TellMeWhere: Europe's Foursquare?

This morning, I had the chance to sit down with Gilles Barbier, CEO and co-founder of TellMeWhere (Dismoiou in French), a Paris-based European social Yellow Pages service. As with any ratings/reviews service, people can find places (see Le Louvre profile page for example), read the basic information, see the map and pictures, rate/comment on the place, see what others have said and discover related places. So far, although well executed, it’s not very different feature-wise than a lot of ratings/reviews sites like Yelp or Qype.

Mobile as a differentiator

Where it gets really interesting is with their iPhone application (they also have an Android one). The beautifully designed (both from a user interface and user experience) app is where the rubber really hit the road for the young startup founded three years ago. Launched in July, the mobile version has been downloaded more than 400,000 times (on a total of 2 million iPhones in France).

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Home

Features include:

  • Location-based business search
  • Ability to rate/comment places and broadcast your comment on Twitter/Facebook
  • See feedback from other users and your friends
  • See recommendations based on your tastes
  • Great integration of Facebook Connect with instant account creation based on your Facebook information
  • Push of your activities to your friends’ phone and possibility for your friends to answer you back via SMS
  • Integration with Google Maps
  • Integration with the iPhone camera allowing users to take a picture and upload it right away to the place profile page

TellMeWhere iPhone Application recommendations

The release of their iPhone application has created a lot of user traction. Barbier asked me to pick a small town in France just to prove the breadth of usage. I chose Venasque, a small 1000-inhabitant village in Provence where I stayed last spring. I think there are only a dozen businesses in the village. TellMeWhere had two votes in their system. They even had a few activities in smaller towns in Canada. And now they’re on the verge of releasing version 2.0 of their mobile application of the iPhone and it will include check-in functionality (like Foursquare) and an activity stream of everything your friends are doing to enable real-time discovery. You can see a video of the new application here.

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Place Profile

Barbier shared with me that they’ve now realized their mobile applications (built in-house) have become strategic for the small 7-employee company. The combination of mobile + local + social (utilizing an existing identity system like Facebook Connect) is a winning formula.

Mobile will be disruptive

And this is where, in the future of local search, mobile wins (as opposed to the Web). I finally see the light and now realizes that mobile will probably be the great disruptor it was always supposed to be. Why? Because, as Barbier said, mobile usage is real. It’s grounded in real life, with your day-to-day local usage and your social graph. That’s how you build usage. In web-based local search, it’s all about search engine optimization (SEO) these days as it’s very expensive to build new brands. It’s traffic coming from Google and other search engines from users with little loyalty. And with the Mountain View goliath hosting more and more content on their own site, I suspect that strategy will soon go off its rails.

Real-time business model

As for TellMeWhere’s business model, they’re monetizing using “special offers”. Merchants can claim their listing and submit deals/coupons/special offers (the best way to monetize real-time local as I’ve often said). It’s a pay-per-action model (or as Barbier coined it “pay-per-visit) where merchants only pay when the user displays the coupon on their phone on location. With geo-location, it’s easy to verify if the user was really on premise or not when he displayed the coupon. Barbier told me he can charge 4 euros to restaurants each time someone uses a coupon. Sounds like a good model.

I think TellMeWhere has everything to become Europe’s Foursquare. The application is beautifully executed and is easy to use. Current usage seems to show a very positive trend. They have traction in France and other francophone countries and want to go after the rest of Europe and the English-speaking world. You should definitely check out their iPhone application if you want to see a great social/local mobile app.

Update: Gilles Barbier tells me version 2.0 of his application has been approved by Apple and is now available for download.

TellMeWhere: Europe's Foursquare?

This morning, I had the chance to sit down with Gilles Barbier, CEO and co-founder of TellMeWhere (Dismoiou in French), a Paris-based European social Yellow Pages service. As with any ratings/reviews service, people can find places (see Le Louvre profile page for example), read the basic information, see the map and pictures, rate/comment on the place, see what others have said and discover related places. So far, although well executed, it’s not very different feature-wise than a lot of ratings/reviews sites like Yelp or Qype.

