I’m a couple days late on this thanks to Consmr’s 100,000 new friends, but I was surprised that a big story on Zagat was missed this week despite all the coverage of the Google+ Local launch. On Wednesday, Google’s announcement of Google+ Local integration officially marked Zagat.com becoming a free website and all of Zagat (seemingly) going free.
An era ended, but not many people noticed. While everyone was caught up in the Google+ aspect of Local, no one noticed that Zagat.com became a free site. After years as a subscription product, Zagat is now allowing free access to its venerable ratings and reviews. That leaves the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, and The New York Times as the top subscription content platforms.
Let’s step back 33 years and realize that Zagat very quickly went from a handout to a paid publication. With the exception of a brief period in the early 2000s, Zagat’s digital content has always been behind the subscription barrier. Even mobile, where Zagat became a perennial top seller on the iPhone and iPad, apps were priced between $10-$25 annually depending on the platform.
It’s not clear that Zagat went 100% free to most people. My first clue came when I was asked tonight to meet someone at Gramercy Tavern. I did a quick Google search for the address of the restaurant so I could plan ahead. Right under the first natural search result (the website of the restaurant), was a Zagat 27 / 30. On the right hand side, there’s the ZAGAT Food 27 score and the famous quotation filled Zagat review. If you’re not signed in, you’ll see “Sign in for full scores and summary” right on the SERP.
Placing Zagat reviews behind the Google+ wall drew away from the fact that a $24.95 subscription just went to $0. In fact, you really have to dig in to Zagat.com to realize that a free Google+ account will grant you access to ratings and reviews that would have cost you $24.95 the day before. Here’s what the process looks like:
What used to be an upsell to pay $25/year is now an upsell to register.
Currently, the iPhone app I took much pride in (although the performance is unrecognizable now and it has dropped from years of a 4.5 stars/Top 3 ranking to 2.5 stars/Top 25) is still being sold at full price. I really wish Google had not allowed it to fall into disrepair, and I don’t know how much longer it will stay in the store. On Android the app went “freemium” several months ago, leaving a ton of confused buyers who, according to the user reviews, did not understand how to transition their accounts. My guess is this too will go away completely. And what’s the future of the print guides if a Google search will give you the contents of the guides for free?
While this looks like the end of the “paid” empire of Zagat, it also looks like the beginning of a larger digital opportunity. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen with the embrace of the Zagat brand in Google search results proper and within Google Maps on Android. Saving the 30 point scores and the 0-3 rating system is also a bold step that I would not have predicted. There could be potential here for “Zagat” as a brand to grow larger than it ever was before. Can you imagine an international print media company growing larger than ever by joining up with a large technology company? Suddenly, we’re looking at a genius move…
6 weeks ago Google introduced Project Glass with an amazing video demonstrating the product. Of course, it was a concept video and Google stated this is what it “might be” capable of doing. Many people overlooked that fact and took this to be a demonstration of the actual product, and so did more than a few publications.
Having worked on two early smartphone augmented reality apps, and having spent a significant amount of time recently working on image recognition and processing for Consmr’s barcode scanning iPhone app, I took to Quora to question the feasibility of a product like the video launching this year. In summary, I said there’s no way this product is launching this year with most of this functionality. I went feature by feature through the product and the interaction in the video and referenced why it wasn’t happening in 2012.
Today, we all found out just how close to the truth I was… Project Glass in its current form can do little more than take and share a photograph. Engadget’s headline summed it up like this:
Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely an advocate of this type of technology. I’ve always said that hardware is holding back the next evolution of augmented reality… the point where it positions itself for early growth in the mainstream. If I could clone myself, this is an area where I have tons of ideas/sketches/concepts that only a Project Glass type of hardware could execute. But I’m not sure what was gained by producing a video of something that was far from the reality of the actual product.
It reminds me of a nerd debate I had with a classmate at Brown over the video Nintendo produced in 2000 as a teaser for the Gamecube Zelda. I said there was no way the Gamecube could produce a game looking like that. 12 years and several Zelda games later, Nintendo has still not launched a Zelda game near those visuals.
If you pick up the March 2012 issue of Fortune magazine, you’ll see a full page advertisement from Cisco. Their ads tend to be well thought out, tied to research they’ve completed, and discuss the technology they ultimately intend to power.
