InfoSpace Enhances Its Local Search Site

This morning we had the chance to catch up with InfoSpace about its newest local online search product launch, named Find It.

InfoSpace is an interesting company that holds the rare position of having parallel initiatives in both local online search and mobile search. However, Ron Winter, who heads up online local search for the company, pointed out that these should be looked at as the same initiative, as the company is organizationally set up as one team that develops both products. This is an interesting concept, and apropos to the growth in mobile local search and the convergence of mobile and online technologies (today's product launch aptly carries the same name as the company's Find It mobile local search product, already on the market).

Previously, InfoSpace operated an online local search engine known as InfoSpace Local that was released in beta at The Kelsey Group’s March Drilling Down on Local conference. Today's release not only introduces a new name, but also enhancements to the site such as better residential search and an integration of pay-per-call advertisers into search results. The corresponding enhancements to the mobile Find It product will be coming in the next couple of months, and future enhancements will have more synchronicity between the online and mobile products, according to the company.

In terms of mobile search, InfoSpace leads the market with compatibility with more mobile phone models than any other player — a result of the relationships it has formed with six major carriers. This has represented a double-edged sword, according to the company, because forming a cross-carrier application has cost and marketing advantages, but it is difficult to develop interfaces across carrier-specific hardware and software platforms — particularly with WAP-based mapping. So it has made the necessary investments to work with each carrier to ensure the best user experience on each phone — a user-centric and intelligent approach given that barriers to adoption in mobile search hinge mostly upon user experience.

Along these lines, the company's other selling point, determined mostly in usability studies, is that it passes the "grandmother test" in appealing to non-savvy users. The company is also currently developing features that anticipate GPS ubiquity in mobile devices, as usability will improve when there is less input required and a mobile device "knows" where it is. It will work with carriers to make this happen, especially CDMA carriers such as Sprint Nextel, which will be ahead of the curve with expected GPS integration in early 2007.

In addition to the Find It launch, the company seems to have a lot of products and enhancements in its pipeline, many of which we can't talk about. It will be a very interesting company to watch throughout the rest of the year, as will the mobile local search space. (For more, see recent TKG Advisory Targeting Users: Application Level Innovation in Mobile Local Search).

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