Communication is at the Heart of Social

Last week, I was reading the news of the Snapvine acquisition by my friends at Whitepages.com. Snapvine is a widget application embeddable in social sites with which users can leave voice messages/comments to other users. I suspect Snapvine has built a VoIP infrastructure that can be leveraged for any type of communication product.

Snapvine logo

According to Techcrunch, “they’ll integrate Snapvine into search results, letting people claim their information and replace their phone number with a voicemail box from Snapvine, and/or a click-to-call button that lets people call them without giving out their phone number. Their hope is that as people do searches on themselves (…) and find their information listed on WhitePages.com, they’ll claim the profile and add Snapvine functionality.”

The announcement reminded me of a great blog post I read about 10 days ago on ReadWriteWeb, where they were discussing the next steps in terms of social media monetization. They suggested the mass-market utility model defined as “social graph + communication tools.” is the winning formula for social media. They added: “The communication tools could be email, SMS, VOIP, poking, walls, vampires, whatever turns people on. The social graph is the spam controller and way to make connections.” They concluded by saying that “The social graph is so closely linked to communications, which has always been a utility model.”

What it means: thinking about social media and word-of-mouth, it’s clearly all about communication tools. That’s a very powerful insight for anyone involved in social media and local search. If you are, you’ll want to make sure your users have access to a variety of communication tools to broadcast, share and request recommendations.

Communication is at the Heart of Social

Last week, I was reading the news of the Snapvine acquisition by my friends at Whitepages.com. Snapvine is a widget application embeddable in social sites with which users can leave voice messages/comments to other users. I suspect Snapvine has built a VoIP infrastructure that can be leveraged for any type of communication product.

Snapvine logo

According to Techcrunch, “they’ll integrate Snapvine into search results, letting people claim their information and replace their phone number with a voicemail box from Snapvine, and/or a click-to-call button that lets people call them without giving out their phone number. Their hope is that as people do searches on themselves (…) and find their information listed on WhitePages.com, they’ll claim the profile and add Snapvine functionality.”

The announcement reminded me of a great blog post I read about 10 days ago on ReadWriteWeb, where they were discussing the next steps in terms of social media monetization. They suggested the mass-market utility model defined as “social graph + communication tools.” is the winning formula for social media. They added: “The communication tools could be email, SMS, VOIP, poking, walls, vampires, whatever turns people on. The social graph is the spam controller and way to make connections.” They concluded by saying that “The social graph is so closely linked to communications, which has always been a utility model.”

What it means: thinking about social media and word-of-mouth, it’s clearly all about communication tools. That’s a very powerful insight for anyone involved in social media and local search. If you are, you’ll want to make sure your users have access to a variety of communication tools to broadcast, share and request recommendations.

Random Data Points from DDC07 (Live @ DDC07)

I’m just coming out of the last session of this year’s DDC conference organized by the Kelsey Group. Again, a very good conference with interesting topics and multiple networking opportunities. Here are some random data points from the various speech and panels I heard in the last two days.

  • Print media still represents 90% of total directory industry revenues
  • 60% of SMEs do at least half of their business with other businesses
  • 21% of SMEs have embraced cell phones and VOIP lines (instead of the traditional phone company land line)
  • 34% of SMEs ad budget is dedicated to online media (including web site expenditures)
  • Automotive represents 60% of Trader Corp’s revenues (Trader Canada)
  • Jingle: at least 90% of their revenues come from national advertisers. 5% of their queries are category-based. They have close to 100,000 advertisers.
  • White Directory Publishers will generate $3-4M in online video revenues in 2008.
  • The optimal length for an online local video ad is 45 seconds.

VoiceStar Acquired by Marchex for $28M

TechCrunch has the news. Highlights:

Marchex total anticipated investment to acquire VoiceStar will be $28 million, consisting of approximately $20 million in transaction consideration and $8 million in company investment. Specifically, transaction consideration consists of approximately $12.9 million in cash consideration and Marchex will issue approximately $7.1 million in restricted stock that is subject to vesting over two-and-one-half years from closing to certain employees of VoiceStar; and company investment consists of $8 million relating to products, infrastructure, human resources and other items through 2008. The acquisition is expected to close by October 1, 2007.

