“Google+ is all about protecting its search business” – Robert Scoble

Commenting on a recent Google+ story on Techcrunch, Robert Scoble wrote : “I believe Google+ is all about protecting its search business. It is scared that Facebook is going to become a search engine. It already sort of is. A lot of people are moving behaviors over to Facebook that they used to do in search. Instead of Googling “sushi san francisco” we’ll just ask our friends “hey, where’s the best sushi in San Francisco.”

What it means: Looking at this through the filter of the consumer purchase decision process (see below), this is extremely significant. By expressing needs/problems in social media and having people/companies come to them with solutions, consumers bypass “search” and go straight to purchase. This is a serious threat to companies like Google who have built a huge ad business based on search.

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.

My Thoughts on the Friendfeed Acquisition by Facebook

Facebook, the leading global social network, dropped a bomb on the sociosphere on Monday by announcing they had bought the very innovative social streaming service called Friendfeed. I gave an interview to Marketing Magazine (Canada’s Advertising Age) explaining the rationale behind the acquisition. Here are the highlights:

  • First and foremost, Facebook bought a great engineering team and excellent technology assets. The 12 Friendfeed employees and co-founders were innovating at a breakneck speed. Two of the co-founders, Bret Taylor and Paul Buchheit, used to work at Google where they respectively created Google Maps and Gmail.
  • It’s all about the search war. Google vs. Facebook. Algorithmic search vs. real-time search. Machines vs. humans. Facebook had pretty much been beaten by Twitter on the real-time activity and real-time search front. Rumor has it that when Twitter turned down a rich offer from Facebook to buy them, Facebook decided to take a better look at Friendfeed.
  • The transaction has been estimated at close to $50 million by the Wall Street Journal. According to the newspaper, “The company paid roughly $15 million in cash, with the rest in Facebook stock that vests over several years and would be worth roughly $32.5 million based on the $6.5 billion common valuation an investor recently placed on the company.”
  • Such an exit for Friendfeed is very good given that their traffic had plateau-ed at 1 million users per month, they didn’t have any revenues and they never managed to become popular outside of the Silicon Valley digerati. They created amazing and innovative technology though.
  • The founders did not sell because they wanted to cash out. They already did that with their Google options (Buchheit was employee #23 at the Mountain View search engine). They must have felt integrating Facebook was the right move at the right time.
  • The Friendfeed team will pretty much become Facebook’s R&D department.

What it means: Smart move by Facebook. Very good move for Friendfeed. Working inside Facebook will give the Friendfeed team more resources to execute on their innovative ideas. It gives Facebook great technology, amazing people and faster execution.

I’ve seen similar moves happen in the Local Media industry in the last few months. For example,

  • Truvo, a directory publisher in 6 European countries, acquired yelloyello, a startup from the Netherlands, in December 2008. Truvo transformed yelloyello into Truvo Labs to leverage social media technologies within the Truvo network.
  • AOL, who recently restructured to put “local” as one of their corporate strategic pillars, bought Patch, a US citizen journalism startup, and Going.com, a US local event portal in June 2009.
  • Herold, the Austrian Yellow Pages owned by European Directories, made a strategic investment in Tupalo, a social Yellow Pages site from Austria, in June 2009.
  • Canpages, a Canadian directory publisher, acquired ZipLocal, a social Yellow Pages destination site in June 2009.

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.

I Have Seen the Future of Local Media

I have seen the next evolution of local media…

Yes, I have. And why am I so sure? Because I’ve seen it happen before and it’s about to happen again.  I hope you’re sitting down comfortably with a good coffee because it’s a long blog post (more than 2300 words!). But stick with me, it’s worth it!

Let’s go back to 2003. I’m running Yellow Pages Group’s online strategy and business development. YPG owns the leading online directories in Canada. At the time, our focus is on building the best “online directory” site in Canada (called Internet Yellow Pages or IYPs in the US). “Online directories” at the time are characterized by the infamous 4-fields search boxes (category/heading, business name, city, province/state) that basically recreate the print Yellow Pages experience online. Not always a very good user experience but all major directory publishers worldwide offer the same thing. It’s the design standard/convention for online directory sites.

