Media coverage roundup

Lots of blogs covered our beta launch yesterday.  Here are some highlights:

•  Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch got things started late on Tuesday evening.  TechCrunch is one of the most widely read blogs covering the Web industry.

•  The Washington Post’s Kim Hart wrote about us for the Post I.T. blog, and the newspaper’s WashBiz blog also noted our launch.

•  VentureBeat weighed in with a Chris Morrison story; the blog is a leading source of news for venture capitalists.

•  Darlene Darcy covered the news for the Washington Business Journal.

•  Several of the top analysts in the local-search industry wrote about us: Peter Krasilovsky, Greg Sterling, Mike Boland, and Andrew Shotland.  Peter’s post was also picked up by the Kelsey Group’s blog, where he works with Mike.

•  We were excited to get coverage from local bloggers here in the Washington, DC area: Nick O’Neill of Social Times; Jimmy Gardner of East Coast Blogging; Frank Gruber of Somewhat Frank; Jessie Newburn at Hometown Columbia.

•  Also we heard from Adam Metz at MetzMash, who focuses on social media; John Gartner at MarketingShift, an online marketing blog; the folks at KillerStartups;  and TLCStudio.

Thanks, everyone, for being interested in Loladex.  Did you see coverage anywhere else?  Let us know …

Public beta at last


So it’s official: Loladex is open to the world.  Find the public beta of our Facebook application at:

Loladex has changed a lot lately.  Thanks to everyone who gave us feedback during our “friends & family” period — we took it seriously!

Here are some highlights:

•  The overall look and feel has changed a lot.  In particular, we are showing your friends’ faces a lot more.  We want Loladex to feel like a community: Rather than being a search engine, it’s a place where friends gather to swap recommendations.

•  The home page includes a bunch of new features.  We show a nice big scorecard of the picks you’ve made so far, and how you rank among your friends & among all Loladex users.  We’re featuring specific picks and comments from your friends in a few different ways.  And at the top of the page, we show any current pleas for advice from your friends.

 •  We’ve upgraded the search results, both in content and in presentation.  Importantly, we’ve added a bunch of filters that should help you find exactly what you seek: That was a common request.  We’ve also added the ability to “ignore” picks from specific friends and sources, either permanently or on a search-by-search basis.  (We don’t allow you to delete friends, however: Please do that via Facebook’s regular process.)

•  We’ve raised the visibility of our “ask friends” feature, and made slight changes to how it works.  We’ve already gotten some requests to make it even more prominent, so we’ll get working on that.  For anyone who hasn’t used it, this feature allows you broadcast a request for advice — maybe you’re looking for a good local accountant to do your taxes, for instance.

By the way, a frequent question I’ve gotten about this feature is, “Can’t you put a module on the Loladex home page that allows me to skip straight to asking my friends?”  My concern is that your friends may already have entered the advice you seek — that’s why we want you to perform a search first.

I consider this functionality a moving target, however: Ultimately we’ll be guided by our users.  We’ll be looking for feedback in the coming weeks.

•  We’ve added recommendations from your Facebook networks — we aggregate all the votes from Loladex users in your region, for instance, or your college alumni network.  This functionality is very new, and we need to work on how it’s presented, but I think it’ll be incredibly useful.  I welcome your thoughts on how it should work.

•  We’ve significantly improved (I hope) the workflow for first-time users.  Many people didn’t realize that they could rate anything during their signup process, but thought instead that they were limited to the categories in a dropdown menu.  We nixed that menu, raised the profile of the search box, and streamlined the rating process.  The streamlined rating process has been applied in several other parts of the site, too.

I think those are the biggest changes.  We’ve made tweaks everywhere, of course, and we have plenty more improvements in the pipeline.

Let us know what you think, either here or on our Facebook discussion board.

Geosign of the Apocalypse

From Canada’s Financial Post, here’s an interesting summing-up of last year’s Geosign implosion, courtesy of Ahmed Farooq of iBegin.

(Alas, I had skipped over an earlier post on this topic from Peter Krasilovsky, so this was mostly news to me.)

The short version: Geosign operated a bunch of domains that existed solely to serve ads.  Some of these sites included ‘real’ content as a cynical fig leaf.

Googlers know how it goes: You search for ‘XYZ’ and click on an ad (or a result) that looks promising, only to land on a site full of more XYZ-related ads — some of which lead to yet more ad sites, the AdSense version of an infinite loop. 

