Lior Ron: Google Hotpot is About Collecting Relevancy Signals

At the BIA/Kelsey ILM East 2011 conference this morning, we heard from Lior Ron, the Group Product Manager for Google Places (including Maps and Hotpot).

A couple of interesting information points came out:

  • Google Places contains 50M places around the world
  • They felt they were missing “people” in the local equation and that’s why they launched Google Hotpot
  • Hotpot is all about organizing the web around people and places and is a local recommendation engine.
  • Hotpot now has generated more than 3M reviews and ratings (see this BIA/Kelsey post from last week for more data points)

Lior Ron said that Hotpot is not about Google building another silo or reviews site. It’s about collecting short signals to enable better ranking/relevancy. A few conference attendees were not convinced by that statement.

Twitter's Ineluctable March Towards Local Relevancy

Multiple news in the last few days points towards Twitter and Facebook becoming serious forces in the world of “local”.

First, in yet another chapter of Twitter’s improvements to become locally relevant, it has started rolling out its “local trends” for a series of US cities and ome countries (probably based on the ones with the most usage).

Twitter Local Trends Techcrunch screenshot

Screenshot source: Techcrunch

On a related note, the Kelsey Group analysts issued five predictions for 2010 and one of them is “location and geotargeted advertising will represent a long-elusive revenue stream for Twitter and for third parties that mash up Twitter streams and location data.” They also suggest Facebook will also “integrate automatic location detection into the status updates” .

Third, supporting the permanent shift of user behavior towards sites like Facebook and Twitter, Forrester reports that “a third of all Internet users in the U.S. now post status updates on social networking services like Twitter and Facebook at least once per week.”

Fourth, David Hornik, a well-known American investor, recently attended a Procter & Gamble (P&G) outreach event in Silicon Valley. Asked what they thought of Twitter, Hornik writes: “To P&G, Twitter is a great broadcast medium — it is best for one to many communications that are short bursts of timely information — but as good as it is for timely information, the P&G folks do not view it as particularly relevant to what they are doing on the brand building and advertising side. For those things that Proctor & Gamble thinks are most interesting and important, they do not believe that Twitter will ever approach the value they can get out of a Google or Facebook.” This reminds me of what big brands think of Yellow Pages as a medium. They don’t understand it but it’s still drives business for millions of advertisers. Twitter will be (is?) all about the same thing. And for the record, I’ve always thought packaged-goods companies could have made a killing with Yellow Pages by making their product information locally-relevant…

Fifth, Hitwise’s traffic reports in Australia (as reported in ReadWriteWeb) show that “For perhaps the first time ever, social networking sites have surpassed the traffic search engines receive”. That would explain why in the long run Google is afraid of the new conversational capacity of sites like Facebook and Twitter. And why they’re racing to
introduce
social functionalities within Google Maps.

What it means: Twitter and Facebook are both on their way to becoming serious local discovery and communication tools. It is happening.

Twitter's Ineluctable March Towards Local Relevancy

Multiple news in the last few days points towards Twitter and Facebook becoming serious forces in the world of “local”.

First, in yet another chapter of Twitter’s improvements to become locally relevant, it has started rolling out its “local trends” for a series of US cities and ome countries (probably based on the ones with the most usage).

Twitter Local Trends Techcrunch screenshot

Screenshot source: Techcrunch

On a related note, the Kelsey Group analysts issued five predictions for 2010 and one of them is “location and geotargeted advertising will represent a long-elusive revenue stream for Twitter and for third parties that mash up Twitter streams and location data.” They also suggest Facebook will also “integrate automatic location detection
into the status updates” .

Third, supporting the permanent shift of user behavior towards sites like Facebook and Twitter, Forrester reports that “a third of all Internet users in the U.S. now post status updates on social networking services like Twitter and Facebook at least once per week.”