Mobile as a differentiator

Where it gets really interesting is with their iPhone application (they also have an Android one). The beautifully designed (both from a user interface and user experience) app is where the rubber really hit the road for the young startup founded three years ago. Launched in July, the mobile version has been downloaded more than 400,000 times (on a total of 2 million iPhones in France).

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Home

Features include:

  • Location-based business search
  • Ability to rate/comment places and broadcast your comment on Twitter/Facebook
  • See feedback from other users and your friends
  • See recommendations based on your tastes
  • Great integration of Facebook Connect with instant account creation based on your Facebook information
  • Push of your activities to your friends’ phone and possibility for your friends to answer you back via SMS
  • Integration with Google Maps
  • Integration with the iPhone camera allowing users to take a picture and upload it right away to the place profile page

TellMeWhere iPhone Application recommendations

The release of their iPhone application has created a lot of user traction. Barbier asked me to pick a small town in France just to prove the breadth of usage. I chose Venasque, a small 1000-inhabitant village in Provence where I stayed last spring. I think there are only a dozen businesses in the village. TellMeWhere had two votes in their system. They even had a few activities in smaller towns in Canada. And now they’re on the verge of releasing version 2.0 of their mobile application of the iPhone and it will include check-in functionality (like Foursquare) and an activity stream of everything your friends are doing to enable real-time discovery. You can see a video of the new application here.

TellMeWhere iPhone Application Place Profile

Barbier shared with me that they’ve now realized their mobile applications (built in-house) have become strategic for the small 7-employee company. The combination of mobile + local + social (utilizing an existing identity system like Facebook Connect) is a winning formula.

Mobile will be disruptive

And this is where, in the future of local search, mobile wins (as opposed to the Web). I finally see the light and now realizes that mobile will probably be the great disruptor it was always supposed to be. Why? Because, as Barbier said, mobile usage is real. It’s grounded in real life, with your day-to-day local usage and your social graph. That’s how you build usage. In web-based local search, it’s all about search engine optimization (SEO) these days as it’s very expensive to build new brands. It’s traffic coming from Google and other search engines from users with little loyalty. And with the Mountain View goliath hosting more and more content on their own site, I suspect that strategy will soon go off its rails.

Real-time business model

As for TellMeWhere’s business model, they’re monetizing using “special offers”. Merchants can claim their listing and submit deals/coupons/special offers (the best way to monetize real-time local as I’ve often said). It’s a pay-per-action model (or as Barbier coined it “pay-per-visit) where merchants only pay when the user displays the coupon on their phone on location. With geo-location, it’s easy to verify if the user was really on premise or not when he displayed the coupon. Barbier told me he can charge 4 euros to restaurants each time someone uses a coupon. Sounds like a good model.

I think TellMeWhere has everything to become Europe’s Foursquare. The application is beautifully executed and is easy to use. Current usage seems to show a very positive trend. They have traction in France and other francophone countries and want to go after the rest of Europe and the English-speaking world. You should definitely check out their iPhone application if you want to see a great social/local mobile app.

Update: Gilles Barbier tells me version 2.0 of his application has been approved by Apple and is now available for download.

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. 🙂

Close to 50% of Qype's Traffic Comes from Germany

Just stumbled upon this interview with Andrew Hunter, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”e05a4250d652484974e47fda5bd84b6b” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s VP of Marketing (listed as UK country manager on Linkedin). The interview with Hunter starts at 3:35.

The VP says Qype is similar to [praized subtype=”small” pid=”fbc5d89826a49a78e7c8f39d86f90980f2″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] but that their main difference is that it’s multilingual. He says they have communities in 9 European countries plus Brazil. When asked what Qype has in common with Yelp, he says that both are strong believers in community (their main growth driver). They also have a city-by-city approach stating that cities like London, Edinburgh,  Manchester and university towns like Oxford and Cambridge love Qype immediately. He adds that their business model is similar (I discussed Qype’s and Yelp’s business model previously). Hunter says the number one benefit of Qype for users is the quality and volume of reviews.