Yellowpages search box 2003

According to general perception then, our biggest online competitor was Superpages.ca, owned by Telus, a major telco from Western Canada. Superpages was entering Yellow Pages Group territories (Toronto, Montreal, etc.) with print books and monopolizing a lot of the attention. In 2003, I had been using Google as my home page for at least three years. It seemed to me like it was the best entry door to Web content and Google’s traffic and revenues had been growing like crazy. Remember, this is pre-IPO (August 2004) and pre-Google Local (September 2004). Except for early adopters, small merchants were not yet talking about Google (that will come post-IPO) and directory publishers didn’t see Google as a threat.

Google Local 2004 search boxes

But consumers were clearly starting to use Google for local searches and every time I used it, I found the experience was satisfying and the results were quite relevant.  I came to the realization that Google had just created a new design convention around “Web search” (simplified user interface, focus on results relevancy) but the train had left the station and it meant the whole industry had to play catch-up. In Canada, Superpages.ca is not important, Google is. Over the next three years, the entire online team at Yellow Pages Group would work at transforming our online strategy around local search. That included the delivery of a streamlined YellowPages.ca user interface (seen here on archive.org when first launched in 2006), an improved search technology, the introduction of enhanced content in search results (via digitized ad content, etc.), better search engine optimization for the site and a content partnership with Google for the launch of Google Local Canada. Over this transformative period, YPG becomes better at being user-focused which is what made Google’s success. Over the same period of time, the whole directory publishing industry worldwide metamorphoses itself into local search hubs.

The rise of social media

Fast forward to September 2006, I start writing about local search and social media. Blogs have been very popular for a couple of years allowing a new level of self-expression. Online social media as we know it today still hasn’t exploded but I get the feeling it’s going to be important. I remember when I first joined Yellow Pages Group (back in 1999 when it was still called Bell ActiMedia), someone told me word-of-mouth was the biggest source of leads for small businesses. That stuck with me. What if social media was able to create this enormous word-of-mouth machine? What if consumers become able to ask questions, share recommendations and have discussions on local places on a massive scale? It could happen but, at that time, I have no idea yet what form it would take.

In 2006, I’m already a heavy user of Linkedin but have missed the boat completely on MySpace. Facebook is growing but is still not open to everyone. They have just introduced their newsfeed feature (more on that later) and Twitter’s will slowly surface in March 2007 at the SXSW conference. In July 2007, Silicon Valley starts to get excited about Facebook. That same week, after studying the activities of famed blogger Robert Scoble, I understand what he’s doing with Facebook and what that means. An individual can become “media” by broadcasting his activities and having many friends/followers/fans. In August 2007, I reflect on the fact that the web is becoming a big word-of-mouth machine because of human activity.

In October 2007, Friendfeed, co-founded by Google Maps lead developer Bret Taylor, launches. They’ve taken the newsfeed element of Facebook and made it a standalone feature calling it a lifestreaming service. In March 2008, Twitter explodes. I write about how they’re slowly becoming “the new Facebook“. In June 2008, following an experiment I did on Twitter and Facebook, I see how practical it is to “ping” your social graph (i.e. your network of friends) when you have questions or needs. It works very nicely when you’ve “collected” hundreds of friends/people/fans around you.

Fast forward to this year. March 2009, Facebook redesigns its home page to make it more Twitter-like, with a focus on the activity stream. Beginning of April, Friendfeed also redesigns its home page and integrates real-time updates. Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed all feel strangely similar now. I believe we’ve now reached a new gold standard in terms of display and interaction with real-time conversations, which means that consumers will be now be expecting a similar user experience in this context.

Twitter Facebook Friendfeed user interface identical

Small merchants have started creating a presence on Twitter. You can already find bars, restaurants, pizza places, lawyers, plumbers, bakeries, etc. These technology early-adopters are joining the conversation, the same way early small merchant adopters started doing local advertising on Google back in 2003.