It caught my attention that Cisco was touting user reviews as the emerging influencer in the consumer packaged good purchase funnel…
To break down the premise — Cisco believes CPG packaging will no longer be the most significant factor in the “First Moment of Truth” decision process. Google’s Zero Moment of Truth backs this up already. In the Cisco ad, you used to buy chutney because of the jar. But moving forward, you’ll make this type of purchase because of the 5-star user reviews for chutney. And yes, that is a doctored Yelp review in the person’s hand. Instead of a local restaurant, the review is for mango chutney.
How did they come to this conclusion? Cisco’s IBSG group has spent the last two years studying shopper habits. They commissioned a study and produced a whitepaper analyzing shopper habits, their interests, and broke this down into segments like grocery, apparel, and electronics. They also researched the role the retailer plays in all of this. For retailers, reviews in general are beneficial because they keep the consumer shopping in their store. A highly reviewed product increases shopper confidence and it also reduces price sensitivity. That means higher profits for the retailer. If you look at how groceries fit in, the study found that respondents felt grocery shopping benefited the most from these types of digital enhancements in 4 out of the 5 segments!
It turns out shoppers prefer digital sources instead of real people when making purchase decisions. And it’s happening already in a fragmented form. 45 percent of respondents reported current activity or interest in using a smartphone for in-store research. Again, grocery was cited as one of the top segments.
Ultimately, Cisco produced this ad based on an study of all retail segments, but highlighted the area (grocery) that showed the most promise in this space. Of course, there is one fundamental gap the ad highlights. Cisco shows an amalgam of reviews floating in the air. Why? Because there is no magic app for grocery product peer reviews. Thanks to the power of Photoshop and analysis from Cisco, we get a glimpse of what’s emerging in the retail shopping experience.
I’ve made a habit of successfully predicting where things are going in the mobile world over the last few years.
6 months ago when Siri launched, I talked about the largely ignored Yelp integration with Siri. I predicted Yelp and Apple’s relationship would improve and they would further integrate into Siri and create tons of value for Yelp. Well, I was the only person not surprised at the lone new feature of Siri in iOS 5.1; deeper Yelp integration.
Here’s the official post from Yelp confirming the integration. And there’s tons of other coverage everywhere else because Yelp is publicly traded.
Add this to my list of predictions in mobile that have paid off. Here are the others:
Android - I started working on an Android app at the end of 2008. I told everyone it was the next big OS, carriers would all eventually get on board as an alternative to iPhone, and BB would still matter but slowly die off. I even did an interview with Google at Google I/O in May of ‘09 (there was only 1 Android phone at that time) stating exactly why I thought Android was the next big platform. Now it IS the biggest platform.
Foursquare - One month after they launched I called Naveen (while he was still working out of a coffee shop) to say “let’s partner.” Pretty sure my next call with Dennis was in a coffee shop too. Fast forward to today… 20 million users, a $600 million valuation. On the other side - millions of dollars worth of partnership press, and 300,000 young/urban/social fans for a traditional brand (Zagat).
Augmented Reality - 6 months before Yelp’s “monocle”, I launched NRU — an augmented reality restaurant finder on Android. At PaidContent Mobile 2010 I called this a cool but gimmicky step 1 of AR, with step 2 being when we can bring AR to a lightweight wearable device with visual processing to compensate for GPS accuracy (Google AR Goggles anyone?). I still say even the Google AR glasses will be a little “too soon”. Maybe by version 3 or version 4 they’ll be in the right spot.
Foodspotting - I reached out to them at launch and built their first brand partnership. I could see Alexa and Ted were doing this right. 2 million users later, 1 million food photos later, and a ton of floundering copycats… I expect these guys to be a serious acquisition target of a larger player in the local space within the next year. No large company could realistically generate and collect these photos themselves… you need a very unique type of userbase to do this. Their photos are a valuable asset for anyone serious about taking on local food.
Flipboard - While some content providers panicked at launch, I helped curate and ensure content was feed smoothly when the app went public. 2010 App of the Year, 5 million users. And a traditional print brand gets front and center in the Food section of what would become the essential content consumption experience on tablets.
