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.

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Sergey Brin: “We Already Have Fairly Substantial Revenues From Geo Local”

Last Thursday, during [praized subtype=”small” pid=”3860b2c64636cc5633b387557a048bc9″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s Q3 results call, Youssef Squali from [praized subtype=”small” pid=”b6c57ce562d66b762c5095335be04e52b4″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] asked for more details about Google’s strategy and progress around local search:

“You talked earlier about GeoLocal with product like Maps and Earth is big monetization opportunity, so we have talked about them for a long time and they remain opportunities. One of the issues there has been this direct access to the advertisers to the local merchant. Have you – are we any – are we closer to cracking the code on that?”

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder answered:

“Certainly GeoLocal has been a substantial source of investments on the part of our company and you are absolutely right. I think it is a really big monetization opportunity but it is going to have a pretty long bootstrap time because there are so many small businesses and you have to get them all in the loop. Technology is evolving quickly with respect to things shifting to mobile phones and some of them will have GPS now, some of them do not, some have cell ID different device and things. I do think that this is an investment that we are going to have to keep investing in for some time till we get really big payoff.  I should mention we already have fairly substantial revenues from geo local, so it is not the case but somehow this is I mean this is a good chunk of our business and I expect that when we do finally bootstrap lots and lots of local advertisers. When there is some settling of the best user experiences for doing this both on mobile devices as well as on the desktops, I think you will see a substantial ramp there.”

Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP Product Management, added:

“The biggest thing I would reinforce from Sergey’s comments is, this is an area where we are winning. Maps is the most popular mapping site in the world. We have got all sorts of data now for over 160 countries. We are also doing some very exciting things in terms of ramping our ability to get data for areas where there are not very good maps, where we are harnessing the power of users to enter information in. On the local side, what we are doing really goes beyond the traditional Yellow Page types of activities and I mean we are taking all the information that a business would want or a user to see; reviews, hours of operations, photos, web results, and we are embedding all of those on to these maps which have a great deal of traffic. So, if you just run a query, steakhouse in Chicago or something like that and when you click on the map and select a particular listing, you can now do things like click on Street View and actually see the restaurant. So we are very pleased with the traffic that is being driven.  One other thing I would actually suggest you try one of the coolest maps applications I saw. Go to swisstrains.ch to see the precision of Swiss trains in real-time and you will actually get a visceral sense of what it is going to be like for people when all of this stuff works on their browsers and works in mobile devices.

Source: “Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript” from Seeking Alpha

What it means: what Google is really saying: we’ve been very successful from a user point of view with our Google Maps sites throughout the world. We’re getting good revenues from local search but it could be better.  We’re still struggling to reach the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the bulk of offline local search revenues. But, once we crack the code, it will be big. Watch for disruption happening through mobile devices and technologies.

Sergey Brin: "We Already Have Fairly Substantial Revenues From Geo Local"

Last Thursday, during [praized subtype=”small” pid=”3860b2c64636cc5633b387557a048bc9″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s Q3 results call, Youssef Squali from [praized subtype=”small” pid=”b6c57ce562d66b762c5095335be04e52b4″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] asked for more details about Google’s strategy and progress around local search:

“You talked earlier about GeoLocal with product like Maps and Earth is big monetization opportunity, so we have talked about them for a long time and they remain opportunities. One of the issues there has been this direct access to the advertisers to the local merchant. Have you – are we any – are we closer to cracking the code on that?”

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder answered:

“Certainly GeoLocal has been a substantial source of investments on the part of our company and you are absolutely right. I think it is a really big monetization opportunity but it is going to have a pretty long bootstrap time because there are so many small businesses and you have to get them all in the loop. Technology is evolving quickly with respect to things shifting to mobile phones and some of them will have GPS now, some of them do not, some have cell ID different device and things. I do think that this is an investment that we are going to have to keep investing in for some time till we get really big payoff.  I should mention we already have fairly substantial revenues from geo local, so it is not the case but somehow this is I mean this is a good chunk of our business and I expect that when we do finally bootstrap lots and lots of local advertisers. When there is some settling of the best user experiences for doing this both on mobile devices as well as on the desktops, I think you will see a substantial ramp there.”

Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP Product Management, added:

“The biggest thing I would reinforce from Sergey’s comments is, this is an area where we are winning. Maps is the most popular mapping site in the world. We have got all sorts of data now for over 160 countries. We are also doing some very exciting things in terms of ramping our ability to get data for areas where there are not very good maps, where we are harnessing the power of users to enter information in. On the local side, what we are doing really goes beyond the traditional Yellow Page types of activities and I mean we are taking all the information that a business would want or a user to see; reviews, hours of operations, photos, web results, and we are embedding all of those on to these maps which have a great deal of traffic. So, if you just run a query, steakhouse in Chicago or something like that and when you click on the map and select a particular listing, you can now do things like click on Street View and actually see the restaurant. So we are very pleased with the traffic that is being driven.  One other thing I would actually suggest you try one of the coolest maps applications I saw. Go to swisstrains.ch to see the precision of Swiss trains in real-time and you will actually get a visceral sense of what it is going to be like for people when all of this stuff works on their browsers and works in mobile devices.

