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Feb 17 2006
Broadband: Growing but Slowing?
Here's a roundup of data by aggregator eMarketer on broadband adoption � now pegged at 61 percent of U.S. households, according to Ipsos. eMarketer summarizes that price is the major barrier to continued penetration in the U.S. market:

According to a new survey from the Yankee Group, the most common reason US consumers don't subscribe to broadband is that it's too expensive. Despite promotional price cuts for DSL (which often cover slower connection speeds and eventually expire, shooting the price up), broadband is more costly than dial-up, especially for truly high speeds. Presumably, dial-up consumers have little need for tasks beyond e-mail, IM and simple Web browsing, which are doable through broadband, and want to keep their monthly expenses low. Price isn't the only factor. More than 30% of consumers say that they just don't want broadband, and about 14% say they feel dial-up is adequate for their needs. Less than 10% are not able to get broadband access in their area.

However, municipal Wi-Fi efforts aim to provide no- or low-cost high-speed access to urban areas throughout the country. According to this article about municipal Wi-Fi in Boston:

In its 40-page report, the Boston Foundation further said: "Respected technology companies like Earthlink, Google, and Hewlett-Packard are extremely interested in partnering with local government to come to Boston to build a low-cost or no-cost system capable of providing affordable and reliable service." ... The question is no longer whether Boston is going to build a citywide Wi-Fi network, but rather how and when," the report, released Wednesday, stated.

And here's information on Chicago's new effort.

All the Internet consumer trends that TKG studies and writes about are tied to broadband adoption in one way or another (local search, the impact of online on newspaper and directory usage, VoIP adoption, etc.). That's why this question of how much more deeply BB will penetrate (and when) is of critical interest and importance. Companies such as Earthlink and search engines such as Yahoo! and Google recognize that they benefit from increased penetration and so are interested in facilitating access. (Yahoo! has DSL relationships with almost all the major telcos.)

For all these reasons, the first panel of our Drilling Down event is:

The Broadband Juggernaut: Slowing Down or Speeding Up?
High-speed Internet access is the backbone of the new consumer paradigm. It took a decade for broadband to reach �critical mass� in the U.S. Now we are witnessing the disruptive effects for traditional media and potentially for some newer technologies as well. While some predict broadband is slowing, others believe competition and new initiatives (e.g., municipal Wi-Fi) and technologies could drive high-speed access to nearly 100 percent penetration in the next several years. Which version of the future is correct? This panel will debate the potential scenarios and look outside the U.S. to higher-speed markets to see what the future might hold.

On that panel will be:

  • Chuck Haas, CEO, Metrofi
  • Om Malik, Senior Writer, Business 2.0 Magazine
  • David Payne, Director of Development, Earthlink Municipal Networks
  • Brian Jurutka, Director of Marketing Solutions, comScore
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  10:19 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [1]



Feb 17 2006
Women.com: Taking Verticals Too Far?
When people have asked me about "vertical search" and the associated opportunity, I've argued that there is an opportunity but it's mixed. Because the general search market is locked up right now we're seeing a ton of companies offering a more specialized content experience with search as the hook or angle. It's also the case that some sites can offer something richer and deeper to users, as well as potentially more qualified leads to advertisers than come from traditional search engines.

Fundamentally, however, people cannot remember all these sites and don't want to have to. That's why search engines remain popular; they're the "front door" or gateway to all this content.

Some sites, such as the recently launched Healthline.com, are a mix of structured, proprietary content and broader Web search in a category specific area. Simply Hired and Indeed are examples of vertical search in the Jobs category. By contrast, I wouldn't call Cars.com a vertical search site. It's a vertical directory site with highly structured fields and content and it doesn't offer anything from the broader Internet. I would also not call TheKnot.com a vertical search site, though it uses search-based navigation.

Confused? Have another cup of coffee. Let's get away from all this semantic mumbo jumbo for a moment.

According to this blurb in PaidContent, iVillage plans to soon relaunch and rebrand as Women.com (a site/URL it bought for many many millions some time ago). According to quoted remarks from the earnings call:

"We anticipate launching the new search at the end of the second quarter 2006. Our objective with Search for Women is to enhance and further customize our users and advertisers experience by participating in the so-called vertical search marketplace ... this new product will allow us to promote iVillage brand by blanketing the Internet with add campaign promoting Search for the Women's Intuition."

PaidContent questions the move: "It will be branded 'Search for Women,' whatever that means."

Precisely: What does that mean? It might effectively mean nothing and be a dismal failure. It might simply be a branding/marketing ploy.