Fourth, David Hornik, a well-known American investor, recently attended a Procter & Gamble (P&G) outreach event in Silicon Valley. Asked what they thought of Twitter, Hornik writes: “To P&G, Twitter is a great broadcast medium — it is best for one to many communications that are short bursts of timely information — but as good as it is for timely information, the P&G folks do not view it as particularly relevant to what they are doing on the brand building and advertising side. For those things that Proctor & Gamble thinks are most interesting and important, they do not believe that Twitter will ever approach the value they can get out of a Google or Facebook.” This reminds me of what big brands think of Yellow Pages as a medium. They don’t understand it but it’s still drives business for millions of advertisers. Twitter will be (is?) all about the same thing. And for the record, I’ve always thought packaged-goods companies could have made a killing with Yellow Pages by making their product information locally-relevant…

Fifth, Hitwise’s traffic reports in Australia (as reported in ReadWriteWeb) show that “For perhaps the first time ever, social networking sites have surpassed the traffic search engines receive”. That would explain why in the long run Google is afraid of the new conversational capacity of sites like Facebook and Twitter. And why they’re racing to
introduce
social functionalities within Google Maps.

What it means: Twitter and Facebook are both on their way to becoming serious local discovery and communication tools. It is happening.

Google "Twitterizes" its Merchant Profile Pages

Google just launched a “status update” field that merchants can use to send real-time messages to their profile page (i.e. Place Pages) in Google Maps. Accessible from the Local Business Center dashboard (which means it’s only available to businesses who have claimed their listing), you can read more about it on the Google LatLong blog.

Excerpt:

Holding a special event today? Want to post a coupon for 5-7pm tonight? Have a new product in stock? You can now get the word out by posting to your Place Page directly from your Local Business Center dashboard. Once you’ve logged in and are on your business’ dashboard, post an update and it will go live on your Place Page in just a few minutes. To see an example, check out the Place Page for Mission Mountain Winery which posted to introduce a new wine.

What it means: After Facebook, Google is now having real-time envy (or is that Twitter envy?). This is a small addition but it tells a lot about the product direction. As you can see in the example, attribution for the message is showing it’s coming “From the owner”. Expect Google to allow users to give that kind of real-time feedback in the future, hereby improving on user ratings/reviews. You can also expect broadcast bridges to other social networks.

If I was in Facebook’s or Twitter’s shoes, I would move quickly and enter the structured local business listings world by offering pre-populated fan pages (for Facebook) and merchant profiles (for Twitter). This would simplify the entry for SMEs and basically enable a “claim your profile” function on those two social networks. It also would simplify the mass structuring of real-time content (which is very valuable).

The Real-Time Local War Is Heating Up

A deluge of important news in the local social space this morning, all very relevant from a local strategy point of view.

  1. Yesterday afternoon, PaidContent detailed AOL’s, Yahoo’s and MSN’s aggressive plans for local. All three are attracted by potential local advertising revenues. The article says “Microsoft could integrate content from local bloggers”. As for Yahoo!, they recently “rolled out a new service called “Neighbors,” which lets users ask others in their neighborhood questions”.
  2. In this interview with Stephan Uhrenbacher, Qype’s founder, he reveals the site now has 17.7m monthly unique visitors. He also says that in Germany, Qype is ” larger than the yellow pages in terms of traffic”. From reading between the lines, Qype is thinking about implementing a game mechanism (or reward system) and a check-in system à la Foursquare, two features I recommended in my “perfect local media company in 2014” presentation.
  3. Google just shipped QR code stickers to the 190,000 most popular Google local US businesses. A QR code can be scanned/photographed by a camera phone and links to the Google profile page in Google Maps when activated. The Techcrunch article adds “Local businesses can also set up coupon offers through their Google directory page, which would turn the QR code into a mobile coupon”. Mobile + QR code + coupons = monetization strategy for the real-time Web. Another important data point: “There are now over a million local businesses which have claimed their Google local listing”. Does Google need the Yellow Pages sales forces anymore?
  4. Citysearch partners with Twitter to offer tools to small businesses. Citysearch will display “tweets” on merchant pages, offer the opportunity to merchants to create their Twitter account and offer a reputation management service. A Gigaom article says “Citysearch says it has direct relationships with some 200,000 local merchants”. These things will all be required features of any local search site within a few months.
  5. Techcrunch reveals this morning that Aardvark, the social Question & Answer service, is considering an $30M+ acquisition offer from Google. The service allows people to ask questions to their friends and to the network using instant messenging and social networks.