Source: “Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript” from Seeking Alpha

What it means: what Google is really saying: we’ve been very successful from a user point of view with our Google Maps sites throughout the world. We’re getting good revenues from local search but it could be better.  We’re still struggling to reach the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the bulk of offline local search revenues. But, once we crack the code, it will be big. Watch for disruption happening through mobile devices and technologies.

YouTube videos in Google Maps: Local Video SEO

Google just announced that you can now embed YouTube videos in merchant profiles in Google Maps. Videos are displayed in the “Photos & Videos” tab in the extended listing bubble that appears when you click on a listing.

“Local business owners can easily add YouTube videos along with other content such as business details, photos, and descriptions to their listings. To do so, simply upload your videos to YouTube and ensure that the ’embed’ option is turned on. Then, associate your video to your business listing through the Local Business Center.” A bit difficult for the average small merchant but fairly easy if you run a local SEO program.

The Google blog points to this example, I Dream of Cake in San Francisco.

I Dream of Cake San Francisco Google Maps YouTube Videos

What it means: most major North American directory publishers have launched their local video offer in the last 12 months (often powered by TurnHere or Weblistic). I think this will drastically increase the value proposition for those local videos, if publishers agree to distribute their videos in YouTube and Google Maps. I think they should do it and leverage the enormous amount of traffic found in those two sites.

Top 10 Trends from the Mobile World Congress

As this week’s Mobile World Congress slowly winds down (tomorrow’s the last day), I thought it was appropriate to summarize the top 10 trends of the conference as identified by Infoworld magazine.

Mobile World Congress 2008 Barcelona

  1. GPS on board. Amongst the manufacturers, Nokia “plans to sell 35 million phones with GPS” this year.
  2. Better cameras with “face detection, image stabilization, and the ability to take better pictures in the dark”.
  3. Linux. Google Android prototypes. ’nuff said.
  4. Movies on your phone.
  5. Geotagging that “combines built-in support for navigation and photography. When you take a picture, your location is also saved. Then you can overlay that information on services like Google Maps and see where you’ve been.”
  6. Windows Mobile. “Four out of five of the biggest phone makers have phones based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system”
  7. High-speed mobile Internet
  8. Wi-Fi on board.
  9. FM transmitters.
  10. Touch-based interfaces.

What it means: phones are becoming more and more like mini-portable computers and trying to be at the center of your mobile life. In addition, more GPS on board and the geotagging functionality are very exciting stuff for a local search freak like me! I was also intrigued by the better face detection. Expect a day where you can take a picture of someone and, with his/her permission, become a “friend” in a social network…

Google Now Showing Ten Local Listings in Regular Search Results

Google is now showing 10 local listings in all local category searches in their main search results pages. I’ve captured a few examples below. What’s interesting is that no address is shown (only the phone number) but the clickable link goes straight to the merchant’s web site.

lawyers Montreal Google

Lawyers in Montreal

San Francisco Google

Doctors in San Francisco

Architects New York Google

Architects in New York

(As seen on SearchEngineGuide)

GPS-Enabled Devices Will Create New Opportunities But Do We Really Have An Even Playing Field

CNET’s News.com reports on a new forecast from Swedish analyst firm Berg Insight predicting that “the number of GPS-enabled handsets is set to more than triple during the next five years”.

Growth in the GPS-handset user base should also lead to more applications that use such information, Malm (a telecommunications analyst at Berg Insight) added, pointing to the success of currently available location-based services like Google Maps. “Perhaps it is not right to call them services, but small apps that use location as a filter or enhancement–we will see a lot of that going forward, once developers and users get more used to using location,” he said.

Berg’s press release adds “The availability of accurate position data in mobile devices creates exciting new opportunities for developers of local search, navigation and social networking applications”, said Mr Malm. “Nokia and Google will be two of the foremost players in this arena but there is a good chance that the development will also give birth to the next Facebook or MySpace.”

GPS

Flickr photo by Jimmy_Joe

What it means: I am truly excited about these numbers as local, social and mobile combined really has the potential to create the next big web phenomenon. But one thing concerns me currently in that space: the creation of an even playing field. In 1995, barriers to entry on the World Wide Web were low (even non-existent) and allowed the creation of Yahoo and eBay (current combined market cap: $67B). Still today, the barriers to entry for new Web projects remain very low. It’s not the same in mobile where there are a lot of gatekeepers. Handset manufacturers and Telcos come to mind, but the position of strength major portals and search engines enjoy through their relationships with the aforementioned gatekeepers make their stranglehold very difficult to break. Because of that, I wonder if we will see a real innovation burst in mobile/local in the short term. It will come, I have no doubt about it, but it might not come as quickly as it potentially could be.