Mobile Local Search, the most popular Internet application. It certainly is not true today but it won’t be long before it is. In other words, this forecast is that more Internet visitors will use Mobile Local Search than will use any other Internet application. It’s only a question of time and probably not too long a time.
Some may find this forecast suspect, but there are strong reasons for stating this so confidently. Indeed part of the argument can be confirmed by a little personal reflection. Before getting into the reasoning, it is perhaps worth mentioning how this provocative scenario came to mind. It was triggered by a thoughtful post, Local Search at Rest, and Local in Motion, by William Slawski, who is one of the most erudite commentators of this scene. He and Mike Blumenthal have had some communications on whether Google Maps (Local) data will become more accurate and useful over time. They are both pretty sure that it will. However it is not the product development that drives the forecast I discussed earlier but rather the market demand. Let’s spell out the reasons.
A) The Mobile Web is/will be very much bigger than the regular Desktop PC Web. This is being seen most clearly in Asia with Europe coming along and the U.S. at the back of the pack.
B) Local Search has always been an important demand even before the Internet existed. That’s why most homes and offices had directories of all kinds: white pages, Yellow Pages, local directories, trade directories and the list went on. Remember when you could speak to a human being at 411 and together try to figure out where that Italian restaurant was with the funny name.
C) That demand still exists and regrettably the various Yellow Pages never seem to have leveraged the incredible assets they had. Their search functions are still very error prone, serving up telephone numbers for completely nonsensical companies and not always including the one you’re really looking for. If you’ve bothered to use an online 411 process, just think of the last half dozen searches you’ve done to confirm the truth of this.
D) Of course the data is not very clean as William Slawski and Mike Blumenthal pointed out. However the demand, particularly on the Mobile web, is so strong that whoever gets it right will have a real gold mine. Particularly when on the go with your Mobile device, the Mobile web is the only way to go to find what you’re looking for. Directories are irrelevant.
E) Given this, there is every incentive for Google to put a lot of effort into this application. No one else is likely to catch them.
Another area that is popular for search applications is when looking for instant information. Often times it is necessary to access the backgrounds of individuals and mobile local search may help with this. An instant background check, for example would be one such application where this would be useful.
As William Slawski notes in one of the comments on his Local Search post, “The intuitiveness and ease of use of a service like 877-520-FIND can help grow a user base for the information, and that may be incentive for many businesses to put more effort into getting their business information into those local searches.” I don’t believe there’s a need to grow the user base. We’re all eager to get such data and have been for many years. It would seem to be a big win/win/win opportunity for everyone.