Since advertisers pay by the click, this provides easy money for companies that are willing to waste your time.  ‘Arbitrage’ is the common — rather charitable — name for the method.

Google ultimately cut off Geosign, presumably because it was hurting the value of Google’s ads, and the company fell apart.

As a strategy, arbitrage isn’t so dissimilar from search-engine marketing (SEM), or even from search-engine optimization (SEO); it’s all a matter of degree.  And when your content is advertising, as it is for Yellow Pages sites, the line gets even blurrier.

So what separates Geosign from the rest of the local universe, which also depends heavily on search-engine traffic?  Witness this chart from Hitwise, recently highlighted by Mike Boland at Kelsey:


It’s arguable that Geosign is just the chart’s reductio ad absurdum.  Obviously we can make distinctions, but I’d be worried if I were above, say, 35% on this chart and I weren’t Google or Yahoo.

OK, it’s definitely impressive that gets more of its traffic from search engines than does either Yahoo Local or Google Maps.  Probably the same is true of Marchex, which operates domains like

But if Google and Yahoo want to move their own bars to the right, they can easily do so.  It’ll come from the hide of, Marchex and similar companies.

And one big lesson of Geosign, scary and refreshing both, is that Google is willing to nuke a 9-digit business overnight.

Time, tide and the print YP

King Canute

R.H. Donnelley, the big Yellow Pages publisher, has lost more than 90% of its market value in the past year — much of it since last week, when it revised its 2008 outlook and announced the resignation of Jake Winebaum, head of its digital operation.  The traded part of the company is now worth about $400 million, vs. $4 billion a year ago.

Same thing, more or less, for competitor Idearc: Down about 85% in the past year.

These are astonishing votes of no-confidence in what are, after all, profitable companies with billions in revenue.  Seems like a few things could be happening:

Investors are overreacting.  YP companies will get punished by the economy, just like everyone else, but then they’ll recover.

Investors are overreacting.  Sure, YP companies are in a secular decline, but it’s slow & there’s no reason to panic.

Investors are right.  Still, the problem is with these specific over-leveraged companies, or the US market, or something else — not the global print YP market.

Investors are right.  For print YP, this is the last stop before oblivion.

In the world of local experts,  all of whom I respect, no one takes the extreme view: See Greg Sterling, John Kelsey, Perry Evans.  The consensus is that we’re looking at a slow decline — while they ought to get it in gear, YP companies have valuable assets (revenue, sales force, customer relationships) and time to react.

Hard to argue.  And yet … all of this seems weirdly familiar.

In late 1989 I joined the Wall Street Journal to report on IBM.  At the time, the computer giant bestrode the technology world, but there were rumblings from upstarts called Intel and Microsoft.

For the longest time, I believed analysts who — even as they acknowledged the upstarts’ importance — talked up IBM’s huge mainframe revenue, its formidable sales force, and its customer relationships.

More recently, I worked for AOL.  Its planned to build something new and valuable while allowing its huge dial-up base (30 million subscribers!) to erode sloooooooowly to broadband.

In both cases, the tide came in far faster and deeper than expected. 

I suspect it’s ever thus: No one here is Canute*, exactly — but when the future is lapping at your feet, big lungs aren’t a viable strategy either.

My gut tells me the tide is coming in quickly for YP publishers. Whatever the stats say about numbers of lookups, I see more & more piles of shrinkwrapped directories that sit for weeks before being tossed.

Only two things are holding back the ocean:

• The lack of a popular tool that makes the Web easier to consult than a phone book.  The iPhone and similar handsets will change this within 18 months.

• Merchants’ failure to realize that their YP ad dollars are buying less and less.  By 2009, this will be impossible to ignore.

What follows will be a real crisis, not just today’s crisis of confidence. 

These companies aren’t 100% print YP, of course.  They include online components.  But they’re fitting things into a print-oriented culture, rather than starting from fundamentals.  Again, it reminds me of IBM, ca. 1990, fitting PCs into its mainframe-oriented strategy.

I visited R.H. Donnelley’s Web site today.  I was greeted by this slogan:

connecting you to the future
building on the past

“Building on the past.”  If I were an investor, I would sell too.  In today’s environment this is an epitaph, not a tagline.

*Aside: So now I read that King Canute was actually making a point to his fawning courtiers.  What use is he, if not as a metaphor?