lookup then going to the directions page, or vice versa, loses your input). They also solved another issue I’ve had with the iPhone…clearing out the form. Check out the “x” inside the input form elements that you can click to clear the form. Good work, guys!

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June 2, 2008

Pushing Coupons & Offers to Mobile Devices

VentureBeat reports on Intera Group’s use of Bluetooth to deliver coupons/offers to mobile devices as they walk by/near locations for which the offers are for:

Over the past seven months, Intera and the pier’s Hard Rock Cafe have sent 100,000 messages to consumers walking by with their cell phones in the “discoverable? Bluetooth mode. The Hard Rock sends promotions that are immediately redeemable at the restaurant or store. Bob Boemer, head of sales and marketing for the local Hard Rock, said in a statement that the results have been outstanding.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Intera Group is a 20-year-old company that operates several thousand pay phones around the country. It started the proximity marketing business in part to take advantage of the fact that some of its pay phones are in ideal locations, such as at Pier 39, where 12 million tourists visit every year.

[T]he company has set up a number of Bluetooth networks at Pier 39, covering about 5 percent of the area. Each Bluetooth network is set up near a place where people congregate for a long time, such as a spot for viewing sea lions, a tour bus waiting area, or the queue for the aquarium.

As annoying as these marketing messages could be, Thornton says that the company hasn’t gotten a single complaint yet.

One reason is that the Bluetooth messages are carried wirelessly over a 200-foot range radio network, making them much more relevant as ads, location wise….Also, consumers have to put their phones in “discover? to receive the messages.

After the successful test, Thornton said he is hopeful the Hard Rock will roll the ad system out in more locations. Other places that can use it are gas stations, hotels, and high-trafficked tourist spots.

As far as a business model, Intera could rely on more than one nearby customer to either pay a flat rate or compete for attention (you’d need a sufficient number of customers to drive prices sufficiently high enough or set a floor). Bluetooth is definitely an intersting way to go…the article estimates 20% of people have their phone discoverable with Bluetooth (watch out for security issues).

The company that will figure out a better way to do this will do well…they’ll have to figure out a way to get a larger number of customers/advertisers (this has been difficult for web and mobile coupon/offers products) as well as increase their reach in a scalable/cheap way. Utilizing Bluetooth requires multiple devices installed in a small area to get sufficient coverage. If someone were to be able to build something utilizing GPS and SMS despite various technical limitations (i.e. unable to run in the background on many mobile devices to poll for location and any nearby offers, etc), I can imagine having a successful model. This may not be easy but it is definitely not far fetched.

It’s a matter of time before people start understanding how distance form a user’s search location becomes far more relevant in the mobile space than on the web where people may search from the center of a big city or postal code.

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February 15, 2008

Mobile World Panel on Apple’s Success

The Mobile World Panel had an interesting analogy in trying to describe the iPhone’s success:

Panelist Mike Yonker, general manager of worldwide strategy and operations for Texas Instruments’ wireless terminals business unit, said that the way for the user to get the rich content now available on a mobile handset is through the “search” function. But this isn’t so easy. He compared the limitations of a mobile handset to a full personal computer screen.

Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but “through a drive-up window.” No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window.

The dilemma, left unsolved by the panelists, was how to squeeze the user through that window, past the cashier, to sample all the things in the store, without guilt, while still feeling grateful to the cashier who seemed, all along, to be standing in the way.

Everyone agreed that, so far, only Apple has been able to turn this trick. For users, “the content is the core,” said Lipman of Power2B somewhat ruefully, “and we have to get out of their way.”

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January 1, 2008

WhatsOpen Launches

So it seems WhatsOpen has finally launched.

It’s a site where users can search for what’s open. Type in your location and what you’re looking for (i.e. a coffee shop) and get search results of what’s currently open.

It’s a perfect fit for a mobile application.

Adena Schutzberg notes the following:

The writer at Local Tech Wire (WRAL - Raleigh/Durham, NC) notes it looks pretty good for his known orbit of coffee shops, but points out his favorite mexican places don’t show up in searches for burritos. I searched for “coffee” in “modesto” and learned about the Coffee Family Dental. Also annoying: hours do not seem to be day of the week dependent. I bet that dentist’s office is not open on Sunday, for example.

The site shows hours on the left without any mention of the day of the week. It’s entirely possible that they do factor day of the week in but only display the hours for “today” in order to save space in their UI. However, when I searched for coffee shops near my house, I got results for what appears to be all coffee shops in my area. I searched at 8:30 am and got business that weren’t opening until 10am or later (according to their left nav results).

I love the concept for mobile devices. As a matter of fact, we have been working on this for a while now at YellowBot. We’re currently building and testing internally but we have exposed part of it for more user feedback. You can go to the iPhone YellowBot site and start checking results where, next to the hours, you’ll be told if the business is opened, closed, opening soon, etc…and, it is day of the week dependent.

We’ll be releasing the “search by what is currently open” functionality shortly (and are debating whether to default to this behavior on mobile devices) hopefully soon if we don’t reprioritize based on upcoming projects.

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