Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Everything and see you in 2010

Dear BOOT readers,

Merry Christmas, belated Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings, Happy New Year and for our European friends
  • Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo 2010,
  • Joyeux Noël et nouvelle année heureuse 2010!
  • Fröhliches Weihnachten und glückliches neues Jahr 2010 !
  • Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo 2010 !
  • Vrolijke Kerstmis en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar 2010!
I have a number of posts I plan to write this holiday but the pressure of finding time to relax might get in the way.

I am enjoying writing and hope you are enjoying reading. See you 2010.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Geckogo: start up surprise #2 from PhoCusWright 2009

Travel Guides & Vacation Planning - GeckoGoThe " "PhoCusWright surprise" occurs when I meet an online travel start up(s) at PhoCusWright that I have never heard of but is (are) number one in their category by some reasonable measure. Yesterday's surprise was Localyte.

Surprise number 2 - Geckogo

Geckogo - is a travel planning and inspiration site that want to solve the "too much information" problem by allowing travellers to aggregate content from social networks, friends recommendations and use that information to build trip plans. They claim to sit in between the travel aggregation sites like UpTake / NileGuide / TravelMuse and travel social network sites like WhereIveBeen and TravBuddy. Though I am not sure I yet see the gap. That said, I see the value of content company with social media interaction. The challenge for a business targeting that space is how to collect information and establish an index.

Geckogo founders Pokin Yeung and Eric Mackinnon are coming at the challenge through building a Facebook application called travel brain. It allows consumers to load cities and destinations visited (like TripAdvisor's Cities I've visited). The difference with TA's app is that Geckogo gives users a chance to increase their "score" by adding information about a destination. This rewards consumers for generating more content and engaging further with Geckogo. The result was that the Facebook app is the main content acquisition tool and consumer point of interaction for Geckgo. In addition partnership with Bradt Travel guides has helped populated editorial content on the site.

With Facebook as a driver, Geckogo claims to have attracted a network of 700,000 users - with 8% of those contributing content regularly. Results in 250,000 articles mainly collected from Facebook users - parsed and classified through their information architecture. Eric described part of the architecture as a "synonym database" that prompts contributors to help flesh-out areas that need more information. For example a casino in a destination means gambling but gambling as an activity in a destination will prompt a question on whether or not their is a casino.

This is where the surprise factor came in. I have talked before about what content companies need to do to succeed. My definition of success has always been SEO raking and traffic. Yet in Geckogo we have a online travel content company where early success has come from the using Facebook as a distribution and content acquisition mechanism. They made me feel a little old and outdated in continuing to believe that search is the number one battleground for traffic.

Being Facebook dependent is beneficial for Geckogo as their competitive set is lower. But in my interview with Pokin and Eric at PhoCusWright they admitted that Facebook dependence comes with risks. Just like a change in the Google search algorithm can send SEO dependent companies from the top of the world to the bottom of page 5, so too a Facebook change has dramatic impacts on Geckogo. When Facebook moved from a profile based page structure to the more twitter like newsfeed structure, Pokin admitted that usage dropped dramatically. Geckogo had to rebuild the way the app interacted to support the new approach.

Still in the angel funding stage Geckogo knows they have more money to raise and work to do. Eric admitted they are looking or about four times as much content before they will be able to answer the level of questions they are targeting. In addition to more content they should also work on the query architecture to help drive more responses and customer interaction. But the surprise factor success is there - Geckogo claim to be the number one content contributor on Facebook (but not the biggest app). Update - see below

For a bit more information on Geckogo check out their presentation from the Facebook app targeted fbFund. Also a story on the same presentation from UpTake industry blog written by Elliot Ng.

Update. Geckogo founder Pokin comments below. Here is an extract

"I should also clarify our claim of being the number one travel content source on Facebook. As a blanket statement that was absolutely true when we posted it, but I can’t validate that now since our friends at Where I’ve Been have also started collecting content as well. I believe we continue to be the number #1 source on Facebook for travellers to gain meaningful travel insight and help one another in their travel plans."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Localyte: start up surprise #1 from PhoCusWright 2009

A PhoCusWright side effect that I look forward to is meeting online travel companies that I have never heard of but are number one in their category by some reasonable measure.

This year two companies had me turn to the blogger next to me and in shared geek awe (with a hint of punditry arrogance) say "how come we never heard of these guys before".

[update May 13 2010 - Localyte has been bought by Nile Guide. Tnooz story here]

Surprise number 1 - Localyte

Localyte is a online content company that allows travellers to ask direct questions of and search content produced by "local experts". Classic UGC and social networking stuff. The surprise factor with Localyte is the staggering the amount of content they claim to have amassed. At the PCW Innovation Summit Localyte head of Biz Dev Doug Renert claimed 40,000 individual contributors – self appointed local experts – providing content and direct response answers to questions on what to do in a location. This has generated an SEO content well with a depth of 700,000 reviews and a mind boggling 20 million words per month. This is extraordinary for a company founded just over two years ago (Aug 2007) and drowns out any question of whether or not they have met my 3 rules for a content start up.

In his blow by blow summary of each of the Travel Innovation Summit presenters Phil Caines of Tourism Tide has a great summary of Localyte's business and product.

"Grabs recommendations from a 40k strong army of local experts to provide travel advice. Can be used by travel agents to advertise their location. Growing to 700k reviews in 2 years. Travelers can pose questions to locals and they will respond accordingly. The program can be used using the Global Sherpa iPhone app. the locals get a system of points and rewards to motivate the contributors. They throttle questions so people don’t get inundated. Open API so that anyone can integrate this technology into their sites."
Impressive. Surprising.Now to the challenges.