However, let's assume that this isn't simply a marketing ploy and that the new Women.com is going to try to provide a better Web-search experience for women in general � a daunting task given how broad a category "women" is. And calling "search for women" vertical search almost renders the term "vertical search" meaningless. (I make the same argument when people say Local is a vertical.)

Yet women are arguably the most important constituency online. They are driving e-commerce and online shopping and they're the ones writing the reviews on Judy's Book and InsiderPages and engaging in the "social networking" activities, much more so than men.

So trying to grab the attention � and some of the wallet � of this group is wise. But what will Women.com provide (assuming again that it's Web search for women) that Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Ask or InfoSpace/DogPile cannot?

I believe iVillage is working on that with Eurekster (I'm not 100 percent certain). After my meeting with Eurekster CEO Steven Marder, I recently wrote about about the company here:

They're really an enterprise search B2B play that offers site search and more contextually relevant Web search. "Contextual" here means relevant to the user population of the site (teens, moms, sports fans, etc.). They do that with clickstream analysis of aggregate user query behavior. Initially Web search is weighted according to specific business rules, but the engine learns what the group thinks is relevant to particular queries. It's a different relevance paradigm that gets "smarter" over time.

Women.com, using Eurekster's engine/algorithm, at least in theory does offer a potentially differentiated search experience � one that is hypothetically more relevant because it's less "generic� and based on aggregated user behavior. So there is at least a potential value proposition here with some meaning (assuming I'm right about the relationship).

But whether Women.com could become something like the "Google for Women" is another story entirely. (My words not theirs.) That's a hugely ambitious proposition. Let's see when iVillage relaunches in the second quarter.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  08:40 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 16 2006
Yahoo! Search Marketing Event
Search Engine Journal covers the upcoming Yahoo Search Marketing Searchlight Awards in N.Y. The program is highlighting the innovative work of agencies that have combined traditional campaigns with search marketing.

I'll be racing from the Newspaper Association of America show in Orlando to N.Y. to be one of the "industry expert panelists" at the Yahoo! event. I was somewhat surprised and flattered to be asked to be on the panel. It promises to be interesting and fun.

YSM's Ron Belanger, the organizer, likened the format of the event to "American Idol," though I'm sure it won't be as acerbic.



Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  14:00 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 16 2006
Office Live to Offer Free SME Sites
Like Yahoo! before it, Microsoft is now offering free basic Web sites to local/small businesses.

I haven't set one up so I don't know how "robust" it is compared with what Yahoo! offers. It's pretty clearly a kind of "foot in the door" strategy to get SMEs on board.

I've long believed that free Web sites could be an effective channel or way to get small businesses into paid search and other online marketing. It has to be both simple to set up and professional looking. Once the site is established, then there's a potential upsell opportunity.

Web hosting is quickly becoming a commodity business, although switching is painful and inertia (especially at the SME level) probably means there isn't a lot of churn.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  13:31 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 16 2006
Podcasting and Local Music
SiliconBeat blogs about Podbop, a site that combines podcasting and local. It allows you to hear podcasts of bands that are playing in the local market. One can search by artist or location. The site links to Eventful.com, which provides the venue information.

Local events are a relatively still undeveloped area online � probably a feature or RSS-based feed rather than a stand-alone application or destination in my view. Along those lines Yahoo! not long ago acquired Upcoming.org. And IAC's Evite has pushed into local events as well.

Jambase is another local music events and community site.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  10:47 | permalink | comments [1] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 16 2006
MySpace Launches MVNO
MySpace, the supersite for teens, has announced the launch of its own branded "mobile virtual network operator" network. The service and phones will be powered/provided by Helio LLC, which is a joint venture of Earthlink Inc. and South Korean carrier SK Telecom Co. The service will reportedly use the networks of Sprint and Verizon. No specific launch date has been set.

The idea is that teens and others on MySpace can use the phones to access their personal pages and other content on the go.

Like the integration of Google or Yahoo! into forthcoming Motorola handsets, this has the potential to do some very interesting things. If successful (let's wait and see) it could help determine what the effective mobile ad models will be. It could also spur the launch of a 1,001 of these MVNOs, many of which are already in the works. It will also reveal the impact of social networks on mobile devices and could generate an entire range of new, similar applications or at least accelerate their development and deployment.

MySpace is smartly leveraging its hot brand to expand to other areas now, before it has a chance to cool or falter. There's a growing MySpace backlash because of the concern about sexual predators using the site to target teens and young people. This danger, if real, would be considerably exacerbated by a mobile MySpace.