New “‘Marketplaces”

With Facebook and Twitter, we’re clearly seeing the emergence of new “marketplaces”, where people and companies/brands meet to discuss, to share links (including news) but also to “buy” and “sell”. To the foreign eye, they’re noisy, unruly and useless but I think they are a modern version of souqs. According to Wikipedia, “souqs were more than just a market to buy and sell goods; they were also major festivals and many cultural and social activities took place in them”. Sounds familiar?


Flickr picture by khalid almasoud

Need more proof? Michael Bauer found a 1901 New York Times article talking about a new growing technology called the telephone. “No doubt the telephone is used unnecessarily, and sometimes abused. Its sharp alarm jars on the nerves, and its incessant and insistent demands upon the attention of the subscriber who is much in request are (…) very wearing” but it adds “to dispense with it now would be to necessitate the reorganization of our business system”. As Bauer says, “Sounds like a twitter morning.”

Traffic explosion

In any case, consumers seem to love their Twitter and their Facebook. According to ComScore, “Worldwide visitors to Twitter approached 10 million in February (2009), up an impressive 700+% vs. year ago” while Facebook welcomed its 200 millionth active user in April 2009. Again according to ComScore, Google’s monthly searches grew by 42% to 9.1B in the last 12 months in the US (March 08 to March 09). So, they still have an excellent growth rate but I’d be curious to know how many “interactions” (a proxy for searches) happen in one month in Facebook and Twitter. This Techcrunch article gives us a better idea by indicating that “more than 850 million photos (are) uploaded to the site each month”.


Fighting yesterday’s battle?

Let’s go back to Yellow Pages publishers. A few weeks ago, RHD presented me their new DexKnows site. I was impressed by the evolution of the site with its simplified user interface (search engine-like) and better taxonomy. But at the same time, as I wrote in my post, “it also made me realize that the industry is still very much looking at Google (or Yahoo or MSN) as the local search benchmark.”  I then wondered out loud: “instead of doing incremental innovation, how do you leapfrog search engines? In other words, what is keeping Google up at night? The answer to that question leads to a possible new strategic direction.  Community, humans, social interactions, marketplaces are what’s keeping Google up at night.” As I said in this interview with Michael Boland from the Kelsey Group, “There have been many recent IYP redesigns that have been drastic improvements but I’ve started to wonder if they aren’t fighting yesterday’s battle. All IYPs are innovating on an incremental fashion but there is no game changing innovation going on.”

Where do we go from here?

What is it then? I think you can guess where I’m going. I know “newsfeeds” are a key element of that brave new real-time world. They’re addictive and allow for content discovery. I know “real-time conversation” is a crucial component as well. After all, social media is all about communication. But I was missing one piece of the equation. That piece was “real-time search”. I discovered its tremendous value when I installed this GreaseMonkey script that integrates Twitter search results on top of Google search results. For timely queries in Google, the Twitosphere offers much better results. For example #1, see this screenshot of a search query when author JG Ballard died a few weeks ago. The Twitter results gave me relevant links to find out more information about his death. You need to scroll down the page to find Google News results that mention the writer’s demise. The screenshot for example #2 was taken when we learned that scientist Stephen Hawking was gravely ill and had been taken to the hospital. Once again, Google failed to provide me timely, relevant results.

What if you were to apply these three fundamental social elements to local media? The newsfeed would allow for publishing of local activities and discovery of new places to go to, important local news and cool people that share similar tastes. The real-time search would allow for structured search on recent activities, showing consumers where the action is happening in their city. Finally, the real-time conversation would enable consumers and merchants to engage in conversation, increasing user satisfaction and generating new leads for businesses. Sounds like this would be a cool and brave new local world isn’t it? This is a game changer and represents a major opportunity for all local media publishers. Ok now, I’m warning you, I’m switching to pitch mode!

