Tag Archives: travel

Goby: Go Mobile (and Go Social,) Event Marketers

Local consumers are looking beyond pure search when they are looking for family fun. That’s the unmet need that Boston-based Goby.com is trying to meet in its 350 category, events and family fun search site. The site is now reaching 500,000 unique visitors a month — double the number from our prior writeup of the company in March 2010.

CEO Mark Watkins tells us that the 10-person startup, which has raised $7.5 Million from Flybridge Capital Partners and Kepha Partners, including $2.5 million in October, has evolved from its roots as a local search engine. “We’ve been making it more of a social experience, and have started focusing more on mobile,” he says.

The key is to move beyond a pure search experience, which on the Web, is pretty much owned by Google. “Google is such a good aggregator of intent,” he says. Mobile audiences are much smaller, and (user) intention is really much more fragmented. User needs aren’t as easily met by a one-stop mobile search site.

At the same time, people have deeper relationships with mobile, Watkins says. Mobile apps that integrate with Facebook and allow users to share information with each other are likely to be more successful with audiences. Not that it is “either-or.” There is also a real connection between web usage and mobile usage, Watkins says. People might make a list on the Web for use later on mobile.

For these reasons, the mobile apps are more likely to attract regional chains as advertisers, as well as national marketers, such as the movie studios. Disney, for instance, has been running a mobile ad campaign with Goby for its release of Tron – the company’s first direct sell. “They’re very interested in mobile, even though it has a smaller audience than the Web.”

Goby.com: Search Engine Focuses on Local Events + Travel


Events are a vertical that cuts across many segments: travel, retail, sports, entertainment, education, dining, culture and others. Major players include specialists such as Zvents, Eventful, Americantowns.com and Center’d. City sites such as Citysearch and Yelp are active in the space as well.

A new one for us is Goby.com, a venture-backed firm that comes out of Mike Stonebraker’s relational database studies at MIT. The site, which launched in September 2009, has already had 250,000 visitors. It reviews 300 categories of things to do, from camping to opera. It can be embedded into other sites via Facebook Connect. An iPhone app is coming out “soon.”

The site breaks things up three ways: What would you like to do? Where? and When? It makes a special effort to go beyond “cities with airports next to them.” For instance, the most thorough listing of events in Carlsbad,CA 92009 that I’ve seen.

CEO Mark Watkins, a veteran of vertical search at Endeca, says the site is task- centric and created to be a “search engine for things to do in your free time. It does equally well for people planning a trip or sitting around the dinner table on Friday, wondering what they are going to do this weekend.”

It also approaches events in a way that Google may not. “Google gives answers for general purposes. But it understands keywords, not structured data. Plane tickets and other semantic information are not on Google, he says. “We’re getting very focused results. We can sort Web data by price,” among other things.

The general model for search engines is to have a keyword and give back a URL, says Watkins. But Goby seeks to convert those web pages to real world entities which people can make decisions about. “We’ve cross-referenced photography from across the Web, and integrated more video types, and MP3 from concerts,” he says.

Another focus is to figure out how people decide to go to events. “We want to know: how did you decide to be at that restaurant,” says Watkins. It is the interaction of the search and gaming worlds, building off location-based sites like FourSquare and Gowalla.

Indeed, Watkins emphasizes that Goby.com is not just about events. “Events are really important. But they are one dimension of how we spend free time.” Travel is another aspect. “We’re coming at it like a search engine, as opposed to TripAdvisor,” he says. Travel is surprisingly local oriented and is more complementary to local than is generally realized, notes Watkins. More than half of queries –55 percent — are typically near users.

As for revenue, the site expects to initially receive the lion’s share from affiliate and lead generation fees. It anticipates revenues from sites such as Priceline, and tour providers if it can recommend an Alcatraz tour in San Francisco, for instance. Or its personalization and recommendation engines can promote an Opera performance. When the site gets bigger, it will be more interesting to advertisers, says Watkins.

The site will also have a white label “pro” model for sites that might be licensed by media publishers, or travel suppliers.

Technology and My Trip to London and Paris

Travelling abroad and keeping your job is pretty easy these days with seamless smartphone access. But I noticed a few things during a trip to London and Paris last week that gave me some food for thought.

London

• The prepaid “Oyster” cards for public transport make it fun to hop on a bus or the underground; they let you look up your travel records; and (maybe) could serve as a platform for a wide range of smart card commerce.
• Nokia’s bold ad campaign for the N series – plastered on buses throughout the city –really hammers home the GPS and points of interest features. It is a compelling differentiator for a non-iPhone contender.
• All the major newspapers are 70 pence or more. That’s $1.37, compared to the 50 cents charged on average by U.S. newspapers. And most are tabloids. The International Herald Tribune is about $3.25.
• The Times of London has devolved into an English version of The NY Post. But it does some interesting things. Last weekend, for instance, it published the text of an entire new James Bond book. Sometimes, it also provides a CD of the greatest hits of various rock stars.
• There is not a lot of free WiFi around London; just a few coffeeshops. Meanwhile, hotel WiFi and broadband is generally 15 pounds a night, or $29.40. That’s a lot.
• Online ordering of major events and travel is a breeze. Theater tickets, The Chelsea Flower Show and EuroStar were all easily ordered from the Web (although I relied on half price TKTs for theater).
• Despite very high cellphone penetration, public phone booths are still readily available in central London for 30 pence a call. It is amazing how many girlie ads they can plaster inside those booths.

Paris

• Digital signage at every bus stop announces the wait-time for different bus lines via GPS. We’ve seen it in many subway lines, but never before for buses –although my colleague Mike Boland notes that it is also in San Francisco. Great!
• Young women hand out copies of The Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages) at the bottom of the Champs Elysee. It may not be the best way to achieve universal penetration,but it is probably good for building awareness.
• The French keyboard’s letters are in different places, and Wanadoo uses a round plug for DSL. That makes it hard for out of towners to plug and play.
• Google automatically defaults to the “local” country, without a readily apparent way to get an English-language version.
• Our taxi driver couldn’t find the location of our friend’s apartment near the Eiffel Tower using the GPS that was integrated into his dashboard. So he pulled out a personal GPS with more updated maps, and found the apartment with no trouble at all.

AOL Reinvesting in Local Products

AOL may have trouble on several fronts, but it still gets millions of users and it intends to fully leverage them at the local level, per Chris Spanos, Director of Search Verticals, who was speaking at Kelsey Seattle. “Given its scale, local just hasn’t been getting fair share.”

Spanos says the local products will be receiving people, money and time. There will also be vertical investment in autos, travel and health. Previous regimes didn’t see rich opportunities in local and under-invested in the local products, he notes. They also didn’t leverage the relationship between the local sites and Mapquest, which remains the #1 mapping site. But that will change, especially as the city guides and Yellow Pages get relaunched.

AOL is also going to transform its sales effort. While dedicated local sales won’t be brought back, circa late 1990s, new self-serve and partnership efforts will be introduced.