How Real is WiFi for Local Ads?

There’s been speculation that free WiFi would be used by Google and others as a carrot to target users and seize the local advertising market. That’s hard to do under any circumstances. But assuming that all the stars align, how attractive can WiFi be as a targeted, local delivery medium?

It can be “very attractive,” according to Nitin J. Shah, Executive Vice President of Feeva Technology, a San Francisco-based software company focused on WiFi ad targeting.

Shah is the first to concede the real limitations of WiFi technology. But he argues that WiFi’s adoption in laptops, PDAs and cellphones, combined with the rapid proliferation of free WiFi hotspots, “clouds” and “zones,” creates real opportunities for local advertisers and other geo-targeters.

Big Talk: New Telecom’s Impact on Local

Microsoft Local Group’s Erik Jorgensen thinks “the majority” of local access will be from mobile devices in five years. My gut tells me that mobile access may not dominate quite so quickly.

But whatever the timetable, it suggests a sea change in local advertising models. It also suggests a stronger role for telecom players in serving mobile and IP-based content: whether they are traditional carriers, or just as likely, portals providing VoIP, PSTN and instant messaging services over mobile.

The impact on local usage and advertising will be a big one. And the seeds are being laid. As Issac Kato of General Catalyst Partners noted at the Kelsey ILM conference in early December: “Wireless is inherently local….when you do mobile search, pay-per-call becomes trivial.”

Microsoft Local Pushes Maps, Imagery

When Microsoft quit its Sidewalk city guide in 2001, it promised to keep its foot in the door of local services. At that time, it was probably thinking “small business,” since it was bent on remaking the small business marketplace around the Great Plains software company that it had recently purchased.

But small business services have never really pushed local into new areas. Arguably, software never has. In fact, Microsoft’s role in local is only now getting established, due to the newly accorded prominence of two areas that Microsoft also considers part of its core competency: maps and imaging.

Speaking at Kelsey’s ILM conference in early December, Microsoft Local Group head Erik Jorgensen presented a masterful picture of local’s image-driven future. “People want true visualization, showing them ‘what is there,’ he said. “Fundamentally, people are visual. And people want location integrated into relevant services.”

AOL Promises ‘Local’ Progress in 2006

AOL was early in investing in its Digital City city guide, early to solicit local business reviews, early to see the power of mapping via its acquisition of Mapquest, and early to see the importance of offline activities by purchasing MovieFone.The company wasn’t necessarily strong on follow-thru, however.

Speaking at Kelsey’s ILM conference, AOL Senior VP Jim Riesenbach reminded the audience that AOL remains a major player in local. He promised that the company would see significant progress in 2006, especially now that AOL has worked out many of its transition problems and is widely considered a hot property again.

A major emphasis for AOL will be to leverage its assortment of platforms as a “communications suite,” now that it has been freed from emphasizing the fire-walled access service. “ To Riesenbach, local figures into all of it.

“It is counterproductive to think of local as a vertical,” he said, responding to a comment by a Microsoft executive earlier in the conference. “The question for us is how we integrate local as an enabler for everything that people do online.” Riesenbach added that the richness of AOL’s local offering will make its local search among the industry’s most compelling.

Gannett Unveils ‘PaperBoy’ Online Circular

Retailers are sick of being lost amidst the clutter of newspaper print circulars. They haven’t seen much usage from their online circulars, either. But they’ll look on with interest come January, when Gannett, Knight Ridder and Tribune begin testing an online circular that allows a banner ad to be “moused over” to provide advertiser specials, store locations and other information.

At least 217 of the 245 newspapers in the Gannett, Knight Ridder and Tribune consortium have given a green light to the test, as well as Yahoo. Additional joiners from Knight Ridder’s Real Cities network are likely.

The mouse-over circular technology, branded as”PaperBoy,” is being provided by PointRoll, which was purchased by Gannett earlier this year for the heady sum of $100 million. Conceptually, PaperBoy might be seen as the other side of iPix AdMission’s SpotLight ads, which enable users to open searchable libraries of real estate or auto photos when banners are moused over.

The Boston Globe Stakes Out a Role in WiFi

The Boston Globe is building out a series of local WiFi “Pulse Points” that provide hyper-local information about the signal area (train stations, book stores, etc.). The paper, which is owned by The New York Times Co., launched two Pulse Points at the end of September, and expects to add some other Pulse Points by the end of the year.

While the Pulse Points only include content today, it doesn’t strain the imagination to see that advertising and transactions could be added in the future. Such a scenario is especially interesting in light of the breezy assumption that Google’s current bid to WiFi all of San Francisco is a slam dunk to sell advertising at the expense of local newspapers, Yellow Pages or TV stations –or all three.

Going forward, the question is whether The Globe and other papers can carve out a role for themselves if the likes of Google assume the hosting responsibilities for WiFi – and presumably, the default browser. We know this: to date, no newspaper has really developed a compelling wireless service worth paying for. Why would they be able to create a more compelling wireless service?

TV-Based Local Services Beat VoIP?

One way for the telcos to beat back free or cheap Voice over IP services (VoIP) is to get away from their sole focus on the phone and move to a feature-rich, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) platform, complete with local directory, community and news services.

Amdocs, a leading telco integrator, certainly sees things this way. Amdocs Marketing Director Eitan Gelbaum said the key to winning the war with VoIP will be to transfrom the television into the family’s communications headquarters. He noted that 150 telcos worldwide have indicated that they’ll move to an IPTV platform within two or three years.