He ends the interview by telling us Hamburg and Berlin are the largest communities on Qype, mentioning that the site has 5 million unique visitors from Germany out of 11 million total (according to their CEO, they had 9 million users in May). This is not surprising given the company was founded in Hamburg. The UK and France are the second biggest countries with 2 million unique visitors each.

Close to 50% of Qype's Traffic Comes from Germany

Just stumbled upon this interview with Andrew Hunter, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”e05a4250d652484974e47fda5bd84b6b” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s VP of Marketing (listed as UK country manager on Linkedin). The interview with Hunter starts at 3:35.

The VP says Qype is similar to [praized subtype=”small” pid=”fbc5d89826a49a78e7c8f39d86f90980f2″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] but that their main difference is that it’s multilingual. He says they have communities in 9 European countries plus Brazil. When asked what Qype has in common with Yelp, he says that both are strong believers in community (their main growth driver). They also have a city-by-city approach stating that cities like London, Edinburgh,  Manchester and university towns like Oxford and Cambridge love Qype immediately. He adds that their business model is similar (I discussed Qype’s and Yelp’s business model previously). Hunter says the number one benefit of Qype for users is the quality and volume of reviews.

He ends the interview by telling us Hamburg and Berlin are the largest communities on Qype, mentioning that the site has 5 million unique visitors from Germany out of 11 million total (according to their CEO, they had 9 million users in May). This is not surprising given the company was founded in Hamburg. The UK and France are the second biggest countries with 2 million unique visitors each.

Why Social Media is Not Just About Merchant Reviews

Merchant review functionalities and sites are all the rage currently in the Yellow Pages industry. In the last 2 months, amongst others, we have seen:

  1. Truvo launch their own social site under the Truvo.com URL
  2. Eniro launch a beta social site under the Rejta.se URL
  3. AT&T Interactive announce the launch later this year of a social Yellow Pages site under a different brand than YellowPages.com
  4. Herold, the Austrian directory publisher, make an investment in Tupalo, a Yelp-like destination site.
  5. Canpages, the independent Canadian directory publisher, acquire assets from ZipLocal, a Canadian merchant review site.

Often called Social Yellow Pages sites, the biggest representatives of that category are Yelp (US, UK, Canada) and Qype (most of Western Europe). Both are independent, venture-funded companies. As of June 2009, more than 22 million people had visited Yelp in the past 30 days according to published internal numbers. Yelp users had written over 6 million local reviews. Qype had 9M+ unique users in May 2009 (+350% in 12 months) and 1M+ reviews.

Impressive usage numbers but an important challenge remains for these sites: monetization. For example, even though Yelp has been extremely successful from a user point of view, revenues are still low in proportion. Articles from 16 months ago mentioned Yelp’s revenues were “rumored to be sub $10 million/year” (I discussed Yelp’s monetization strategy here.)

On the other side, directory publishers, even though they’ve had for the longest-time advertiser-focused web sites, have been extremely good at generating revenues out of their web sites. For example, Yellow Pages Group (Canada) generated $C 247 million in online revenues in 2008. Over the same period, Pages Jaunes Groupe (France) achieved 471 million euros in online revenues. In the US, Yellowbook’s online revenues were up a spectacular 97.5% to $US 227 million in the last fiscal year.

