camelMobile applications and local searches continue to penetrate deeper into the mobile user experience, and exciting developments are on the horizon.

Mobile and Local Search: Finding the Way was moderated by Michael Boland, Senior Analyst, The Kelsey Group. Speakers at this Search Engine Strategies seminar all brought knowledge from different corners of the mobile and local fields.

  • Ryan Sarver, Founder and VP of Business Development, Skyhook Wireless will speak about enablement of location
  • Collin Holmes, Vice President of Product Management, V-Enable will speak about innovation in voice search and Mobile411
  • Tom Limongello, Director of Sales, Crisp Wireless will give an overview of the current state of mobile and local search
  • Kevin E. Mazzatta, Vice President of Business Development, ChaCha Search, Inc will speak about his company, ChaCha, and the evolution of the mobile searcher

Moderator Michael Boland opened the meeting with a reminder of the possibilities for mobile and local search with two recent big developments: the release of the Google Android hardware and the release of the Apple SDK.

The Current State of Mobile Search

Tom Limongello of Crisp Wireless opened up to review the current state of mobile and local search. His company focuses completely on mobile web development.

Mobile search hasn’t changed much since 1999 when all we had was Vindigo, except now we have more colors and WYSIWYG functionality. The lynchpin of mobile search has always been zipcodes, but this is problematic. I know my own zipcode, but am unlikely to know the zipcode for a neighborhood of a strange city. And typing in cross street names is unwieldy. What’s the alternative? (Auto-geolocation but that’s the next speaker).

How is content delivered? Most content is filtered before being presented to the user (example: sites like Socialight, Outalot, etc.)

Different Ways To Play

We’ve learned lessons from big news sites like USATODAY on how to better program for local content. They’ve found the best way to get folks to come back to their sites is to get them to sign up for SMS alerts. For example, you could sign up for an alert on the keyword KARAOKE, and define a zipcode and date/time. Then you’d get pushed information on karaoke bars in your area in your desired date/time range.

Once you add GPS the programming can get better, because it’s one less thing the user has to enter.

Another use is to push content from the desktop to the mobile for future use. For example, a user can locate Kelly BlueBook information for a car, then push it to the mobile so they can view it while on the used car lot.

Real Estate Concerns

Must be cognizant that only the most crucial information is used because such a tiny bit of space is available, and users won’t want to wade through scrolling or endless linking.


Next up to speak is Ryan Sarver of Skyhook Wireless. Skyhook was founded in 2003, and its focus is on enablement of location using wi-fi instead of satellites.

Inputting your location is an adoption barrier to local searches, and GPS isn’t always reliable (takes time to load up, and doesn’t work in some locations). The proliferation of wi-fi access points for triangulation is a perfect solution. He estimated there are 33,000,000 access points worldwide. Skyhook employs 400 drivers worldwide just driving up and down streets mapping wi-fi access points. He showed wi-fi access point maps of Manhattan (2 millions APs) and San Francisco, with a red dot representing each access point. The map looked like a field of red tulips (and made me wonder about wi-fi radiation!)

As auto-location becomes ubiquitous, local searches will surge. It’s already begun with the iPhone. The last firmware upgrade in January added a “locate me” button to the GoogleMaps feature. Local searches have increased exponentially since then, to the extent that Google had to check their records to be sure all the new impressions they were seeing from local searches were valid.

The State of 411

Next to speak is Colin Holmes. His company V-enable has been innovative in voice search, making the input mechanism easier. It started providing mostly movies, ringtones and wallpapers, but lately has shifted into mobile/local searching.

411 hasn’t changed

411 hasn’t fundamentally changed since 1966. You call, and someone does the searching for you. They feel a change is happening in the market – with Google411, Tellme (recently bought by Microsoft) and 1800FREE411.

He related users of 411 to Starbucks customers: they need it when they need it, they don’t really care how much it costs, and they don’t really know how much they spend on it over time. People don’t tend to call 411 that much: 62% only call once every 3 months. People mostly use mobile for 411, but SMS is surging ahead of that.

Mobile411, his company, offers a “multi-modal” experience of local search. You can use the phone to input some criteria (zip code, restaurant type), maybe speak some instructions at some point in the process (sushi with vegetarian options), the results are sent by email to a friend, and you can map the destination. The accuracy is 80-90%, and they strive for a personalized experience, using suggestive text, “my searches” and recent searches.

85% of their users say Mobile411 is equal or superior to traditional 411 service. In terms of ad revenue, Mobile411 offers a 50/50 split between partners and v-enable.

ChaCha Cha Your Way to better results

Last to speak is Kevin Mazzatta of ChaCha. ChaCha’s tagline is “search+brainpower.” ChaCha started as a technology company and is now a “people company.” Scott Jones is the founder of ChaCha and is also the founder of voicemail (! – I thought MaBell did that!) ChaCha believes the best way to the best search results is through adding people brainpower. ChaCha has people vetting the search results.

The Mobile search industry is moving faster than any other tech industry in recent record. Mobile phones are the fastest-growing personal communication device – the #1 most commonly used information terminal in the world. Many people think that means the world is being overtaken by iPhone and CrackBerrys, but the fact is 80% of cell phones are traditional “dumb” phones. ChaCha’s mission: how to make every phone into a smart phone – by providing convenient, easy to use, human-guided natural languge mobile answers.

What are common characteristics of the mobile user?

  • can’t be constrained by network type
  • timely answers (30 sec max)
  • user-centric (my search is different than yours)
  • free
  • simple answers (not endless links)
  • for teenagers, 2/3 of traffic is text messages

What do users search for?

  • directions
  • directory
  • shopping
  • weather
  • stocks
  • travel info
  • vital stats
  • pocket trivia

Evolution of mobile searcher

  • “cool phase:” searches like, “how many eyelids does a camel have?” (accounts for over half of queries: entertainment, movies, trivia, horoscope, etc.)
  • practical phase (cheapest flight from sarasota to indiana tonight)
  • addictive phase (I need to locate a Wii in St. Louise NOW)

Q & A

Q: How is it going to come together in terms of ad serving?

A: It will be an extension of existing stuff. Won’t need a whole new buying mechanism. Problem right now is a lack of inventory – will take a good four to five years to build up. The local space is fragmented.

Q: How can I get my business submitted so local search can find it?

A: Brute force. (laughter). Apparently local search market is extremely segmented. There is very little overlap between directories such as Google and Yahoo. is also good for local submissions. BUT submit your business to Google’s local business center (hours, location, etc.) this is your best bet for now.