Attending the Following Conferences this Fall: JIQ 2010, IYP Searchmeet, Local Social Summit, ILM:10

Busy Fall season as always. Here is the list of conferences / events I’m attending or speaking to in the next two months:

1- Journée de l’informatique du Québec, November 10 in Quebec City, Qc, Canada

I will be in Quebec City to present my social media for SMEs 101 presentation titled “Le Web social, c’est pas obligé d’être compliqué!”. Agenda is here and you can register here.

2- IYP Searchmeet, November 16 and 17 in London, UK.

Organized by Stephanie Lemieux from Yellow Pages Group (Canada), it’s a great opportunity to discuss Yellow Pages-centric challenges related to search, data/content and taxonomy. Those topics are very actionable and are usually not covered in industry events. Colleagues from various directory companies will attend and includes representatives from Yell, Herold, Sensis, European Directories, Truvo, PagesJaunes Groupe (France), Yellow Pages Group (Canada), Mueller Medien, Seat Pagine Gialle, Eniro, and more. I’m keynoting the first day on the topic of “Opportunities with Real-time Local Search and Content. Industry rockstar Greg Sterling will also keynote on the second day. You can see the agenda here. You need to pre-register here before Friday this week. Event will be very affordable, tickets will be less than 100 GBP and include breakfast & lunch.

3- Local Social Summit, November 18 in London, UK.

Organized by Simon Baptist and Dylan Fuller, this will be the second edition of the event. The first one last year was a resounding success. The idea is to devote one day to hear presentations and panels talk about the intersection of local and social, something that’s very close to my professional heart obviously. I’m also keynoting this event with a presentation titled “What, Where and now When? Time and Local Search”. Greg Sterling will also be present along with Perry Evans, CEO of Closely (and a great friend!). Complete agenda can be found here and you can register here for 125 GBP.

Altogether, two very interesting events over three days in London in about one month. It’s a must-attend. Greg Sterling just wrote about these two events on his blog.

4- ILM:10 (Interactive Local Media) conference, December 7 to December 9 in Santa Clara, California, USA.

Organized by BIA/Kelsey, this is a must-attend event for anyone that works and/or is interested in “local” in North America. The speakers list looks extremely promising. You can see the complete agenda here and register here.

Don’t hesitate to ping me if you’d like to meet/chat at any of these events: sprovencher AT needium.com

On a related note, Sylvain Carle (Praized Media’s co-founder and CTO) will be demoing Needium at the BizTechDay conference in San Francisco this Saturday October 23rd. Needium was handpicked as one of the 20 companies allocated a demo slot during the day. You can read more on the Praized Media product blog.

Introducing Needium – The Social Media Lead Generation & Reputation Management Dashboard for SMBs

Four years ago, around this time of year, Praized Media’s co-founders got together for the first time to discuss the possibility of launching a startup. We were very excited about the blogosphere and the quantity of local content being created in this new space. We thought there was an interesting business to build at the intersection of local search and local conversations happening in blogs. The first products we released (two years ago, almost to this date) were local directory and editorial tools that can be integrated within WordPress and MovableType, two leading blogging platforms. We also launched a Facebook application. All of those tools enabled structuring and aggregating of local conversations around merchant profile pages.

Turns out we were right about conversations but wrong about where and how the bulk of them would take place. We didn’t foresee the rise of the statusphere. In 2006-2007, the place where local “conversations” were happening was definitely blog posts (and associated comments) and consumer reviews in sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Fast-forward to 2009-2010, the blogosphere still exists but local conversations are now happening on Twitter and on Facebook, mostly in status updates. Check-ins are also part of the conversation and are being used in Foursquare, Gowalla and other location-based social networks. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is now a mass-market. Facebook has close to 500 million monthly active users. Twitter has rocketed to 190 million monthly users, writing 65 million updates PER DAY!

Pew Internet said in October 2009 that 19% of Internet users now say they use social media services to share updates about themselves, or to see updates about others. That’s a huge number! It dwarfs consumer reviews and check-ins by a large factor. And according to a recently published ComScore report quoted by Brian Solis, “23% of Twitter users follow businesses to find special deals, promotions, or sales. Of that, 14% of Twitter users reported taking to the stream to find and share product reviews and opinions.”

Last year, I also discovered local user reviews are not that exciting from a monetization point of view as they happen at the end of the consumer purchase decision process, at post-purchase. The real money is earlier in the process, when consumers realize they have needs and when they start doing the research. I wrote about this in July 2009. And can you guess when business directories are being used most often? When consumers have needs (“I need to order take-out”) or are going through life events (“I’m getting married!”), early in the consumer purchase decision process.

