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October 28, 2004

Yahoo goes mobile with search

By Charlene Li

Yahoo! already offers extensions of its popular Web-based services like Yahoo! Mail and Messenger. The company announced today that they will provide local, image, and Web search on mobile devices.

Of the three, local search is the most compelling. Users can look up a business (for example, a pizza shop), call the phone number from the search results, and best of all, get a map and driving directions.

But why would someone bother with this when they can simply call 411 to get the same information? It turns out that on the Web, about a quarter of all yellow pages searches are category specific – meaning that there’s no specific business name. So if you’re driving to a meeting and want to eat a slice, 411 calls can’t help you, but potentially Yahoo! Local Search via mobile can (presumably, you’d pull over first).

Driving directions are a godsend – especially if you have your locations stored on Yahoo! Maps. But here’s the catch – it’s highly unlikely that you’d be actually at one of those locations – because you’re doing this all on your phone. If were actually at home, work, or your parents’ house, you would probably access the information via the Web. This means that any driving direction information would require slow, painful typing of the current location. Eventually, I expect Yahoo! to craft a partnership with wireless providers where location information is automatically fed into the search queries.

Overall, I believe that the true value of Yahoo! Local and also, of Yahoo! Web Search on mobile devices is tie-in back to Yahoo! The instances when you would actually need this type of information will be far and few between, but when you need it, lo and behold, Yahoo!’s there to provide it for you.

I can’t say though that I see the same value for Image Search on mobile devices. The example Yahoo! gave during their briefing with Forrester (Yahoo! briefed my colleague, Charles Golvin, who covers consumer wireless products and services -- this example was relayed to me via Charlie) was of someone sitting at a restaurant admiring the art on the walls, and doing an image search to see the artist’s other works. Hmmm…I can think of better ways to spend a nice dinner with someone than waiting for images to render on a small phone screen. There are few instances that I can think of where I couldn’t simply wait to get back to my computer to conduct an image search. But if you think otherwise, by all means, let me know!


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» Charlene Li not Insightful on Yahoo! Mobile from Jeremy Zawodny's blog
I was a little skeptical when I first saw Charlene Li's weblog. Advertising it self as her "insights on technology developments in media & marketing", she'll presumably enlighten us about things from time to time. However, in her Yahoo goes mobile ... [Read More]



Google is there too: http://www.google.com/sms/


"Overall, I believe that the true value of Yahoo! Local and also, of Yahoo! Web Search on mobile devices is tie-in back to Yahoo! The instances when you would actually need this type of information will be far and few between, but when you need it, lo and behold, Yahoo!’s there to provide it for you."

The real money is still in search and the face of search is spreading to many fronts, in the way soda pop spread from the druggist's counter to the vending machine and mini-fridge in myriad places.

The recent experience with my personal blogs has made me much more conscious of the search engine space. Until now, to me, Google has been synonymous with "search," and MSN and Yahoo! were non-entities. That changed when I started reading ysearchblog, poring over my http server logs and doing searches on my writing. I came to appreciate the maturity, competitiveness, and hunger of these alternative search offerings. However, my referrer logs show that Google still clearly dominates the space.

One of the "tie-ins back to Yahoo!" created by Yahoo! Local and search on mobile devices is the blooming in the public mindset of the meme "Yahoo! means search too." In this frame, these two offerings are mindset conversion tools.

I've seen media buys in conventional media for Yahoo! Local. Presumably they are aimed at everybody, from current Yahoo! service users to non-users alike. Contrast that with Google's reliance on free PR and capital investment and extension of search into the blogging, email, newsgroups, and alliances.

If Google had Yahoo's portfolio, you can be sure they would be extending search into Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Finance forums, and Yahoo chat. I haven't been to Yahoo chat in ages, so I can't report on what is going on there, but the first three are still rich untapped conversion opportunities.

The existing search function on Yahoo Groups and the Yahoo Finance forums basically suck. The search only seems to cover the few recent posts and is good for one keyword. The rich trove of information and discussion on those servers is largely inaccessible; compare that to groups.google.com. (I'd have to pull the posts down from Yahoo with a perl script and have Google Desktop index them. BTW, check out Google's Group 2 Beta, groups-beta.google.com.)

Each of these services represents a relationship with a customer who also keeps a position map, ala Al Ries and Jack Trout, in their head. So when I think stocks and stock information, I think finance.yahoo.com but the shitty search there makes me think Yahoo! = !search, and when I do have to search for something, I naturally don't think to use the !search people. That is the position battle Yahoo has to fight en mass and that is why pouring marketing dollars into Yahoo Local! is likely to be ineffective in challenging Google's dominance in my referrer logs.

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