Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Is Open Social a Boon to Local Search?

December 5th, 2007 by MDob

In our recent paper for MindCommerce titled “Local Search Meets Social Search”, we concluded the local search structures and strategies are destined to alter the local search landscape in a significant manner. Although we spent a considerable amount of time analyzing existing local search sites and commenting on the initial implementations of Social Search concepts, one of our conclusions focused on the subject of personalization as a key to growing the local search market. Google’s recent launch of Open Social may be the tool that allows local search to penetrate online social networks and extend the reach of local search and its client advertisers.

Background to Open Social

As you may know, each month hundreds of millions of unique visitors share their lives, preferences, and personal news with their friends and acquaintances within their online social network. Until recently, these networks have been similar to the walled gardens maintained by major cellular telephone networks, in that the code base required for each social networks API, was different from those required for other networks. This uniqueness requirement stifled both innovation and diffusion of good ideas in the form of applications from reaching across the entire span of the available social networks. Although Facebook had worked very hard on developing a rationale approach to creating useful and powerful applications, its efforts were not geared at openness.

From a software developers point of view applications are supported by containers. In the past MySpace, Ning, Orkut, linkedIn and the other social networks were “containers” and writing applications that would work within each of these containers was time consuming and often required knowledge specific to how applications were required to work with each container.

Google realized that the software development process required to create applications for social networking was … “anti-social”. Realizing that, they forged a consortium including most of the major online social networks that worked to create an application framework based on HTML and JavaScript. In late October of this year, Google and its supporters released a sandbox for Open Social development and this new open standard appears off to a rousing start.

The essence of the standard deals with discovering the data common to all social networks. In other words, the data that can be categorized as “people, friends, and activities”. By discovering these data, a developer can write an application that can be used across all sites accepting the standard and not have to rewrite the code for each network. It is likely, however, that each developer will do some customizing of each site (unique front pages, etc) but this type of customization is voluntary, not required by the standard. See the figure below that provides a schematic of the standard.

API Flow in Local Social

The Open Social framework uncovers information in the social network about people, their friends and activities. The data are used to inform the application of critical, personalized information that serves as the basis for writing applications for open social networks.

The practical result of using the standard is that developers are freed of the need to write custom APIs for each social network. Instead, they can concentrate their time on building new features that meet the needs of their users, regardless of the social network the user prefers. (See figure below).

The nature of

Open Social allows application providers to write once and distribute the application to all social networks, giving the user a wide selection of rich applications to personalize their persona in their social network of choice. The benefits to users and developers are enormous.

Is Open Social a Boon to Local Search?

In order to fully understand our position we recommend that you read our paper published by MindCommerce “Local Search Meets Social Search”, but for now let us note our belief that the look and feel of local search sites will continue to be impacted by social search, personalization and that local search applications will become part of the fabric of social networking!

As many of you know, searches for local restaurants, entertainment and shopping are very popular on every local search site. What could be more logical than users of social search sites choosing to embed applications that show their favorite local places to eat drink, party, shop, or buy specialty items? We predict that it will not be long before local search sites such as Marchex, SuperPages, and others make apps available using the Open Social framework to make it possible to show a person’s recommended places to shop for this or that on their MySpace page or on the social network they prefer to use.

Based on our own internal research, for example, we have discovered that MySpace delivers incredible CPMs for advertisers and that these impressions generate high click-through rates. We doubt that any of the major local search or IYP companies will pass up the opportunity to create a channel for their small business customers to be represented in social networks, which are one of the most trafficked Internet applications. Imagine the fees that could pile up by syndicating your customers’ listing across the social networking space.

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Posted in local media, Local Search, User Generated Content

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