Introducing Praized Media’s newsfeed, real-time search and conversation platform

My company, Praized Media, was created to help media companies tap into the growing potential of online word-of-mouth and social media. I believe the future of local media is right in front of our eyes and that if we act now, we can maintain (and even increase) the relevancy of media companies in the next years. We’ve developed four key enterprise-class social modules that can be integrated within an existing platform or be used to create a brand new social destination site.

1) The Local Buzz local newsfeed (integration of a real-time local activity stream including user and advertiser actions, advertising, editorial content, classified ads, weather, events, etc.). Praized will create an activity stream out of your current content and ideally, that feed should be displayed on the home page of your main site.

The Praized Newsfeed  - excerpt

Click for larger view

2) Real-time search integration within existing local search platform. This module provides structured data search results based on the newsfeed activity. It enables the integration of the most recent activities around a specific keyword/merchant name in a specific geographical area. It gives user the freshest results around specific keywords.

Real-time Local Search Integration-small

Click for larger view

3) Real-time users and merchants communication module. This module provides the ability for consumers and merchants to start posting short-form web messages (à la Twitter) in the newsfeed located on your home page. Consumers can “follow” other consumers or merchants and can engage in real-time asynchronous conversations.

merchant message

Merchant Profile Page with Activity Stream - small

Click for larger view

4) Answers (a “local” Question & Answer service, including a social network broadcast mechanism). Consumers can ask questions to the community and to their Facebook/Twitter friends and all answers come back to a unique page. Merchants can even join the conversation!


Click to see actual implementation

What it means: Ten years ago, Google invented a new paradigm for search. The local media industry was blindsided by this upstart which has now become a juggernaut. Back in early 21st century, quick industry reaction would have made the fight more even-handed. Fast-forward to now, Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed have created a new gold standard for real-time conversations and search. Consumers are using them in drove. Small merchants are creating a presence on those sites and joining the conversation. These sites have become marketplaces but they have yet to fully discover their local angle. The rise of social media online is a game-changing opportunity for local media publishers. People are discussing, sharing and recommending to each other news to read and places to visit. Millions of word-of-mouth conversations about local places are occurring every day on the Web, yet they are not happening on major media portals.

I firmly believe that this is going to be the gold standard for local media and that, in the next three years, all major Yellow Pages, newspaper publishers and possibly magazine, radio and television Web site will serve their content via a newsfeed on their home page. They’ll show real-time community activity that way and will allow conversations between all local stakeholders (consumers, merchants, journalists, politicians, etc.). Praized Media might not power them all but we’ll do our part to make this change happen.

I leave you with this perfect quote from Robert Scoble, famed Silicon Valley thinker. He thinks the future of local is in real-time. He says ” You’ll find all sorts of things this way in the future. How about a restaurant? A plumber? A TV repair shop? A lawyer? Consider that you’re walking down the street with a future version of Facebook or Twitter or friendfeed in your hand. You’re looking for a restaurant. Which is going to be able to bring back the best restaurants that your friends care about? That requires having metadata to study. That’s why Facebook copied friendfeed’s likes so that it can come back and say “there are four restaurants that have more than 20 likes from your friends within walking distance.” Translation: the future hasn’t been built yet. That’s why Twitter has not won the entire game yet. That’s why this is a fun industry to watch.”

Update: many people have asked me for a portable/printable version of the article. I have created an acrobat (.pdf) version that you can download here.

Man Versus Machine

On Saturday, I realized that my old wireless router had died of old age. Not knowing what model to buy next (I had bought the first one because it was the only one compatible with my old iPAQ Music Center), I turned to my social graph for an answer. I used Twitter to ask my 375 “followers”: “just realized my wireless router at home died. Any advice as to purchase of a new one?”