What it means: expect these kind of partnerships, acquisitions and features deployment to speed up as industry players try to capture market share of the real-time local/social Web. Expect Facebook to make a lot of noise as well in the next few weeks (the aforementioned Gigaom article asks “who wants to take bets on how many hours till Facebook Local launches?”). They are the 900-pound gorilla. In 12 months, we will already have a good idea who will win and who will lose in that space.

I don’t want to sound like an informercial but my company Praized Media foresaw the rise of social Q&A services like Aardvark and that’s why we introduced our Answers module (currently used by Yellow Pages Group) which enables consumers to ask local questions to their network of friends. Based on market evolution, we’re also developing a white-label reputation management service that will enable social media monitoring and small merchant Twitter sign-ups (like what Citysearch is doing) because we believe it’s going to be needed in every local media company in the future. Our real-time search module also allows any media publisher to display related “tweets” on merchant profile pages. And we’re also preparing an eCouponing module to monetize all that real-time activity. We’re basically building the whole social media toolkit for local media publishers. End of infomercial. 🙂

CanPages.ca Introduces Its Own Street View Feature

According to CTV’s Chris Abel, CanPages.ca, the local search site of [praized subtype=”small” pid=”58d245fd7e8f20800dee0ecd3af21f08″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], the independent Canadian directory publisher, has launched its own Street View feature. CanPages has partnered with San Francisco-based MapJack to deploy this technology in Canada.  Abel says it’s very similar to Google Street View but includes new features such as “a fullscreen mode and paths that explore pedestrian walkways as much as they do the streets ruled by cars and trucks.”

You can see it in searches in Vancouver, Whistler, or Squamish (all in British Columbia). As for future expansion, “the company plans to expand to include Street Views of Toronto and Montreal next, followed by as much of Canada as possible.”

Vancouver Street View Canpages

In the last few days, an ad for a video camera operator has appeared in a Quebec job site, making people think Google was going to capture Quebec City in Street View. It’s possible but I suspect it might be an ad for the first French Canadian street view deployment of CanPages.ca.

What it means: looking at the introduction of new features inside the CanPages.ca site in the last 6-12 months, it’s clear that the exec team there has identified feature gaps inside YellowPages.ca, the main property of Yellow Pages Group (and directory incumbent in Canada) and are trying to differentiate themselves via those new features. It’s a good strategic move. On the other side, YPG has a mapping agreement with Microsoft and I’m fairly certain the Redmond giant is also taking street view pictures (many people on Twitter have reported seeing the Microsoft vehicle taking pictures). This will certainly be easy for YPG to deploy once it’s available in Canada. As I reported a few weeks ago, the new DexKnows.com has a nice integration of Google Maps and Street View.

Google Latitude: Google's Next Platform Play

This morning, Google announced the launch of Google Latitude, its location-based mobile social networking application for mobile devices. Similar to other products like Loopt, Whrrl and Brightkite, it allows users to position themselves on a Google map (either manually or using your phone’s GPS), leave a status update message (like on Twitter or Facebook) and share (or not) that information (location and message) with your friends.

Google Latitude

Although the current service does not really innovate vs. the other three players I mentioned above, what’s very powerful is the ability to invite all your Gmail contacts (your “friends”) to connect to you in your mobile social network. Google understands that a large portion of your social graph resides in your e-mail software. Privacy is of utmost importance in a service like this and you can decide on various privacy settings for each friend. There is a nice online integration as well through an iGoogle application allowing you to interact with the service there.

What it means: think of Latitude as the next platform play for Google. Expect them to integrate it with Google Friend Connect to allow anyone to use those pieces of technology inside their own Web sites. I firmly believe that kind of feature/site infrastructure (friends/location/status updates) will be used by a majority of sites in the next five years and Google is hoping to capture a large portion of that market. Facebook, with its far superior Facebook Connect, is already ahead of Google on the friend infrastructure side but will need to play catchup and launch their own local/social platform as well in order to compete in that field.