Ad Supported Android (Angry Birds!) - A few years ago at Harvard Business School I said the launch of an ad supported Angry Birds was the future of Android. Meanwhile many people were shocked a top selling iPhone app was being given away for free. The CEO of Angry Birds (Rovio) was in the audience and thanked me. Are these guys the next Zynga?
iPad - Fine, this was a no brainer to some. But you had to “believe” if you were crazy enough to decide on your own to produce an app in the period between Steve Job’s announcement speech and launch app submission day (less than 60 days). That app went on to be #33 on the all-time top selling iPad apps list.
Android Tablets would be DOA - I said these were not going to work any time soon because the reasons why Android would (and did) work does not apply to Android tablets. There was a lot of hype as they were in development and I remember Eric Schmidt holding one at some event to try to hype it up. I refused to spend any time developing for Android tablets. Turns out it was the right call.
Windows Phone Merger - At an Augmented Reality event in 2010, I said Microsoft will wait until after the holiday season, continue to see soft WP7 sales and either buy Nokia or RIM as their only way to force themselves into the market even though it still won’t work. I didn’t think it would happen 4 months later… I thought they might give it a second soft holiday season. Ultimately they all but purchased Nokia and killed what was the most widespread mobile OS in the world (Symbian, which I mourned since I owned a Psion PDA in middle school. The amazing multitasking OS that Psion ran would later be rebranded as Symbian). For the record, I said Nokia should just move to Android…
Two More Mobile Bets - I’m not saying what they are, but you should probably talk to me about Consmr if you are interested…
5 stars for Belinder small batch Cardamom Mango Sorbet. Ice cream made to order out of a Brooklyn kitchen. Hand delivered in NYC.
Whenever I go to a Manhattan Whole Foods on a whim there’s a 50% chance I pivot, turn around and leave. It’s the lines. They make IKEA lines on a Sunday look tame. Apparently everyone thinks to shop at the Union Square and Columbus Circle locations at the exact same time. We’ve all wondered if it’s worth it just for that one item you can’t easily get elsewhere. Of course, it’s a testament to the products they sell and the service they provide that we endure it (they apologized after I complained in a foursquare check-in).
Sometimes I turn it into a game. The gamble of whether the express or the large basket line will be faster. You’re thrilled when you’re right and you’re frustrated with every passing minute when you’re wrong.
Without giving it much thought I’ve said the solution was self checkout, especially during the lunchtime rush. No-brainer right? Everyone takes their soup and sandwich and pays for it themselves. Except, I’ve used two self checkouts recently with no success whatsoever. The problem? Poor user interface design. In an effort to prevent shrinkage and possibly to confuse zombies from buying food during the Zombieapocalypse, it seems that the modern efforts at self checkout are overly complicated. There are even a few markets removing self-checkout machines altogether. I wonder why?
I understand wanting to prevent theft, but chances are if someone is going to steal something they aren’t going to swipe their own credit card only to covertly not scan a candy bar. They’ll simply put the candy bar in their pocket and walk out in the first place.
One problem is the system of weights and measurements used to ensure what you’ve scanned is placed in the bag. It makes no sense to me. If I’ve scanned it, why should it matter where I put it? In the case of a 12 pack of soda, I’m going to carry it by hand or place it on a cart which is guaranteed to screw up that system. As I write this, I’m wondering the actual purpose of this requirement.
In the first of my recent experiences I tried self checkout with a single box of candy to avoid a long line. I don’t know what went wrong. One box, that’s it. I got some kind of error that required assistance. It said for me to wait for someone. I did. No one came. I really wanted that candy so I got back on the line. I wasn’t thrilled.
The second time was during the recent snowstorm. I’m cold, my feet are soaked from the slush, and I’m just trying to grab some essentials to wait out the storm. Magically, there’s some kind of weight issue that requires someone to come over. My patience is pretty limited at that point. You’re talking about someone who is in such a hurry they’d rather just scan it and bag it themselves to get the heck out of there. What happened after is for another blog post…
I guess Whole Foods is right. For now, we can’t even build a self-checkout that is easy to use. Their color coded line system will have to do. Looks like I need to buy more comfortable shoes and wait for the Siri-like voice to say Register, 17.
