Flipping Out

It’s not often that I gush about anything. I’ve been in the biz for a good while and any number of gee whiz ideas pass my desk every day, I have seen dozens of “next Googles” and the vast majority are seen then never seen again. So when someone recommended Flipboard for iPad to me recently it took me a while to get round to actually installing the ap. I’m late to the party these guys launched last summer. For a guy who lives online I hate a lot of the online experience. I don’t like reading stories on websites and I find next page navigation annoying and the ads intrusive and boring. Flipboard is a brilliant answer to those problems. Essentially you tell it what you are interested in and it fetches content which matches your interest and presents it in a clean elegant magazine like format. It makes reading and navigating stories seamless and simple, as the name suggests it allows you to flip between stories and sections. It also allows you to log into your Facebook and Twitter feeds and displays that content again cleanly and elegantly formatted. It turns your Twitter feed into your own magazine and makes your Facebook a much more engaging experience.

The result is a simply brilliant way for you to digest online content on your tablet. It’s so slick and so elegant and easy to use I think it could seriously impact other parts of our online engagement. I could see the paradigm overflow into search. Imagine searching on your tablet and flipping between results as opposed to traditional search and click navigation. It’s been a while since we have seen a significant improvement in search results and how we navigate them. Adding the ability to present the results formatted elegantly and simply with flip navigation is intriguing. To an extent Google has been heading in this direction by aggregating data from sites and presenting them in the right rail of the results set. This is controversial with many content producers because if the answer has been scraped and displayed by Google which obviates the need for end users to click through from the results set. Take a look at the results for the “Query Jodie Foster“the right rail presents images, a biography, key film data and other key personal and career data. It’s a short conceptual step to make those results flippable. Meantime, if you have a tablet be sure you download Flipboard to make it twice as useful.

A Very Mappy Christmas

The recent hoopla over the return of Google Maps to iOS has focused on the accuracy, splendor and coolness of their revamped app. I have to agree it’s terrific. I’m fairly frequently critical of Google in these pages (nothing like biting off the hand that feeds you) but I will happily give credit where it’s due with this new app. However (you knew there was a however coming right?) it raises a set of larger and perhaps more interesting questions beyond how gosh darned neat the thing is.

So very much of what we do is essentially local. Much of the hoopla surrounding the space this year has been to do with local. It seems like every other company (including my own) is essentially trying to solve the local dilemma. We have location based apps for pretty much everything from reviews and coupons to directions and deals. Millions have spent on geo-fencing to allow stores to pull of the ‘Minority Report” greeting individual customers with appropriate messages as they enter or pass their stores. Millions more have been spent building user bases for coupon or loyalty programs so we can get offers from our favorite coffee shop. Reviews have long been a mainstay of all things online, add the exploding world of mobile to that and we have a valuable and high energy mix.

Pretty much all of the above can be best experienced with a smart mobile device and a really good map app. Google maps is just that. So in 2013 look for Google to further expand their reviews and check in options way past just the Zagat they purchased. I’d expect them to add a checking and review feature probably closely tied to a virtual geo-fence program offered to members of many loyalty programs. Look for coupons and daily deals pushed to your map app together with offers from Apple’s Passbook and or Googles Maps/Fieldtrip. The ability to pay with your mobile device although missing from iPhone 5 is already in some handsets and is likely to be in many more in the very near future. Either way, maps are central to all things local and Google has snatched the crown back. 2013 should be interesting.

Yahoo Surrenders Local

As I have mentioned in many previous posts I like Yahoo….I have always liked Yahoo. Back in the day when they were the cool kids complete with huge goofy purple chairs they didn’t let being wildly successful turn them into corporate monsters. They have famously had a horrible last few years with Google cleaning their clock in search and multiple other miss steps.  When Marissa Mayer assumed control it was clear that she had to pick the battles she was going to fight. Back when she joined in July I appealed to her from these very pages to put Local on her to “fix and focus on” list. I didn’t think for a moment she’d hear me (I’m not that delusional) but I was saddened a little to see in her recent discussions around Q3 results that Yahoo won’t be focusing on local going forwards.  It’s understandable, Yahoo local is broken. As one of the people who attempts to work with them on behalf of our clients they have been grinding to a halt recently. It would take an effort worthy of the New Deal to jump start the platform so it’s understandable that the resources might be further diverted from this red headed step child. Central to Yahoo’s Brave New World is (of course) mobile. Call me crazy but don’t local and mobile go together? The recent Apple Maps fiasco points at how hard it is to do maps and by adoption, local. Yahoo Local as a directory has been stuck without focus or a reason to thrive, and has missed the kind of location based innovation and reviews championed by FourSquare and Yelp. Could Yahoo have taken on local as a central part of their mobile strategy, probably. However if the end game for Yahoo is to land on the carrier deck of one of the other flag ships in the continuing online Battle of Midway being waged by Apple, Google and Microsoft it probably makes less sense to invest in something which could be improved with minimal cost by simply signing over the entire thing to another player like Bing.

A moment’s silence please in memory of Yahoo Local.

A China Syndrome?

The Chinese is the most populace online community if not the most valuable online market. There are roughly half a billion Chinese people online with about 70% of those mobile users. There are a couple of interesting stories in the news from those markets which give us different insights into that market. China was a closed internet market for a long time and in many ways it still is. About a million years ago when I was working at a search engine company (as opposed to writing about them) we were approached by the Chinese government to put together a search for that market. This was in the early 2000s when China was even more frosty than they are today. We ended up no bidding the deal as the restrictions and limitations they wanted in terms of black lists and the like would have made the project a nightmare to execute and the whole thing just gave us the creeps. Fast forward a few years and Baidu is still the dominant search in China with nearly 80% of the search market. Google is a distant second with 15% which is actually quite impressive given that they officially bailed on China a while ago because they couldn’t handle the restrictions the Chinese government wanted to impose. Interestingly although China has gone at least as mobile as the rest of the world until recently Baidu’s mobile offering was slow and messy which is a problem when so much of your audience is mobile. They have just announced a new version which is supposedly much faster and more elegant and will eventually be fully cloud based.

That’s marginally interesting (I guess) but what I found much more interesting (and almost entertaining) are the recent arrests of several Baidu staff members for taking illegal payments to fix search results or delete posts about companies. Here in the US we are all horribly familiar with the kind of damaging nonsense the evil or vengeful are able to post about companies or people. On the web nobody knows you are a dog. The US search engines have somewhat de-emphasized results from these vandal sites like Ripoff Report but reviews and feedback have emerged as a key factor in so many ways. Although many sites have an appeals process for the wrongly maligned to appeal remarks negative reports remain a pain in the online neck. The recent Baidu scandal involved Baidu editors taking sizable cash kick backs to delete postings from the search. I’m not familiar enough with Baidu to know whether that means they are tweaking the search results (which I find unlikely) or they are being paid to remove deleterious reviews and comments from company sites which are the equivalent of Google Places or Yahoo local.  Either way it’s an interesting and perhaps inscrutable exercise in Search Engine Optimization or online Reputation Management.