What it means: brilliant acquisition. I am a strong believer in pay-per-call especially in a local context. Big question mark: will Marchex leverage the VoiceStar technology for their network of local web sites (thereby competing directly with directory publishers, who are the biggest customers of VoiceStar) or will they continue to sell VoiceStar as a platform? In any case, congrats to my two friends Ari and Todd who started VoiceStar a few years ago !!!

Update: Peter at Local Onliner has more info about Marchex’s strategy: “We can now also add proprietary pay-per-phone-call advertising units to our network of local Web sites, which allows us to increase the direct monetization of our own properties,” notes Marchex’s Peter Christothoulou, per press release. The release also notes that VoiceStar “increases Marchex’s ability to directly monetize its… network of Web Sites, lessening its dependence on third-parties and increasing….. revenue (via) call-based advertising units.”

VoiceStar Acquired by Marchex for $28M

TechCrunch has the news. Highlights:

Marchex total anticipated investment to acquire VoiceStar will be $28 million, consisting of approximately $20 million in transaction consideration and $8 million in company investment. Specifically, transaction consideration consists of approximately $12.9 million in cash consideration and Marchex will issue approximately $7.1 million in restricted stock that is subject to vesting over two-and-one-half years from closing to certain employees of VoiceStar; and company investment consists of $8 million relating to products, infrastructure, human resources and other items through 2008. The acquisition is expected to close by October 1, 2007.

What it means: brilliant acquisition. I am a strong believer in pay-per-call especially in a local context. Big question mark: will Marchex leverage the VoiceStar technology for their network of local web sites (thereby competing directly with directory publishers, who are the biggest customers of VoiceStar) or will they continue to sell VoiceStar as a platform? In any case, congrats to my two friends Ari and Todd who started VoiceStar a few years ago !!!

Update: Peter at Local Onliner has more info about Marchex’s strategy: “We can now also add proprietary pay-per-phone-call advertising units to our network of local Web sites, which allows us to increase the direct monetization of our own properties,” notes Marchex’s Peter Christothoulou, per press release. The release also notes that VoiceStar “increases Marchex’s ability to directly monetize its… network of Web Sites, lessening its dependence on third-parties and increasing….. revenue (via) call-based advertising units.”

News Grab Bag: ContactAtOnce!, Bret Taylor and Jim Norris, DexKnows.com, New Headings in Canada

A selection of some of the praized-worthy news in the last few days:

1) ContactAtOnce!, a provider of presence-aware solutions (click-to-call, IM, etc.) just announced that BargainNews.com, one of their customers, improved the conversion rate of its auto classified website by 77% after adding the ContactAtOnce! service (see screenshot below) to their enhanced advertising packages.

BargainNews Listing Contactatonce

2) Bret Taylor and Jim Norris (both seen below), two of the masterminds behind Google Maps and several other Google products, have joined Benchmark Capital as “Entrepreneurs in Residence.” This gives them paid positions to hang out at Benchmark’s offices on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road and think through starting a business. They have a specific idea in mind, but are secretive about it, telling VentureBeat only that it’s a “consumer Internet” company. I’ve had the chance to work closely with Bret when Google launched their Local site in Canada and it was great fun. I wish them both good luck! (via VentureBeat)

Bret Taylor Jim Norris Google Maps

3) R.H. Donnelley officially launched DexKnows.com, their new local search web site powered by Local Matters (previously known as Dexonline.com). It now includes comparison shopping, a better mapping experience and some personalization tools.

DexKnows.com home page

4) Yellow Pages Group in Canada released their latest heading modifications. It’s always interesting as it gives us a perspective into changes in culture and society. Amongst others, Pilates, Organic Products, Geothermal Energy, Tapas, Brunch, Vegetarian & Vegan Foods are in. Telephone Booths, Shoulder Pads, Chewing Gum and Buttonhole Makers are out.