There is an viable business model for this level of content though not a guaranteed one. Traffic and content is a great foundation for an online media business but monetisation will still take effort - if Facebook cannot be certain of its revenue streams then niche social media content sites need to work even harder for monetary success. In Localyte's favour there are potential B2B revenue streams through destination marketing organisations as well as the typical ad sales and transaction referral commissions.

The main question for Localyte is - what constitutes a local expert and how to verify. In a Tnooz post of mine that included them I said
"I have concerns about the accreditation of the local and how to be sure they are not a rep of a particular travel product and therefore biased"
Sean Keener of Bootsnall via a tweet put it even more bluntly
"What constitutes a local expert? - local tour provider often times equals spammer in my experience. "
For my local region (Bondi in Sydney) the number one expert on Localyte is a travel agent living in Sydney. As a Sydney based travel agent it is true that this Localyte member is going to know what to do and where to go. But there is also a commercial angle here. The challenge for Localyte will be how to balance the commercial interest of the expert with the brand pitch for providing unbiased local advice.

My Localyte Summary - a very impressive level of content and worthy of our surprise. But challenges in executing on monetisation and ensuring the independence of the experts.

If you would like to read more on them then the tweets around the Localyte PhoCuswright presentation that were hashtagged #pclocalyte can be seen here.

Here is the Localyte demo from PhoCusWright

Tomorrow will post surprise number 2 - Geckogo

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Google’s Next Big Thing – Killing off the TV media business. More from interview with Rob Torres at PhoCusWright

Google hangs over every online industry conference. Their ability to deliver and take away traffic is unmatched. I have even argued that being Google friendly has overtaken being consumer friendly as the product development test for website design team

At this year's PhoCusWright conference TripAdvisor's Steve Kaufer said in jest "darn it everyone starts at Google, I want them to start at TripAdvisor". Google’s traffic dominance is here for so long as the search box is the number one starting point.

It was with this background Google's MD of Travel Rob Torres and YouTube's CMO Suzie Reider took the Center Stage of PhoCusWright to pitch the "Next Big Idea".

In a recent Tnooz post I included my notes from a post presentation 1:1 with Torres. In this post I will share my thoughts on the presentation itself.

The core of the next big thing from Google is actually close to the old big thing. Google was appealing to the audience and online marketeers to take advantage of the video assets of Google, the power of video as an advertising medium and (as Torres put it) to "stop thinking about [Google for] internet demand capture and start thinking about [Google as] a driver of brand awareness”. Put another way - use Google and use online video as brand building marketing channels rather than just looking for the direct marketing response metrics that has made search so powerful. While new for Google, the online marketer and media channel mix planner this is a clear move against old media- namely the TV advertising market. It is like a declaration of war by Google against TV stations with an air of "anything you can do I can do better".

Torres and Reider went on to describe a number of the new advertising and content products that were available in this shift. Not only is this a big challenge that Google is issuing to the TV industry (especially free to air), it is a big shift in the Google advertising mindset. In our interview later Torres stressed his belief that the dramatically lower CPM rates for online video advertising as against TV made TV ad spend an “ego buy” rather than a rational marketing decision. That said, he admitted that number of views is still the best measurement metric for online video advertising.

I think this is the right move for Google but will be full of challenges. They have the world’s most powerful online video asset and with PPC costs escalating they need to change the marketer’s mindset to one of brand over direct response. They have the reach and they have the video. But success will depend on providing a more advance measure for audience engagement than ratings or views. For marketers to make the switch from viewing search and online video as direct channel to a brand building channel they are going to need a prove brand growth. The tradditional media apporach of ratings and demographics will not be enough for the sales and data hungry online marketing executive. Google will need to develop a new and more detailed mechanism for proving the value of a view.

As a coda to this post - here is an extract of the stats quoted during the presentation:
  • Visits to travel sites up 12%
  • On average people 9 research session before bookings. Visiting 20.3 sites
  • 56% of frequent travellers visit video sites
  • 77% of internet users consume video (not sure how this works with above)
  • 13% of [online?] travellers have uploaded a video
  • 20 hours of video uploaded every minute to YT
  • 450mm – size of YT monthly audience
  • YT has 5000+ premium content partners (Nat Geo). They only serve adds on premium content providers
  • 40mm impressions per day on YT
  • 1 in 4 Internet users visit YT each month
Did not say where or how generated statistics.

1:1 interview with Rob Torres is here

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

BusinessWeek on Augmented Reality - "GPS technology is not yet good enough for AR to be useful"

My first post for Tnooz was on Augmented reality and mobile. In it I have a couple of videos of some great looking AR travel apps. However since I am trapped in the Blackberry world (my company uses blackberry) I have not had a chance to try out any of these for myself. That has left open the question as to whether or not the hype of Augmented Reality matches...well.. the reality of Augmented Reality.

Steve Wildstorm (personal tech columnist at BusinessWeek) believes that AR is "Not that Real Yet". There is an interesting podcast interview with him here (part of his regularly weekly series) where he says that the GPS technology that is critical for AR to work is simply not accurate enough. At its best GPS provides accuracy to 20 meters. Wildstorm argues that a 20 meter radius error margin is not good enough to give the accuracy you need for AR to work. It is worth noting that "at its best" means all the satellites are in the right place and there are no buildings in the way. In other words it is likely that accuracy will be worse than 20 meters. Also thinks that the apps that are out there are "just modified browsers" and need to be better thought through - sometimes the apps are giving too much information or a level of GPS accuracy that is not available.

If you are interested in AR for online travel then I recommend listening to the podcast (here). BOOT recommended read/listen of the week.