Praized-Worthy Today: LocalGuides.com, i411 & Publicar, Directories.ch

Lots of things I want to blog about today (the Facebook f8 Platform announcement, Christer Pettersson’s presentation at the EADP conference) but, as I’m just coming back from Barcelona, I have a lot of catching up to do and am still jet-lagged. So, here’s a grab bag of noteworthy news that happened while I was away:

  • Local Matters launched a beta version of LocalGuides.com, their Local-Social play (what I call Local 2.0). Perry Evans had shown me an alpha release a few weeks ago and I was very impressed with the concept and the site. They describe it as “a new approach to creating a “social-local” experience in the Local Search domain”. Perry adds: “The site empowers consumers with the tools to create, annotate, expand and share lists of local businesses
    and places – publishing their own personal local guides.” You can read more on Perry’s blog. I’ll get back to it in a few days once I’ve had the chance to play with it.
  • Publicar announced the re-launch of their local search engine for Latin America at www.PaginasAmarillas.com. The new site powered by i411 provides business and residential information for 14 countries in Latin America.

Local Search Without Maps

Chris Linnett over at SearchEngineLand talks about a world where local search would not necessarily be tied to map-based navigation.

Local search is a process involving many variables, more often determined by use case than sheer location on a map. Can maps be an important part of local search? Absolutely, but not always and not for everyone. Many use cases do not rely on maps, and many people do not find maps an effective cognitive tool. Therefore, should maps dominate local-search applications the way they often do, especially given the core essence of local search? (…)

Imagining a major local search site without maps is extreme, given the ubiquity of maps and their utility in certain cases, but it is a worthy exercise. Maps are a piece of the local-search puzzle. Text-based refinements greatly enhance the utility of a site. As an industry, our ability to fill in the space with effective and relevant discovery and decision-making tools will ultimately define the quality of the local-search experience.

What it means: I completely agree with Chris but I have to point out that this world already exists in directory publishers’ web sites. Maps are a part of local search but they should not be the be-all and end-all. I think the best example from an advertiser point of view is the locksmith or the plumber who do not have an actual office. These people’s offices are their cell phone and their truck. They don’t necessarily have a store front and, if they do, they don’t necessarily want you to go there. For that reason, they are being penalized by major local search sites like Ask City, Google Maps and MSN Live Local while sites like Superpages.com or YellowPages.ca will include them.

Local Search Without Maps

Chris Linnett over at SearchEngineLand talks about a world where local search would not necessarily be tied to map-based navigation.

Local search is a process involving many variables, more often determined by use case than sheer location on a map. Can maps be an important part of local search? Absolutely, but not always and not for everyone. Many use cases do not rely on maps, and many people do not find maps an effective cognitive tool. Therefore, should maps dominate local-search applications the way they often do, especially given the core essence of local search? (…)

Imagining a major local search site without maps is extreme, given the ubiquity of maps and their utility in certain cases, but it is a worthy exercise. Maps are a piece of the local-search puzzle. Text-based refinements greatly enhance the utility of a site. As an industry, our ability to fill in the space with effective and relevant discovery and decision-making tools will ultimately define the quality of the local-search experience.

What it means: I completely agree with Chris but I have to point out that this world already exists in directory publishers’ web sites. Maps are a part of local search but they should not be the be-all and end-all. I think the best example from an advertiser point of view is the locksmith or the plumber who do not have an actual office. These people’s offices are their cell phone and their truck. They don’t necessarily have a store front and, if they do, they don’t necessarily want you to go there. For that reason, they are being penalized by major local search sites like Ask City, Google Maps and MSN Live Local while sites like Superpages.com or YellowPages.ca will include them.

Pages Jaunes Launches Paris in 3D

Just found this. Pages Jaunes, France’s official directory publisher, just launched 3D versions of Paris and Rennes. You can see top tourist attractions in beautiful 3D glory and you can search for businesses as well. Their web site mentions that it was done in partnership with Archividéo, the City of Rennes, the Institut Géographique National and InterAtlas.

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What it means: beautiful execution. I am a strong believer that we will eventually navigate and find businesses through 3D interfaces. I think Pages Jaunes Groupe in France has taken yet another important step to continue locking up France’s online market via great innovations.

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.

Safa Rashtchy: Local Search is Set for a Boom

(via the ClickzNews Blog)

I’m down here visiting the Kelsey Group’s “Drilling Down on Local ’07” event, and a few minutes ago Safa Rashtchy, sr. research analyst, Internet media and marketing, managing director for Piper Jaffray, finished up his keynote address regarding local search. (…)

(…) as this is a local show, he expanded on user interest trends to say that “Local search is the second most popular activity other than e-mail. You will have more and more focus on local search, whether it’s information or product searches that are happening. The adoption of local search by both local and search advertisers will see an increase.”

He also predicted a shift of users away from portals to search platforms, and said the inflection point for local search will happen when businesses finally get more of their inventory online. The first company to do so, he added, will “win” the business race.

“The navigation method from portals is changing from portals to search,” he said. “People are saying ‘we know what we want, help us to find where it is and don’t tell us what we want to buy.’” Rashtchy continued, “The trigger point [for local search] is likely to be when you have a large number of major merchants that have their inventory easily available online. I thought we might see something by now, but nothing significant has happened yet, but once we see a good part of inventory easily accessible online, we will see a shift.”

