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 27, 2008

My Latest Project: Local Search Canada

In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been working on, it’s a Canadian local search company called weblocal.ca.

It is based on the YellowBot platform and I’m really excited about it’s launch. There is a contest there so make sure to go an enter the contest and review locations!

In any case, I’ll be traveling this week to Montreal. If you think you’d like to meet up or there is some sort of tech/startup meetup, make sure to let me know!

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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

Inside EveryBlock

Rex Sorgatz had An Interview with Adrian Holovaty. Adrian created ChicagoCrime.org (now redirects to his new venture, EveryBlock) back when we would have to use hacked methods (rather than an API) to use google maps (such as the Google Maps Standalone method).

Adrian talks about some of the challenges at EveryBlock which definitely rang a bell with me. Here are a few interesting passages that developers in the local space and/or aggregators of data may be able to relate with:

One of our post-launch priorities is to clean up the fire-hose of raw information, to introduce concepts of priority and improved relevance — but I do think there’s a certain appeal to that raw dump of “here’s everything that’s happened around this address, in simple, reverse-chronological order.” When significant events happen, they sort of “POP out” of the list.

The first layer is the army of scripts that compile data from all over the Web. This includes public APIs, private APIs, screen-scraping the “deep Web,” crawling news sites, plus harvesting data from PDFs and other non-Web-friendly documents. Some data also comes to us manually, like in spreadsheets e-mailed to us on a weekly basis. For each bit of data, we determine geographic relevance and normalize it so that it fits into our system.

The second layer is the data storage layer, which we built in a way that can handle an arbitrary number of data types, each with arbitrary attributes. For example, a restaurant inspection has a violation (or multiple violations), whereas a crime has a crime type (e.g., homicide). Of course, we want to be able to query across that whole database to get a geographic “slice,” so there’s a strong geo focus baked into everything.

The user interface was, and continues to be, a challenge. How do you display so many disparate pieces of data together, without overwhelming people?

Dealing with structured data is relatively easy, but attempting to determine structure from unstructured data is a challenge. The main example of unstructured data parsing is our geocoding of news articles. We do a pretty good job here, but we’re not crawling all of the sources we want to crawl — again, there’s a lot of room to grow.

On a completely different note, it’s been a challenge to acquire data from governments. We (namely Dan, our People Person) have been working since July to request formal data feeds from various agencies, and we’ve run into many roadblocks there, from the political to the technical. We expected that, of course, but the expectation doesn’t make it any less of a challenge.

Rather than use Google Maps or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, you built your own mapping service application. Why?

That, along with “When will you bring EveryBlock to city XXX?”, is by far the most frequently asked question we get. Paul, our developer in charge of maps, is working on an article explaining our reasoning, so I don’t want to steal his thunder. I’ll just say that the existing free maps APIs are optimized for driving directions and wayfinding, not for data visualization. And, besides, having non-clichéd maps is an easy way to set yourself apart. Google Maps is so 2005. ;-)

We use an open-source library called Mapnik to render the maps, so that library does the heavy lifting for us. Paul is also working on a how-to article, in the spirit of giving back to the open-source community, that explains how to use Mapnik.

I strongly suspect we’ll have an API eventually

[via kottke]

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January 8, 2008

FAST Aqcuired by Microsoft

Microsoft made a $1.2 Billion bid to aqcuire Fast Search & Transfer.

FAST provides search technology to many sites you may be unaware of. Some of the local search sites that use it, for example, include Citysearch and YellowPages.com.

Microsoft says:

In addition to bolstering Microsoft’s enterprise search efforts, this acquisition increases Microsoft’s research and development presence in Europe

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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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November 27, 2007

ILM 2007

I’ll be seeing some of the regular readers of this blog at The Kelsey Group’s Interactive Local Media 2007 conference, which, for the first year, will be 1) in association with Search Engine Strategies Local and 2) in Los Angeles.

I’ll be a speaker on the Convergence of Local Media and Directories panel.

If you’re going, send me an email so we can meet up! :-)

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October 3, 2007

The Future of Maps: 3D Immersion

Techcrunch points out Earthmine, a sort of Google Streetview but with tagging, higher resolution photos, and more details.

[I]magine you’re a restaurant owner who wants to entice potential customers by tagging the outside of your diner within a 3D panorama with menu information and digital coupons.

What this all means is that Earthmine’s system can keep track of the objects found in the real world and attribute information to each of them (a process known as “asset mapping?).

There seems to be a growing number of companies in this arena. I’ve emailed/talked briefly with Danny Moon of UpNext, Jeff Brandes of Everyscape, and others. I really like what these sites are doing and what they are planning to do. More to come when I can talk about it some more. ;-)

The interface definitely has a coolness factor. However, finding the information you are looking for still needs some work. I imagine some sort of combination between traditional local search and these 3D immersive technologies may lead to a useful product…so it was no suprise to me when Google came out with their Street View product (and what also fuels the speculation that they could build a Second Life competitor). Blending online and offline will lead to a better product. Whether you sue this immersive map, mobile phones with GPS integrated with maps, or even QR Codes that you can take a picture of with your mobile phone and be automatically taken to an appropriate website, menu (if it is a restaurant), or map (for example).

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October 2, 2007

Yahoo Adds Local OneBox

Yahoo has announced that they have added and improved their one box (a “box” at the top with some quick answers to search queries):

Whatever it is you want to do: research a topic, find a website, plan a vacation, research a medical condition, view a funny video, or any of the other billions of queries we get from users — their intents expressed via a few keywords in a search box.

Search Engine Journal notes that this has been applied to Local results but seems to be heavily weighted towards hotels & restaurants which are often the top categories searched for (and reviewed, and …).

The most influential and useful Yahoo Shortcuts seem to revolve around the travel and hospitality industries in terms of Hotels and Restaurants. These Shortcuts emphasize the user generated content, the true power of the Yahoo Network’s Local Search, in user reviews and ratings.

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