Skype Releases Find a Business Function and Merchant Reviews

From the Skype blog:

Although only a minor increase in the version number, from 3.0 to 3.1, this release contains a major new feature called SkypeFind. SkypeFind is one of the most interesting features that we’ve done in quite a while now. We call it “Local businesses you like”, and that’s what it is – a collection of businesses, with reviews and comments, built by everyone using Skype. There are three main things you can do in SkypeFind and some hidden tricks as well.

Adding and editing listings

To help build SkypeFind, you may want to add your own listings of businesses that are not yet on SkypeFind. Just click the “Add listing” button on the SkypeFind tab, or click “Edit this listing” when viewing a listing, and fill in the form.

skypefind_addlisting.jpg

Adding a review or comment

The next thing you may want to do is add a review or comment for a listing. In the search results view, you will see the “Add a review” button. You can add a review, picking one of the rating options. You can also add an optional text comment. You can add one comment per listing. If your opinion changes, you can always come back to this listing and edit your comment later. This might be useful if you were initially impressed by a business and so added a comment but service went down hill on additional visits.

skypefind_reviews.jpg

Find a business, any business

If you just want to search for a business, there’s nothing easier than simply going to the SkypeFind tab and entering your search details. As you typically want to find a business that is close to you, we automatically search for business in the country you listed in your profile, but you can choose a different country if you want. You also need to indicate what you are looking for, such as a “restaurant”, “pizza place”, “pet shop” or “florist”, and possibly a city or region name, although this is not mandatory.

client_skypefind.jpg

You then click “Search” and see the results.

skypefind_results.jpg

As you’ll notice, there’s a “Call” button right there. When you click it, you make a SkypeOut call to the phone number that is in this listing. But wait, there’s more… There’s a cool trick you can use when you are not sure what you’re looking for exactly. Throughout the SkypeFind interface, you see the “Ask your friends” link. You can post a question to your friends there, such as “What’s a good hotel in London?” Your mood message is then automatically set to this question, but with a twist: there’s a link to a public chat that’s automatically created.

skypefind_recommendations.jpg

Now, when your contacts see your mood message and click on it, they are automatically added to this public chat. You can then chat about hotels in London together.

skypefind_publicchat.jpg

GigaOM has additional information: “In the first few hours after Skype made the new beta client available, it already had 372 SkypeFind listings in 53 countries, Tamkivi said. He added that while there is no commercial advertising yet, the service may accept ads in the future. In terms of editorial control, Tamkivi says the SkypeFind pages will use a Wiki-like functionality so that the user community can change and correct entries. There will also be a direct link from each rating to Skype, where people can report abuses or malicious postings, Tamkivi said. There are no plans to make the SkypeFind ratings available to non-Skype users, he added.”

What it means: as Skype is all about calls and they have a tremendous installed base (they reached 500M downloads this week and they usally have 3.5 to 9 million users connected at any one time), this is potentially disruptive to any directory publisher or local search site. But it really depends on user adoption. We’ll have to see if Skype users are interested in doing other things than communicating with their main contacts. Main weakness: there is no data in the system. It needs to be built from scratch. As Download Squad says: “Right now, if you type restaurant into Skypefind, you get only 11 listings. And if you want to find a restaurant in Philadelphia, you’re out of luck. Personally, I would have been happier if Skype had first acquired a large database of businesses and then let users rank those services. Having a Skype411 button would be a lot more useful to me than Skypefind.” But in any case, this is to be followed very closely!

Google has Launched Pay-Per-Call in India

I found a nice nugget of information in this Business Week article about pay-per-call:

“Google is currently at work on its own pay-per-call service, which already works as a part of Google Maps but hasn’t yet been offered to U.S. small businesses. In that system, users click on an icon for a restaurant, enter their numbers, and an outside provider connects the user and the establishment. The company has already launched a formal pay-per-call product in India, says Rohit Dahawan, a product manager for Google that oversees the click-to-call and pay-per-call products. And they’re working on more such products, to be launched in the next several months in the U.S. They’ve also started tracking calls as part of their updated small-business AdWords service.”