When we built our real-time local activity stream and real-time local search technology last summer, it allowed me to see the enormous quantity of “local” information being publicly shared on Twitter and Facebook. Millions of consumers are now sharing activities and opinions about local businesses using Twitter and/or Facebook. They are also expressing needs such as “I’m hungry”, “My car just broke down” and “Does anyone have a dentist to recommend?”, even in smaller cities. I coined a new name for this: the “Needium” (the “need” medium). Local businesses would definitely benefit from hearing the voice of the consumer and engaging with them but these activities are happening on many sites and can be hard to discover through the noise. In addition, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are extremely busy. Realizing this, we rolled up our sleeves and came up with this new game-changing product:

Introducing Needium.com

Needium.com (http://needium.com) is the social  lead generation and reputation management dashboard for SMBs. Needium monitors social media sources and detects business opportunities based on local user needs and life events. It also listens for merchant name mentions to enable reputation management functionalities. Needium aggregates and structures that information in a Web-based dashboard where merchants can log-in to easily join conversations (and more) without having to monitor all social media sites individually. Based on merchant information in our structured database, a series of pre-configured results are automatically created for them, using their location, categorization and some user social actions collected from publicly available social media activity streams.

Take for example, this account for a Holiday Inn hotel in Boston:

The left-hand side column, Opportunities, is where merchants will find the latest business opportunities we have discovered for them. If advertisers feel the opportunity is interesting for their business, they can communicate directly with the consumer using the “reply” button. In that column, they’ll find consumers asking explicitly for their products and services (see screenshot below) or find implicit statements as well. For example, a traveler from a different city saying “I’m going to Boston in 3 weeks” will potentially need a hotel room and might patronize restaurants and museums. In each status, we show the user name, the status update, the time when it was made and the source. We use a combination of verb and noun synonyms, taxonomy and semantics to identify these opportunities.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 2

The middle column, Mentions, is where SMBs will find references to their business name. If they feel they need to reply to the comment (to correct an issue or thank a user for their comment), they can communicate directly with the consumer using the “reply” button. Again, we show the user name, the status update, the time when it was made and the source.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 3

The third column, History, is where you find the various replied done by the merchant. When you click on “reply”, a light box pops-up (see below). Merchants can then type in their message/reply and hit “send”.

Hotels in Boston (Needium) - 4

Each column comes with its search box, enabling merchants to search for specific opportunities or mentions using particular keywords.

The business model is simple: monthly fixed-fee subscriptions. The product will be available in self-service and in white-label to leverage large sales channels like Yellow Pages, search engine marketing firms, newspaper publishers and other local sales channels. Additional services available are Twitter and Facebook accounts creation and a fully-managed service where we take care of the SMB communications with consumers on Twitter and Facebook (think of it as “community management” in a box).

We believe reputation management is now a commodity, a must-have in social media filtering but that the real big opportunity is in social lead generation. Our Yellow Pages experience and expertise helps us find and surface the real SMBs business opportunities happening in social media. We think the current quantity of leads is just the tip of the iceberg. We are already working on better semantic analysis, social hints as well as a few other techniques to get an even better signal out of the noise. With that improved analysis, with more people signaling their location every day, with usage growth, hundreds of local opportunities per day in most major Yellow Pages categories will be made available. This is the true evolution of word-of-mouth marketing and tremendous value will be created by channeling this “local voice of the Internet”. As we’ve stated before, we believe local conversations on the Web are the great local search disruptor and we will be happy to work with you to empower you to capture these new revenue opportunities. If you’re interested in a test account, please contact me at sprovencher AT praizedmedia.com. You can also follow Needium news on our Needium-specific Twitter account.

Getting to the Next Stage: Praized Media Hires Siemer & Associates to Find Strategic Partner

One of the first things you learn when you launch your own startup is to actively monitor opportunities in the market and move quickly to leverage them. In my case, it happened three times in the last three years.

The first strategic move happened back in the fall of 2006 when Sylvain Carle, Harry Wakefield and I founded Praized Media to help local media companies leverage the rising force of social media and online word-of-mouth. I also started blogging about what I call “local 2.0,” the intersection of local search and social media. At the time, most people believed that this convergence would not happen. Three years later, it’s one of the hottest sectors.

We made the second key move in fall 2008. Having launched our first social local tools (for WordPress, Movable Type, Facebook and our hub site) a couple of months before, we were approached by a few major media players who signaled to us they would be interested in using the technology we had built within their own online platform. This gave us the confidence to develop white-label enterprise versions of our social local media software, which has been in the market since spring 2009. Building on the popularity of our initial module, we developed many more enterprise modules described here.

The third strategic move is happening now. Last fall (what is it with fall???), we were approached by two US investment banks who aspired to represent us if we ever wanted to find a strategic partner for Praized Media. A few companies also hinted to us that they might be interested in investing in or acquiring Praized Media. Based on that enthusiasm, Sylvain and I (along with our board) discussed the pros and cons of going to the altar with a strategic partner vs. continuing alone.