Finally, he predicted that mapping and satellite imagery will be coming an integral part of search. “Geographical representation of not just products, but also businesses, is more appealing — the visual aspect of it — and it will play well.” (…)

Safa recently announced he was leaving Piper Jaffray.

What it means: like Safa, I’ve recently become a strong proponent for graphical navigation in local search (through maps, images, etc.). I just love the Flickr geo-tagged image navigation interface (BTW, that’s a great source of local content). Safa also thinks that product inventory is also a killer app but I think it’s going to take a long time before we get to that place. I still think CrowdShopping (or Tuangou) can happen more quickly.

Cool Google Maps & BMW Navigation System Integration

My friend Eric Baillargeon just sent me a link to his blog (and to a YouTube video). In the video, a man searches on Google Maps Germany for a place and sends the information to his BMW’s navigation system. When he gets in the car, he’s able to program his navigation system to lead him to the desired destination.

What it means: what a great connection between the online world and the offline world. I couldn’t find any reference to this BMW/Google Maps partnership, so I can’t confirm if it’s true. But I did find this link that talks about a partnership between Volkswagen and Google working together on an advanced navigation system though. Anyone has information out there?

Update: it’s true! Thai Tran from Google Maps just announced it on the Google Blog. “users in Germany can send a business listing found on Google Maps Deutschland directly to cars enabled with the BMW Assist service. Drivers can then set it as the destination for the in-car navigation system, or they can call the business from within the car. No more having to write down the address and re-enter it in the car — now you can just click and drive!”

The Google Operating System blog has a screenshot.

Cool Google Maps & BMW Navigation System Integration

My friend Eric Baillargeon just sent me a link to his blog (and to a YouTube video). In the video, a man searches on Google Maps Germany for a place and sends the information to his BMW’s navigation system. When he gets in the car, he’s able to program his navigation system to lead him to the desired destination.

What it means: what a great connection between the online world and the offline world. I couldn’t find any reference to this BMW/Google Maps partnership, so I can’t confirm if it’s true. But I did find this link that talks about a partnership between Volkswagen and Google working together on an advanced navigation system though. Anyone has information out there?

Update: it’s true! Thai Tran from Google Maps just announced it on the Google Blog. “users in Germany can send a business listing found on Google Maps Deutschland directly to cars enabled with the BMW Assist service. Drivers can then set it as the destination for the in-car navigation system, or they can call the business from within the car. No more having to write down the address and re-enter it in the car — now you can just click and drive!”

The Google Operating System blog has a screenshot.

Google Earth & Microsoft Virtual Earth: Some Advertising Examples

Read in this month’s Business 2.0:

“This spring Saturn is looking to roll out a nationwide version of an online ad for its new Aura sedan built on Google Earth technology. Web users don’t have to download the mapping software; they just watch as the screen zooms all the way down from space into the nearest Saturn dealership – located by their IP address – where a salesman offers them a test-drive. A beta version of the ad, targeted at just six U.S. cities, received millions of click-throughs, according to Gokul Rajaram, product management director for Google AdSense. (You can view this 3-d ad here.)”

“It also resulted in more than 1,000 requests for a test-drive – which prompted Saturn’s ad agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, to start inventing campaigns for its other clients using Google Earth. “Every retail chain will eventually do this,” says Jeff Goodby, co-founder of the San Francisco-based agency.”

“Microsoft has already rolled out ads inside Virtual Earth 3D for major sponsors like Fox and Nissan. Users will soon be able to zoom through virtual versions of real cities with billboards advertising local hotels, restaurants, or day trips.”

What it means: this is really cool but it’s still a very static execution, i.e. more like a TV ad online. The real difference is the IP targetting. I’m sure they’ve done the ads that way to avoid the download problem (you need to install a software in order to use both MSN & Google’s services). But in this case, you can’t really use the service at its fullest (driving directions, etc.). The real 3D mapping killer-app (for advertising) will happen when you don’t have to download anything to navigate in these virtual worlds.

Google Earth & Microsoft Virtual Earth: Some Advertising Examples

Read in this month’s Business 2.0:

“This spring Saturn is looking to roll out a nationwide version of an online ad for its new Aura sedan built on Google Earth technology. Web users don’t have to download the mapping software; they just watch as the screen zooms all the way down from space into the nearest Saturn dealership – located by their IP address – where a salesman offers them a test-drive. A beta version of the ad, targeted at just six U.S. cities, received millions of click-throughs, according to Gokul Rajaram, product management director for Google AdSense. (You can view this 3-d ad here.)”

“It also resulted in more than 1,000 requests for a test-drive – which prompted Saturn’s ad agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, to start inventing campaigns for its other clients using Google Earth. “Every retail chain will eventually do this,” says Jeff Goodby, co-founder of the San Francisco-based agency.”

“Microsoft has already rolled out ads inside Virtual Earth 3D for major sponsors like Fox and Nissan. Users will soon be able to zoom through virtual versions of real cities with billboards advertising local hotels, restaurants, or day trips.”

What it means: this is really cool but it’s still a very static execution, i.e. more like a TV ad online. The real difference is the IP targetting. I’m sure they’ve done the ads that way to avoid the download problem (you need to install a software in order to use both MSN & Google’s services). But in this case, you can’t really use the service at its fullest (driving directions, etc.). The real 3D mapping killer-app (for advertising) will happen when you don’t have to download anything to navigate in these virtual worlds.