A Look Back at 2007

In business blogs everywhere, it’s that time of the year again, when we start looking back at the year that was and we start to forecast what 2008 will look like. In this post, I look back at 2007 and discuss the most significant local and social media news of the year.

1) Facebook

Clearly, Facebook was the number one news of 2007. By allowing anyone to open up an account in the Fall of 2006 (at about the same time they introduced their newsfeed function), Facebook paved the way for the arrival of tech enthusiasts and early adopters/influencers. Silicon Valley got very excited in the Spring and the launch of the F8 platform in May, allowing third-party developers to build applications, brought more excitement. I believe early adopters’ interest in Facebook has peaked (and has even started to decline) but the job is done. More than 55M active users of all ages access the site every month. The social network had a couple of setbacks around the end of the year with the beacon fracas and the launch of OpenSocial by Google but I believe it does not tarnish their luster. Facebook retaliated by opening up their infrastructure. The biggest benefit to the Web in general: Facebook is introducing people to the social web (micro-blogging, blogging, pictures uploading, “friending”), people who will eventually graduate to more complex social applications.

2) The opening up of the social web

Symbolized by the publication of the OpenSocial standard, the web is becoming more social and more open. Additionnally, the announcement by Six Apart that Movable Type, their leading blogging software, is going open source and the launch of the DiSo initiative to create open source implementations of distributed social networking are also important projects. Social will be part of the fabric of the web.

3) The launch of the iPhone and the unveiling of Android

Apple created quite a stir in June by launching the iPhone, a beautiful device that changes the way we see mobile web access. It’s not a perfect machine by any mean (still very closed) but it’s a game changer. The Android mobile platform by Google is also potentially very disruptive and paves the way to an interesting 2008 in that field. Local mobile search, the famous holy grail of local search, is on the verge of becoming reality.

4) The acquisition of Ingenio by AT&T/YellowPages.com

This purchase is a critical move for YellowPages.com and it clearly signals to the rest of the directory industry that call-tracking/pay-per-call will be the unifying standard in local product bundling, allowing a single sales force to sell multiple media formats. In the same vein, Marchex acquired Voicestar earlier this year.

5) The Radiohead “pay what you want” experiment

Even though it wasn’t as radical as industry watchers wanted it to be (Radiohead is still going to release a CD version of InRainbows), this trial by one of the most preeminent alt-rock group generated a lot of discussions in the blogosphere. Consumers were allowed to pay whatever they wanted to pay for the download including not paying at all. ComScore released some disheartening information about the percentage of people who paid for the album but that was quickly shot down by Radiohead’s management. In any case, the music industry needs more bleeding edge experiments like this one to find their future business model(s).

6) Reality check in the local search industry

The last two Kelsey conferences offered a sobering and realistic look at the realities of local search. Local is tough, hasn’t been cracked yet but offers tremendous opportunities. Stakeholders are realizing that partnerships will be needed to succeed. Two senior executives from the print directory industry talked openly about the opportunities and challenges of being a traditional media publisher and it was the first time that we heard that kind of discourse publicly. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all courting traditional local media companies that possess large sales forces to help them increase local revenues. I think we’re getting close to the “acceptance” stage of the Internet grief cycle and we should see a lot of action next year on the local search front.

I’d love to get your feedback on 2007 events. Anything important I forgot?

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Marchex’s Bill Day: It’s the Right Time for Investments in Local

As an interesting segue to my VoiceStar/Marchex blog post from last week, MediaPost offers an interview with Bill Day, their new Chief Media Officer in which he talks about the importance of local for Marchex. “Kaufman Brothers analyst Sameet Sinha questioned the company’s heavy investment in local search at this moment, after the announcement it would buy pay-per-call ad provider VoiceStar. It happened to be the first official day at work for new Chief Media Officer Bill Day, most recently at WhenU, but also a co-founder of About.com and one of the online pioneers of the ’80s at Prodigy. He was nothing but optimistic about the opportunity for local.”

Highlights:

Q: Why is the time right now for local? When we did it at About.com, it was too early. The interest area was the place to invest. Things have changed. First of all, many more people use the Internet. If you want to have a pro-sumer model, you need one that scales to be very comprehensive. Marchex is a leader. It already has thousands and thousands and thousands of sites. You also need a model that can get really really deep within those localities. I did a lot of diligence coming in and with the Yellow Pages advertisers now coming on, it suggests it really is a good time to invest in local. You have to invest to reap the rewards.

Q: What is the first thing you’ll do in your new job? The first thing is to focus on the continued rollout of our open list technology populating businesses down to the ZIP code level (editor’s note: e.g. 90210.com). I’m also talking to media companies in the local space. There’s a lot of business development I need to do to get the ball rolling.

Q: Who is doing local right? There are certainly sites that get parts of it right. I can’t point to one network that gets it right consistently. I don’t know anything countrywide. The sites that tend to do that are using very stale and automated generic content that is not good enough to get repeat visitation. I’ve looked at some of the WashingtonPost.com sites, what Sidewalk’s done for Digital Cities. We’re in a pretty open space for starting to do things that haven’t been done so far on the net–to truly create a broad, deep network of sites.

What it means: Marchex believes online revenue action in the future will happen on the local and hyperlocal front. They’ve acquired web real estate (local URLs) and local content. They have solid search engine optimization (SEO) expertise and they now want to introduce user-generated content. Using all of these tools, they’re building a large-scale local ad network. The only thing I would question is the quality of traffic coming from SEO, as not all clicks are born equal. Measuring ROI will become key when evaluating the quality of local search traffic but, as I believe a good chunk of the revenues in local will happen around pay-per-call in the next 5-10 years, the acquisition of VoiceStar makes complete sense strategically. That’s a great way to measure and prove local search ROI.

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.”