Parents' growing concern/dislike for MySpace is only likely to boost its popularity in the near term, however. It is hard to imagine that MySpace will be as big three or five years from now. But it is possible the site will have "morphed" into something else with greater stability and staying power.



Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  10:05 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]



Feb 16 2006
Judy's Book Redesigns, Adds 'Structured Blogging'
I'm restraining myself from using the term "Web2.0," which really is on the cusp of cliche status. But Judy's Book has done some very interesting things to its site that if I were comfortable using that term ... might describe some of what they've done.

First, they've redesigned the site in a much more graphically dynamic way. That may disorient some users but it creates a very distinctive look for the site (maps are prominent) and takes it farther away from the realm of directory sites than before. It also differentiates the site from its closest cousin online, InsiderPages.

You can search for dentists or restaurants or hair salons as usual. But the site has also added a significant personalization component, "MyBook." MyBook is a personalized "home page" within JudysBook where users can see their questions, others' questions and recommendations in their area as well as a personal "directory" of local information, including local business contact information. It's the start page when I log in � essentially a blog. I can also upload photos and invite friends, etc. (similar in many respects to Yelp, Tribe or Yahoo! 360).

This change subtly and not so subtly shifts the emphasis of the site from one that is more "utilitarian," where I go to find a plumber or Ethiopian restaurant to something more like an online community where I might be inclined to spend more time and interact more extensively with people regarding things to do, places to go, etc., in my area.

But the clever folks at Judy's Book are mindful that some people already have blogs and so they've adopted an export, structured blogging feature that amounts to a kind of syndication strategy. From the press release:

Recognizing that many online authors already have a traditional blog, Judy�s Book has also made it easy for members to take their Judy�s Book content with them via a new �post to my blog� feature. This optional feature automatically formats Judy�s Book reviews in the hReview microformat, an emerging standard for online reviews, and reposts them to the member�s existing TypePad, LiveJournal, Blogger, or WordPress blog.

That "syndication" approach (also the "interoperability" with all the major blogging platforms) is also reflective of "Web2.0" trends. Syndication has been around forever, but there's an emerging understanding that the decentralized nature of online behavior requires new ways and strategies to reach people where they are rather than always trying to get them to show up at your door or trying to erect so-called "walled gardens," whether visible or invisible, to their use of other systems.

I tell people that every time I expect things to calm down in local, they just keep speeding up. One of the very interesting trends is the marriage of social/community and local, which is a natural of course (online word of mouth). And all the new attention, energy and competition in the space can only lead to consolidation in the near term.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  08:48 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [2]



Feb 15 2006
Verticals and Local
Here's an interesting post I came across from the Internet Stock Blog (quoting the earnings call) on how local advertising is driving revenue growth at online wedding vertical/portal and directory site TheKnot.com:

Online ad sales constituted 57% of the company�s revenue for the quarter, and just over 50% of the year�s revenues (other revenue streams: merchandise sales and print publications). In the conference call, The Knot CEO David Liu made a number of statements indicating that localized online advertising in The Knot�s 69 local sites is a key factor behind the company�s ongoing growth:

Our local advertising continues its steady growth largely due to the fact that we do deliver measurable results to give our advertisers immediate payback from their investment on The Knot. A basic local listing on The Knot site goes for about $1000; still a bargain compared to the cost of the plain Vanilla yellow pages of advertising and in listing.

The average spend by our local advertiser is approximately $1400 as many local advertisers take advantage of the extras we offer above the basic listing. These include a premier listing on a category page like photography or banner on the front first stage of their online city guides, say for example, Atlanta � An incremental cost can still be below that of the yellow pages or their local newspaper.

Last April, we�ve raised our local rates by 10%, and plan a similar increase this April. Given our strong local revenue growth through 2005, our rate increases have in no way affected our customers� appetite for advertising with us�

We launched local advertising on The Nest in the fourth quarter and are now in ten of the 69 local Knot markets. Since advertisers seeking to reach newlyweds have far greater ad budget in many categories like automotive, financial services and real estate, related advertisers are already spending a growing proportion of their budgets online.


(emphasis mine)

Fascinating stuff. It shows that a vertical that can establish a strong brand and become a destination (not all can) has the ability to generate some strong revenue because of the very high-quality leads such sites can deliver � especially highly targeted local leads in the case of TheKnot.

And everyone selling to local advertisers is selling against newspapers and Yellow Pages.
Blog: Local Media Blog
 
posted by  Greg Sterling at  18:03 | permalink | comments [0] | trackbacks [0]





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