The market is super-hot for technologies like ours. In the last three months, there has been a flurry of acquisitions and funding events in the “social local” space (we’ve created a document listing them if you’re interested). We could go on the road and raise new VC money to fuel our growth, but anyone that has raised those kinds of funds before knows that this is a brutal process, even when your market is hot. It takes a lot of time and energy, and for small companies, the process forces you to take your eyes off the product/company development roadmap. At the core, Sylvain and I are product/technology guys and that’s what we want to do. In the last two years, we’ve built world-class real-time social local search technologies. We’ve assembled a five-star (pun intended) social local technology development team. We’re notable thought-leaders in our space.

The future of local media will be centered on Aggregation / Discovery / Social / Search and our technology stack enables that. We believe what we’ve built (team and technology) represents the cornerstone of the next-generation local media company (traditional or pure play), and we want to focus on building that vision with a larger organization.

For all those reasons, we have decided to hire [praized subtype=”small” pid=”858569eeccb433824aca7193236f55ce” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], an investment banking firm in Los Angeles that specializes in digital media, to represent us in our search for a strategic partner. We’re obviously supported a 100% in this decision by our board and the whole team is excited by this new move. For our current customers, collaborators and service providers, it is business as usual as this does not impact our day-to-day operations (actually, it frees up more time!). Given current market conditions, we are extremely confident we will find the right strategic partner.

If you’re interested in discussing more the opportunity, you can contact Siemer & Associates at (310) 496-4510 or info@siemer.com.

Developer Creates Nokia N900 Mapping App Using Praized API

The nice thing about having a public API at Praized Media is that people are using it to do all sorts of great “local” projects. Pierre-Luc Beaudoin, a developer from Montreal (Canada)  just launched the first version of a mapping application called “Map Buddy” for the Nokia N900 device using the Praized API.

Nokia N900 Mapping Application Map Buddy Praized Media

He writes about his experience building the application on his blog:

Well, I finally got my hands on a N900 (given as a Christmas gift by Collabora to Gabriel). This gave me the occasion to observe first hand that the Ovi Maps, while having a lot of features, is slow and that the Hildon Emerillon port is less than perfect. It is hard to use with fingers and feels alien to the platform.

To solve this, I created Map Buddy: a map application specifically designed for Maemo 5. It is quite simple to use and works out of the box (no configuration or selection of plug-ins required!). It also has something other apps don’t: it uses web-services to provide business search capabilities.

You can download the app here.

On a related note, the Ovi Store just went live on the N900.

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. 🙂

Introducing iPraized, the Praized-Powered iPhone Application

I’m very happy to announce today the launch of iPraized, the iPhone application built on the Praized platform. The idea of this simple mobile application is to show that anyone can use the Praized platform API to build their own Local / Social mobile applications for any mobile platform. Our customers can work with any internal or external developers to leverage the whole Praized technology stack in a mobile environment. We can also work on turnkey projects with world-class mobile developers in our network.

Here’s how the iPraized iPhone app works:

1) The application will try to determine your physical location using the built-in iPhone geo-location functionality.

2) You can then find places around you based on keyword/category/business name search.

ipraized-screenshot-001

3) Following your search, the application returns relevant local results near you.

ipraized-screenshot-002

4) Users can then select the place they were looking for.

ipraized-screenshot-003

5) and visit the profile page showing the basic information about the place (name, address, phone number, number of people who have “praized” the place, the tags and the map). Users can then “vote up” (to show their appreciation) or “vote down” (if they didn’t have a good experience). You can also leave a comment and share the place with your friends.

ipraized-screenshot-004

6) Users can also find more information about the merchant by visiting our partners YellowPages.ca in Canada and Yellowbook.com in the US.

ipraized-screenshot-005

7) Each user has a profile page showing their activity stream.

This is just one example of what can be done  with our application stack. Source code will be made available soon. We’d like to thank Mirego who worked with us to develop the application.

Download it here!

Calgary.com: Real-Time Local Search Powered By Praized

I’m very happy to announce the launch of a new real-time local search site with Yellow Pages Group: Calgary.com. This beta site indexes, aggregates, displays and makes searchable all types of local Calgary activities (merchant reviews, local news, advertiser activities, classified ads, municipal news, “tweets” from Calgary, etc.). Consumers landing on the home page can see at a glance what’s going on in Calgary right now. Users can also search in the activity stream to find last five activities around specific keywords/topics. At the same time, when searching, users see YellowPages.ca listing results (when the search is for local merchants) and have the ability to vote and comment on their favorite stores.

Calgary.com Realtime Home

For example:

Want to see what restaurants people are talking about?

Want to discover what people are saying at the airport today?

Want to buy a Chevrolet in Calgary? See classified ads and local merchants selling them.

Want to know the results of the recent local by-election? See a mix of tweets and news reports.