My dad just got an iPhone 4S as a gift from my family. He’s never been the most tech savvy person in the world. I for one was apprehensive about getting him a touchscreen smartphone given his Kindle is sitting in a drawer and his reliance on print newspapers. He insisted on showing me this thing called “Siri,” unaware that I’m fully familiar with the platform from their pre-Apple days.
He was primarily using Siri to conduct restaurant searches. For him it was easier and much more natural to just speak rather than go to the app store, find a restaurant app, download it, then manually search for a restaurant.
What might amount to the most important (but not the largest) deal in the digital food space happened behind closed doors without fanfare or a press release. That deal is the one between Apple (Siri) and Yelp.
If you used the old standalone Siri app, you would have seen restaurant and other small business results returned from Citysearch, Yelp, Gayot, OpenTable and others all mixed in. It was basically the equivalent of what you might get in a Google search result. Now with Siri in the iPhone 4S, your restaurant results are curated by one reviewer only; Yelp. Plenty of people will download apps, but for people like my father, they have an answer machine that tells them the weather, where to eat, and apparently has an answer to the meaning of life (ask it). Seeing it in action, I could easily see myself using it for simple searches and I used to design restaurant apps for a living! I suspect that local search and weather are the top two search uses for Siri.
What happened to those other restaurant review sources? Who knows. What I do know is that Yelp has taken a huge step in the mobile space. They’ve essentially cut off their competitors before they even had an opportunity to compete in voice search on iPhone. If Siri continues to catch on the way it has, I fully expect Voice Search to be a new competitive search platform. Everyone will want to rank, except this is a party few partners will be invited to in order to make it a better experience. People want answers, not a dozen sources that have answers.
If the restaurant listings start to go deeper than just the Yelp ratings, which is possible in the future, this essentially provides them with a vertical monopoly in voice search on the most ubiquitous device out there. It also ties Apple closely to Yelp in terms of their content strategy. A big player in mobile tying their strategy to a restaurant review platform… why does this sound familiar? Ultimately it was Apple that managed to make the first bold move.
Yesterday Robert Scoble shared that Google was launching a “Flipboard killer.” Kara Swisher then followed up with more details about the app, named Propeller – not to be confused with the AOL social news site. Considering that Google recently closed a similar web-based project in FastFlip, it’s interesting to see them getting right back on the saddle. Ultimately, if Google News has proven to be a popular destination for them then I can see why they want to get news right on a platform that shines for content consumption. It remains to be seen if this is just a fancy Google Reader (not necessarily a bad thing) or a curated experience.
Flipboard recently released stats showing just how dominant they are in the nascent tablet news aggregation space. I’m a fan of Flipboard, and I got Zagat on board as a launch partner, so I’m somewhat biased. But I see two very different style of tablet apps in this space; the curated experience and the organized RSS reader. I’m not sure which Google will pick to emulate. I hope they pick one and don’t go for a hybrid that does neither well.
I use Flipboard as a serendipitous news app. It’s a leisure app for me that I can use while sitting on the couch. In many ways it’s similar to a magazine because it is curated. Unless you’re managing one of Flipboard’s “channels,” you don’t realize it’s actually powered by a curated Twitter list. You’ll read some comparisons that News.me is curated and Flipboard is not. That’s not the case. With Flipboard you get a better content mix than just a pretty RSS feed.
On the other hand, there’s Pulse. Pulse is the other news aggregator tablet app that I use regularly. The difference here is that Pulse is all about RSS feeds. You populate it with your individual RSS feeds and swipe through to read all of the stories from that one particular site or source. When I’m looking to catch up on specific data and read every headline, particularly in social media and technology, I use Pulse. It doesn’t have the animated style of Flipboard, but it provides just a little more than your average reader to make feeds look organized but appealing.
So what will Propeller be? Will it be a Flipboard style curated magazine app? Or will it be a Pulse style organized version of Google reader? If it’s like Pulse, then I don’t think it’s a Flipboard killer at all. If people use Flipboard the way I use Flipboard, then I don’t see it taking significant share away from them. If it is ultimately a curated experience, then maybe there’s a real challenger to Flipboard after all.