Why Local Search is Hard

Greg Linden writes:

There’s millions of itty bitty little merchants, all appearing and disappearing rapidly. It’s hard to get accurate information on them. It’s expensive to manage the advertising accounts for them. Local search is hard to do right.

John [Battelle] is optimistic that local merchants would come to Yahoo or Google’s website to self-manage their information and advertising, but I doubt you could get anything like the coverage you need with a self-service model. Many of these merchants don’t even have a web site. They aren’t tech savvy.

The Yellow Pages has uses hundreds of sales people because it has to. They need to physically send salespeople out to talk to each merchant. Getting complete coverage requires a massive, expensive sales force. That’s why local search is hard.

HCL launches India’s Cheapest PC

Suhit Anantula points an article on MoneyControl:

In little over a year of introducing personal computers, PC, at Rs 14,990 plus taxes, HCL Infosystems has launched another one at Rs 12,990 plus taxes. What is more, you could even buy it in installments of Rs 360 a month. Its a computer that comes with a 1GHz processor, a 30 MB hard disk, 128 MB RAM, a 15-inch colour monitor and even a 52 x CD ROM drive.

Describing the product – which is clearly the cheapest branded PC in the country – as the Maruti 800 of computers, Chairman and CEO, HCL Infosystems Ajai Chowdhry said it would give assemblers a run for their money.

He told CNBC-TV18, It is aimed at first time users in small towns and villages.

Chowdhry added, We have a very sincere belief, that in this country the bottom of the pyramid is where the market lies. 70% of India lives in small towns and villages. So, if we dont create products for them, how will we ever grow the market in a big way?

We Media and Newspapers

[via Greg Linden] Excerpts from a speech by Mary Lou Fulton from the Bakersfield Californian on Morph:

One of the most compelling things about the Internet is that it has given people all kinds of new ways to do things for themselves. That include do-it-yourself content (citizen journalism, blogs, user reviews, forums) advertising (Google keywords), transacting (eBay, craigslist, travel booking) and so forth. Meanwhile, newspapers persist with “we’ll do it for you.” We’ll tell you what news is important. We’ll not only sell you the advertising but we’ll design the ad for you, too. We may let you place a classified ad on our web site, but it won’t appear online until the next day when the paper comes out. How can we bring more of a “do it yourself” ethos to newspapers so that we can be part of this revolution and not just watch it pass us by?

What if we thought about it a different way, and thought of our pool of content (local, wires, syndicated content, etc) separately from a single newspaper. We could slice and dice that content differently and come up with many versions of the publication for many audiences.

ZiXXo: Classifieds and Coupons

SiliconBeat writes:

Most new classified ads sites face a daunting chicken-and-egg challenge. Sellers are reluctant to post ads on a new site that hasn’t built a base of users yet, and users won’t go to a Web site where no one is selling anything.

Even after building a strong base of users, the owners of free classified ads sites have to figure out to make money. (Craigslist makes virtually all its money off jobs listings.)

For ZiXXo’s Chief Executive Mike Hogan, the answer is coupons.

For less than $300 a year, local merchants can create online coupons that will appear in a special section above or below the free ads on ZiXXo. Users print out the coupons and redeem them. Hogan and his staff have devised a coupon-wizard system that he says makes it easy for merchants to create online coupons in minutes. Merchants can change the coupons whenever they want.

“Seventy-nine percent of the U.S. population uses coupons,” says Hogan. “”But on the Internet, it’s much better than clipping and saving. If we can use classified ads to build local communities, then we can capitalize on the coupons.”

That leads us to Hogan’s next challenge: luring local merchants to buy into the online coupon program.

Experts view local businesses as a huge, untapped market for online advertising, potentially worth billions of dollars.

But many local businesses do not have Web sites, and still pour their advertising dollars into printed phone books and newspapers. Online companies from Google and Yahoo on down have been grappling with how to educate merchants about online advertising opportunities.

Hogan is banking on building a cadre of commission sales people to beat the streets and sell the ZiXXo program to merchants door-to-door.

Electricity and Computing as Commodities

Jonathan Schwartz writes:

You may recall one of my first blog entries assessed the fitness of the word “commodity” for the computing marketplace. Distilled to a single sentence, my conclusion was that despite the self-interested rhetoric of some vendors (and gullibility of a few pundits), computers weren’t the commodity – computing (and bandwidth) was. Just as power generators built by my friends at GE aren’t the commodity, electricity is. It’s not even close to a subtle distinction.