Why is that? Yes, we could obviously underline the fact that these publishers represent trusted media brands, that they have large sales forces and that regular merchant contacts all play a big role in their financial success. But I would posit the moment in the consumer purchase decision process when online directories are used plays a bigger role in monetization potential.  Looking at the traditional decision process (see diagram below), online directories are clearly used when consumers are doing information search and evaluation of alternatives. Consumer reviews only happen at the end of the whole decision process, at post-purchase evaluation. Consumers will obviously look at past reviews as a proxy when doing information search but I don’t think it’s as attractive a real estate for advertisers.

buying_decision_process

Figure: Consumer Purchase Decision Process (source: Tutor2U)

I’m definitely not saying consumer reviews are useless from a strategic point of view. Consumers love to provide feedback and they love to read comments on merchants to make up their mind. I’m saying directory publishers should see reviews as one of the elements on which they build their social media strategy and one that happens at the end of the purchase cycle. It should be integrated within a more complete social media consumer purchase decision process strategy.

The filter of the consumer purchase decision process is very powerful to see who’s competing against you and to identify opportunities. Google, for instance, is clearly used by consumers when they do information search and comparing alternatives. This explains why the search giant from Mountain View is perceived as a serious threat by most directory publishers.

Enter Twitter and Facebook, the new juggernauts of the real-time conversation and real-time search world. Where do they fit in that purchase decision process? They’re definitely used for information search as well. If you search on Twitter for “Can anyone recommend” or “Looking for“, you’ll see that, every day on Twitter, thousands of people are asking for recommendations and advice. That’s why, by the way, we implemented a social media broadcast mechanism in our Praized-powered Local Answers module (used here by Yellow Pages Group in Canada) to send consumer requests to Twitter and Facebook. But I think what’s even more powerful with this new real-time conversation world is the fact that people are now actually expressing needs to the world. More than 100 people per day on Twitter say:

All these consumers are facing major life events (or know someone that are facing one) and are amazing advertiser leads for any publishers that can corral them. Consumers now want to express their needs/problems and have people/companies come to them with solutions. As I expressed in my “I have seen the future of local media” blog post, this is a new and important consumer behavior online. That’s why I believe every local media publisher will be introducing locally-relevant real-time conversation and real-time search tools within their Web sites in the next three years. That’s why I believe social media lead generation, customer and reputation management tools will become more prevalent in the next few years. That’s why publishers will introduce social ratings/reviews functionality to allow consumers to close the purchase loop after expressing needs and shopping for options. But be aware that Twitter and Facebook will certainly go after this market. This is probably the biggest opportunity directory publishers have seen since the arrival of the world wide web but it needs to be a complete strategy. Merchant reviews alone do not make a social strategy.

Qype: "People + Algorithm Better than Algorithm" (EADP 2009)

Heard from Stephen Taylor, [praized subtype=”small” pid=”e05a4250d652484974e47fda5bd84b6b” type=”badge” dynamic=”true”]’s CEO, this morning in a presentation titled “Competition from new business models”. As most of you know, Qype is a social local site in Europe (we could say it’s the equivalent of Yelp there).

Here are some interesting data points about them:

  • The largest local review site in Europe (also present in Brazil) – 6 languages
  • Reviews in 140 countries (I think they allow anyone to add listings from any country)
  • 9M+ unique users in May 2009 (+350% in 12 months)
  • 1m+ reviews
  • They monetize using display advertising, Google AdWords, eCom and transaction revenues and premium business listings

As Taylor said, their business leverages the fact that anyone with a keyboard is now an author, that anyone with a browser is a publisher. With the rise of social media, presentation of facts/data is not enough to sustain an audience. It’s now about sharing, community, connecting with other people. I think he described it perfectly when he said “people + algorithm is better than algorithm”. Today, we’re in the fourth phase of the evolution of search (he calls it social search) which includes editorial, automation and topology.

As for future developments, Taylor offered the following advice: recognize where audiences are and he mentioned the long tail of the Web (smaller sites, blogs, forums, etc.). He said that’s where people are connecting. Qype is ready for those new opportunities via their open API currently in v1 (which exposes geo content). v2 will allow content to be written.

What it means: I think Qype is a very interesting company. They’ve been able to corral the voice of the European consumers. I agree with the future direction, of trying to embed yourself in smaller web sites. I was a bit disappointed by their monetization strategy. I was hoping they would have been further ahead in terms of sources of revenues.