Six Takeaways from Kelsey ILM 07

Last week, I was in Los Angeles for the latest Kelsey Conference (ILM 07). We heard presentations from many interesting speakers, most notably Jake Winebaum from RHD, Jay Herratti from Citysearch, Chamath Palihapitiya from Facebook, Stuart McKelvey from TMP, John Hanke from Google and the always interesting Jason Calacanis from Mahalo.

Kelsey ILM 07

Once again, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with many of my local search and directory industry peers, making this conference a must-attend if you’re in the local search industry. It took me the a few days to come up with takeaways from the conference, not because there weren’t any, but because they were embedded deeply in the zeitgeist of the whole conference and needed to be extracted. After a “disappointing” 2006 (as reported in this post from SES Chicago), I think we’re at a new inflexion point for the local search industry. It was almost as if every stakeholder in the room had realized that things were not as they had seemed to be and that they were being more realistic and pragmatic about online local search.

Without further ado, here are my takeaways from Kelsey ILM 07:

  1. People are finally realizing that it is very difficult to “do” local. Both advertiser and user markets are very fragmented and local initiatives do not always scale. If you’re not “native” to the local search market, the learning curve is huge.
  2. Clearly, the online local market has not been cracked yet. There is no clear winner yet and we’re still many years away from glory days.
  3. Local is going to be huge online but the various stakeholders need to work together. Players have to identify where are their core strengths and weaknesses and partner to fill the gaps (either through aggregation of technologies, content or sales). M&A should be on everyone’s mind as well. Expect a very active 2008 on that front.
  4. We heard the second reality check coming from a directory publisher in a couple of months. Time is running out and it’s now time to execute.
  5. Verticalization is starting to happen. People are realizing that there are user & advertiser differences between yellow pages headings. We might finally see some real segmentation in the industry (headings-based pricing, vertical sites, specific ad products and content, etc.) .
  6. Call-tracking/pay-per-call is now a strategic pillar of local. To solve the media fragmentation issue, this offers a unified business model to aggregate various products together and simplify the sales process.
  7. Mobile is still the holy grail of local search, coming soon, but not in 2008. Maybe 2009.

Google Maps Gets Caught in Political Crossfire

CNN.com has a story this morning that puts Google in the spotlight for alleged modifications to New Orleans images in Google Maps. According to the report, Google has reverted the New Orleans pictures shown on Google Maps with pre-Katrina ones, “airbrushing history”. Highlights from the CNN article:

The House Committee on Science and Technology’s subcommittee on investigations and oversight on Friday asked Google Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt to explain why his company is using the outdated imagery. “Google’s use of old imagery appears to be doing the victims of Hurricane Katrina a great injustice by airbrushing history,” subcommittee chairman Brad Miller, D-North Carolina, wrote in a letter to Schmidt. (…)

After Katrina, Google’s satellite images were in high demand among exiles and hurricane victims anxious to see whether their homes were damaged. Now, though, a virtual trip through New Orleans via Google Maps is a surreal experience of scrolling across an unscathed landscape of packed parking lots and marinas full of boats. Reality, of course, is very different: Entire neighborhoods are now slab mosaics where houses once stood and shopping malls, churches and marinas are empty of life, many gone altogether.
(…)

Edith Holleman, staff counsel for the House subcommittee, said it would be useful to understand how Google acquires and manages its imagery because “people see Google and other Internet engines and it’s almost like the official word.” (…)

John Hanke from the Google Earth team had this answer on the Google blog this morning:

“In 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, a very motivated group of volunteers at Google worked with NOAA, NASA, and others to post updated imagery of the affected areas in Google Maps and Google Earth as quickly as possible.” (…)

Several months later, in September 2006, the storm imagery was replaced with pre-Katrina aerial photography of much higher resolution as part of a regular series of global data enhancements. We continued to make available the Katrina imagery, and associated overlays such as damage assessments and Red Cross shelters, on a dedicated site. Our goal throughout has been to produce a global earth database of the best quality — accounting for timeliness, resolution, cloud cover, light conditions, and color balancing.

(…) we recognize the increasingly important role that imagery is coming to play in the public discourse, and so we’re happy to say that we have been able to expedite the processing of recent (2006) aerial photography for the Gulf Coast area (already in process for an upcoming release) that is equal in resolution to the data it is replacing. That new data was published in Google Earth and Google Maps on
Sunday evening. (…)

What it means: in what is in my opinion a tempest in a teapot, Google has met a bunch of very cynical people who think companies conspire behind their back all the time. Having met the Google folks many times, negotiated and had many discussions with them, they truly follow their “don’t be evil” motto. They are very smart and don’t play political games. But the fact that they don’t play political games might make them forget that politics (and politicians) have become an important stakeholder in their decision-making process given their important size. When they make a technology move like this one, they do it to improve their end product, not to hide reality. I’m convinced they were truly surprised (and hurt!) by the reaction. For everyone else out there, if you run an important service, used by a large percentage of the population, people will start thinking it’s an official service and that it represents the absolute truth. You need to be aware of that fact.