As I’ve stated before, I believe the future of local search will be in real-time, showing consumers everything that’s happening in their city, in their neighborhood, about their local merchants. Facebook’s (and Twitter’s) enormous growth in the last two years has seen the emergence of a new usage pattern around real-time activity streams and real-time search but the main issue with those popular social sites is that they’re not local enough. Directory publishers are local and can compete in this new real-time world.

This prototype, a first in the Yellow Pages industry, showcases three of our enterprise modules: local activity stream, real-time local search and social Yellow Pages. Partnering with Praized Media provides Yellow Pages Group access to key social media elements like Yellow Pages Answers, real-time local activity and local search, merchant reviews and user recommendations.  Congrats to the Praized development team for delivering this project and to Yellow Pages Group for trusting us with this project!

Update: Greg Sterling says “Praized appears to be hitting its stride with implementations like this.”

Canpages Acquires Social Recommendation Site GigPark.com, Validates Praized's Model

[praized subtype=”small” pid=”58d245fd7e8f20800dee0ecd3af21f08″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”], the second-largest directory publisher in Canada, announced Sunday night the acquisition of GigPark, a self-funded social recommendation site from Toronto, Canada. For Canpages, it’s the second local/social acquisition in two months. The first was Ziplocal in June. This acquisition is the latest in a series of “local media” technology/people acquisitions in the last few months. I noted five other ones in a blog post I wrote two weeks ago.

Interestingly enough, this is the kind of white-label enterprise technology Praized Media is proposing to directory publishers and other local media publishers worldwide. Yellow Pages Group, Canada’s largest directory publisher, is using our Answers module at answers.yellowpages.ca. We’re also currently deploying our real-time activity stream and real-time search technology within a major local portal and our technology stack has generated interest from about a dozen players in Canada, in the US and in Europe. Because of that, as co-founder of Praized Media, I was asked by a few people yesterday what I thought of this acquisition.

1) I am very happy for Pema Hegan and Noah Godfrey for this acquisition. Good work guys! I know how much work goes into building a startup. You’ll see, it’s actually fun working in the directory industry!

2) As a crystal-ball gazer, I am delighted to see directory companies fully embracing social media, even though it’s not our technology they end up using. As I’ve been writing about in the last three years, social media is key to the future of traditional local media firms. The “social” trend in the directory space is not a fad.

3) Reviews and recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg in social/local. The next evolution is “real-time”. Google is thinking about it, Twitter announced last week that they would support geo-location in their API which will allow developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet and Facebook is bound to announce something very soon.

4) The acquisition of technology assets & people by local media publishers validate our core business model of working as technology providers to local media publishers. There is a clear need out there for our product offer and the Praized team is a world-class product & development team in the local/social technology space.

So, what to expect in the next 6 to 12 months?

1) Definitely expect more acquisitions and possibly some mergers. As Kelsey Group analyst Matt Booth said last week during a Kelsey webinar, local media publishers should try to put their hands on interesting companies and assets this year before the economy picks up again next year. The idea is to be ready with new, groundbreaking revenue-generating opportunities when good times come rolling again.

2) Also expect more rapid innovation in the space. Robert Scoble is quickly cluing in to the business potential of local recommendations in a post yesterday where he compared Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yelp. He says:

How will Facebook collect the cash? Well, go to Google and let’s do that sushi search for Boulder, Colorado again. Did you see how that list works? Facebook needs that list. Twitter isn’t even close. But what’s missing? PEOPLE! Imagine if this list, when it’s brought to you by Facebook, shows that #1 has been liked by 14 of your friends? Businesses get that for free. But what don’t they get for free? Yelp’s “offers.” Businesses PAY to “offer” things to customers to try to move up the list. So, if you’re the #3 business on the list, you might say “bring your iPhone in and you’ll get free beer.” Doing that will cost you money, both in the free beer and the advertising you’ll pay Facebook or Google or Yelp to try to move up the list. Google has the list. It doesn’t have the humans or the offers. Yelp has the offers but doesn’t have hundreds of millions of people. Facebook has hundreds of millions of people and the “like” system, but not the offers. So, who will get there first? Now you understand the battlefield. Who will win the war?

But he forgets that Yelp’s “offers” don’t scale. Yelp doesn’t have the “offers”. They don’t have a large enough sales force to make it a billion dollar business. It’s Yellow Pages, newspapers, coupon and other local media publishers that own the sales force. But then, like Google, local media publishers don’t have the social elements and interactions. It will be a natural one-two punch for any large company that assembles merchants (i.e. advertising) and consumers meshed in social interaction. I’m willing to bet this will come from directory companies if they move fast enough but I venture the window of opportunity is approximately 12 months before Facebook, Twitter or even Google crack the social local nut.

Update: Greg Sterling analyzes the transaction.