Digging a bit deeper, I found (via Search Engine Roundtable) this September 2006 DigitalPoint forum thread that talks about it:

“These ads are charged at about 45 INR (Indian Rupees) (about $1.00). When somebody clicks on the ad, you get a text box where you can input your number, the moment you submit google connects a call between you and the advertiser and let both of them speak for as much time as they want. So advertiser only spends about 45 INR, irrespective of the calling time. One can call you from any part of the world and these charges will remain same. Also if the call get disconnected in first 10 seconds, the advertiser pays nothing. This service is currently in beta and currently google seem to have offered access to pay per call to some big players in the indian .com industry.”

What it means: I was not aware of this Google pay-per-call trial. They are clearly using the click-to-call functionality they deployed earlier in 2006 to enable the pay-per-call model. I really believe in this call-based ad model (it was part of my 2007 predictions) but I’m not sure this is the right way to execute. Click-to-call is not as seamless as replacing a merchant’s usual number with a trackable phone number. But you know what? If Google is trialling pay-per-call, you’d better be thinking about it as well if your media is all about calls. BTW, I also love the idea of expiring phone numbers for the classifieds business (like Craigsnumber).

Google has Launched Pay-Per-Call in India

I found a nice nugget of information in this Business Week article about pay-per-call:

“Google is currently at work on its own pay-per-call service, which already works as a part of Google Maps but hasn’t yet been offered to U.S. small businesses. In that system, users click on an icon for a restaurant, enter their numbers, and an outside provider connects the user and the establishment. The company has already launched a formal pay-per-call product in India, says Rohit Dahawan, a product manager for Google that oversees the click-to-call and pay-per-call products. And they’re working on more such products, to be launched in the next several months in the U.S. They’ve also started tracking calls as part of their updated small-business AdWords service.”

Digging a bit deeper, I found (via Search Engine Roundtable) this September 2006 DigitalPoint forum thread that talks about it:

“These ads are charged at about 45 INR (Indian Rupees) (about $1.00). When somebody clicks on the ad, you get a text box where you can input your number, the moment you submit google connects a call between you and the advertiser and let both of them speak for as much time as they want. So advertiser only spends about 45 INR, irrespective of the calling time. One can call you from any part of the world and these charges will remain same. Also if the call get disconnected in first 10 seconds, the advertiser pays nothing. This service is currently in beta and currently google seem to have offered access to pay per call to some big players in the indian .com industry.”

What it means: I was not aware of this Google pay-per-call trial. They are clearly using the click-to-call functionality they deployed earlier in 2006 to enable the pay-per-call model. I really believe in this call-based ad model (it was part of my 2007 predictions) but I’m not sure this is the right way to execute. Click-to-call is not as seamless as replacing a merchant’s usual number with a trackable phone number. But you know what? If Google is trialling pay-per-call, you’d better be thinking about it as well if your media is all about calls. BTW, I also love the idea of expiring phone numbers for the classifieds business (like Craigsnumber).

Meta-Praized: Google & Outdoor Advertising, 100M IE7 Installs, DRM isn’t about Piracy, The Future of Telephony, Newspaper blogs, and more

Meta-Praized is a collection of links & stories we’ve “dugg” on Digg.com in the last few weeks. By clicking on that link, you can always follow what’s currently on our mind:

  • “Google plans street advertising presence” via Engadget
  • “Google Talk to Interoperate with AIM This Year” via the Google Operating System blog
  • “Microsoft Hits 100 Million IE7 Installs” via BetaNews
  • “Privately, Hollywood admits DRM isn’t about piracy” via Ars Technica
  • “Small Town News Station Heads to YouTube” via SplashCast Media
  • “MTV to buy RateMyProfessors.com” in News.com
  • “Asterisk: The Future of Telephony” via linux.inet.hr
  • “Google (Google Checkout) breaks ceasefire with eBay” via Valleywag
  • “Big Media’s Crush on Social Networking” in the New York Times
  • “Google Inc. is currently in negotiations to purchase Adscape Media (videogame advertising)” in CNN Money
  • “Traffic to newspaper blogs soars” via MarketWatch