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.

eBay and Skype: The Classifieds Factor

Some analysts haven’t figured out Skype’s value to eBay. But I see it fairly plainly: classifieds. The classifieds industry appears to be on the verge of a freefall, due to services such as Craig’s List that don’t charge But with Skype in the picture, I see lots of “value add” that buyers and sellers would happily pay for.

Using Skype, which integrates Voice over IP phone and instant messaging, the unadorned text ads may still run free. But Skype potentially adds a lot of value by directly connecting sellers to buyers via Pay-Per-Call, while sending them more in-depth information at the same time.

The integration of Skype also helps close the loop in the transaction cycle. Currently, eBay transmits five million emails a day between its buyers and sellers, mostly for expensive goods like real estate or autos that are “involved” and “complex.” Skype’s instant messaging, voice mail and voice call services are likely to increase the volume of such communications, and also make them more universal.