In a matter of a few hours, I quickly received many valid answers both from Twitter and from Facebook where my “tweets” are broadcasted to my 612 “friends”:

  • A Montreal web entrepreneur told me to buy the Linksys WRT160N with a link to the product page
  • The partner at the VC firm who funded Praized Media said I should buy an Airport Extreme if I’m using a Mac
  • A former Ubisoft colleague told me to make sure I update the firmware before declaring my router dead
  • Another former Ubisoft colleague suggested a SonicWall router along with a link
  • A high school friend told me to buy Linksys and said I shouldn’t pay more than $80.00

Now, I could have easily queried Google for such a search. I could have looked for “how to buy a wireless router“, found relevant web sites like About.com or eHow, and identify important product criteria that way (and associated brand/models). But you know what? Research takes time. Pinging my social graph took me 1 minute and I got five valid answers in a very short time.

It got me thinking about how the social graph is structured, in terms of ease of access. It’s very easy to access friends & family. You usually have their e-mail address and phone numbers handy. It’s a bit harder to reach the people that have a shared interest with you (community members, neighbors, former colleagues, etc.) and it’s usually very difficult to directly ask experts for their opinion (have you tried pinging a movie critic lately?). What if you could easily reach all these people to ask them anything? And what if everyone had tools to make it easy to answer?

social graph word of mouth

It also got me thinking about the whole Man vs. Machine debate. Who do you trust most for information/recommendations? Man (a real human being answering your query) or Machine (an algorithm that’s surfacing relevant information)? It’s Facebook/Twitter/Friendfeed/Mahalo vs. Google/Yahoo/MSN. Coming from the business directory industry where word-of-mouth is often considered the biggest “competitor” (with social media, it’s becoming the biggest opportunity!), I tend to find human recommendations more relevant and more interesting.

In an article about social media monetization yesterday, eMarketer says that word-of-mouth might be a key way to monetize social media as “62% of marketing professionals told TNS Media Intelligence and Cymfony that creating word-of-mouth or viral campaigns has great potential to impact their business.”

That Man/Machine debate is age-old as you can see from this quote from a 1968 Time magazine article: “With the Depression, the machines that had once seemed so heroic to the prosperous ’20s were suddenly transformed into villains. As production lines slowed to a crawl and millions were thrown out of work, surrealists depicted nightmarish phantom treadmills and airplanes that were trapped like dragonflies.”

As we get closer to the singularity (defined as “a hypothesised point in the future variously characterized by the technological creation of self-improving intelligence, unprecedentedly rapid technological progress, or some combination of the two.”), I think we’ll get into more debates around the value of Man versus Machine (or maybe I’ve been watching too much Battlestar Galactica).

Update: Danny Sullivan talks about “Search 4.0: putting humans back in search“.

Is Word of Mouth the Great Local Search Disruptor?

Was reading this morning a great analysis by Mathew Ingram about a New York Times article describing the way “young people” get/read their political news. It’s clearly more and more about word of mouth and your social graph.

As Mathew says: “It’s not that there is anything earth-shatteringly new in the piece, mind you. But I think it does a great job of describing how digital “word of mouth” — in other words, social networking of all kinds including Twitter, IM, Facebook and so on — has become a dominant means of news delivery for young people in a way that I’m not sure old geezers like myself quite grasp, no matter how often people describe it”

The Times sums it up: “In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one. (…) In one sense, this social filter is simply a technological version of the oldest tool in politics: word of mouth.”

What it means: I remember when I joined Yellow Pages Group in 1999 (called Bell ActiMedia at the time), old-timers used to tell me that the biggest “competitor” to directory publishers wasn’t other directory publishers (or Google or other online directories), it was word of mouth. People have always asked their friends for recommendations and it has always represented a large volume of local search “queries”.

Admittedly, news and local search are not totally the same. Local search information is usually more of a pull (i.e. someone looking for a product/service) than a push (i.e. someone broadcasting information about a new merchant they found). It’s also more “evergreen” than news, i.e. unless you’re a total local merchant junkie, you don’t need to learn in a timely fashion about a new restaurant opening in your neighborhood. But there’s the seed out there of future consumer behavior which could create a great disruption effect on local search. Who knows? It might become valuable to broadcast information about your favorite local merchants. As I estimated in this blog post, there’s potentially 7 more times online local conversations than online directories searches currently. Anyone who successfully harness these conversations will create very valuable local search inventory.