In looking at the evolution of the commodity called computing, history provides an extraordinary parallel to the evolution of electricity. In fact, if you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend “Empires of Light,” by Jill Jonnes. It’s a very entertaining historical examination of how electricity was first discovered (rubbing amber produced mysterious sparks), reliably generated, and ultimately distributed across the world.

It took about a decade for those deploying electricity to settle on a few standards that ultimately accelerated consolidation. From voltage to cycle to plug configuration. (The processes used to get there, although they involved far more violence and loss of animal life, bear a remarkable resemblance to standard setting in the computing industry.) Spooling forward, once the standards existed, businesses could plug into a grid – labor markets went through a fairly sizable dislocation (all those engineers and “CEO’s” had to find other work), but electricity was firmly established as a ubiquitous service. Scale efficiencies and the resulting massive decrease in price allowed the government to bridge the power divide through rural electrification. Electricity that started out 20 times the price of gas lighting – obviously got a lot cheaper.

What’s most interesting to me is that once the standards were set, and the grid powered up, electricity finally established a transparent price – the hallmark of a true commodity. If pricing isn’t transparent, products can’t be deemed a commodity – by transparent, I mean equivalently defined for a standard unit of measurement. Here are a few examples, “5 cents per kilowatt hour,” “2 dollars per gallon.” It’s either a standardized physical delivery (gallon, barrel, ton), or unit of consumption (typically time based, 100 megabit hours, megawatt hours, etc.) – but it’s the same across the industry.

In my view, the great thing about commodities, whether financial services, telecommunications, oil and gas, and now computing – is that the companies whose business it is to monetize those commodities, along with the businesses that supply the technologies necessary to compete in a commodity market, are among the largest on earth.

TECH TALK: Best of Future Tech: Part 5

Search was the subject of two columns in October (6 and 20). Search has become a window to the world wide web of data. Todays search is simplistic: type a few words in a box, get back zillions of results, and click on one or more of the results to see if we get what we are looking for. Think of todays search as the DOS era: a good start, but not enough to unleash the real power of what can be. It took a decade to go from DOS to Windows. It has taken us almost as long to start imagining and working towards the next generation of search technologies. The key ideas which will help define tomorrows search are: integration between desktop and Internet search, better visualisation and navigation tools, real-time search, searchstreams analysis, multimedia Search, search on mobile devices, and local and vertical search. I concluded by asking: The state of Search is very much like the way the scientific world was in the seventeenth century until Issac Newton came along and helped lay the foundation for the world ahead with his theories and inventions. A similar revolution is needed in the world of Search. Can we in India play a role, just as we did in some of the mathematical discoveries many centuries ago?

The November 17 column discussed service-based computing and how it could pose a potential challenge to Microsoft. As we peer into the crystal ball of tomorrow, the future starts becoming apparent: a variety of devices accessing centralised service-driven platforms. Think of the backend as a grid providing computing as a utility. The devices are thin devices delivering virtual desktops and encompassing not just the web browser, but also a capability to deliver rich client applications and rich media. This is a world that will be created first among the next users of computing in emerging markets like India.

2004 saw the mobile phones in India exceed the landline user base, and march towards the 50 million mark. The December 1 column asked what the computing industry could learn from the success of the wireless providers. There are two key ideas from cellphones that computers need to adopt. The first is the creation of a zero-management user device, and the second is that of a subscription-based utility-like payment model. The underlying enabler for both will in fact be the broadband industry that is coming alive in India What India needs is a leapfrog to next-generation networks that can deliver broadband over the air to users creating a high-speed ubiquitous and pervasive data network. This can then enable deployment of network computers like cellphones connected to a centralised grid of servers which provide the compelling services that users need and are willing to pay for. In fact, given the digitisation that is happening in both voice and television, the network computer could in future be the converged device capable of providing a hybrid set of services to users.

The last three columns (December 15 and December 29 and January 12, 2005) in the Future Tech series discussed cold technologies, defined as those that have neutral revenue or even anti revenue attributes. Their importance stems from the fact that even as they shrink the investment that users have to make, they help them catch-up or even leapfrog to a world that is faster, better, cheaper in terms of the digital infrastructure that we need to build out in India. The cold technologies discussed: open-source software, software as a service, voice-over-IP, Wi-Fi, network computers, the China Supply Chain and India Services, file-sharing networks and online advertising.

So, hope youve enjoyed this journey so far. Buckle up theres lots more to come! The ride has just begun.

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