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I have undertaken this report to explore, learn and analyse the local online search and directories market to understand the developments that are taking place in this area. The main focus of this report is on Sensis and its competitors and how it can reinvent itself in a rapidly changing local market. Australia’s online search and directories market is rapidly growing and to this date there are 18 players in this market segment, worth $235 million as reported last year (2007). The online search market only represents a portion of the much larger local online advertising market.
In terms of local market share, the percentage breakdown of various players in each category is shown below. Note: This data for top 10 categories is collected from the report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and is available at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Australia website and the recent one is here.
Let's explore these 18 players and see what are their offerings, revenue models and technology stacks and how they are positioned for the future.1. OriginalitySensis' main page, which is their face to the outer world, is a collection of all the services. Business Listing DataCurrently Sensis maintains arguably the largest number of business listings (1.7 million) in Australia through its directories, Yellow Pages and White Pages.
Sensis is definitely aware of the stiff competition it is facing from Google and new players like TrueLocal, dLook, and others. Example, Linkedin’s free user can not see the details of people who browsed their profile, but to create more curiosity they do tell that x number of people saw your profile from y industry domain. Linkedin has another interesting feature, where people can post questions, and receive replies to their queries thus improving their public profile but they may also be contacted by others for new opportunities and expertise. One of the most popular features with the new search based sites is to be able to look at the Tag cloud of searched items. Stack Overflow is a community of 4.7 million programmers, just like you, helping each other. Now I have to extend its functionality (like SMSs in PDU mode, more efficient delivery report handling etc).
My partners has various type of GSM modems, so I need a general, AT command based solution. Since, you are not looking for just a client library, you need to deploy your own SMS gateway. As you can read here Kannel is using HTTP and a guy has built a C# client and does the work fine. Anyway, as I said, I wrote most of the code in 2005, but did some heavy refactoring to it about a year ago, so it should be solid. I looked its code, it is nice by implementation, but it is lack of a lot of features I need. In gsm modems, how to inform when a new message has been received (Interruptly) using at commands like CNMA or CNMI?
How to inform via interrupt when a new message has been received, using AT-Commands +CNMA or +CNMI in GSM Modems? Would a sentient species be able to thrive when mating means the death of the male partner? Is there a more effective way to build the vocabulary of a fictional language than a word frequency list? There are more than 18 players, from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to large corporations trying to get some share of this market. The local online advertising market is growing steadily and will reach the predicted $1.4 billion for the full calendar year 2008. Their software stack for majors services is based on JEE(J2EE) which is the obvious choice for such a massive IT reliant organisation. Similarly Amazon has a review for its products, where consumers write the reviews to benefit other consumers and helps them in making an opinion. Some of the employers have started adding video (youtube embedded videos) when advertising for a job. I don't wanna reinvent the wheel, so first I'd like to know if there is a good open source project or a free library on this topic. Sensis, (owned by Telstra) is a dominant player in directories market and Google in search. It is forecasted to be worth AU$1.8 billion by end-2011, growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 per cent (2007-2011).
As far as the telecom industry is concerned, it is the dominant player in Australia and will remain so in any foreseeable future. Read it hereIbegin SourceIbegin is a business data provider company in the US that is aiming to make business data in US and Canada more accessible to the public, including local search websites.
Redesign Sensis and other Portals and Keep It Simple(KISS)As highlighted previously, user interface (UI) experience at most individual sites (except homeatyellow) is not great because too many things are being tried on one page.Sensis main page or entry point for all the services needs a redesign, even though it is less cluttered, but its top bar and center page needs bit of a thought. Anyway I decided to change that - because of this question - and will now start to release much of my superfine code under MIT license (free, free, free).

And because curiosity can't keep them away from the sound of a new message waiting for them, it'll get read.
Telstra also has a 50% stake in Foxtel, which is a (pay TV) media company.Telstra vs GoogleTelstra with Sensis under its belt and a majority (50%) ownership in Foxtel, is considered the same as Google of Australia or a media company, at least in some quarters.
It has the major service offerings listed in a tabbed fashion, with the first one being: All (sites) followed by Websites, News, Images, and 3 major services respectively. Not only that, my understanding is, that unlike their parent company Telstra, they are using Agile methodology for their software development life cycle (SDLC), which is a another tick and credit should go to them.
Ibegin has expressed an interest in providing a similar source of business data for the Australian public (date TBA). Please refer to my observations above under SimplicityAnother observation for the middle section of the main page. From a user point of view they get a more open and honest view of the business and ensures that business remain on their toes.
Bruce Akhurst, CEO of Sensis explains during his speech, on March 30, 2007 how he sees the future of Sensis and Yellow.
There is nothing original about that as well either.In addition to this main page, each of the services has their own dedicated portal. The middle section of the page has major service offerings listed in a tabbed fashion and first one is, All followed by Websites, News, Images, and 3 major services, Yellow, White Pages and Trading Post.
Nevertheless, a lot of people have done the job in the past, using C# to connect o Kannel and it works pretty with charm. Yellow and White Pages are available locally in countries worldwide, similarly we have got them here. This resulted in speculation around whether TomTom would switch to Navteq data in Australia. I think adding tabs for Websites, News and Images first of all is not a good idea, (I use Google and so is the case with others more or less) and secondly it is not the strongest proposition Sensis has. Following this, they expanded into online maps, instant messenger (Gtalk), blogging platform (Blogger) and social networking (Orkut). What Sensis has is these 4 strong propositions, Whereis, Yellow, White Pages and Trading Post. Last year, they rolled out Android platform for mobile handsets under a 34 company consortium known as the Open Handset Alliance. Having said that all these services have their local niche market and Sensis is playing in that market. Nokia-backed Navteq will no doubt strengthen its presence locally too, resulting in more competition in the marketplace. Right now our broadband infrastructure is not in a good shape compared to South Korean and Japan, but once the high sped broadband is rolled out this (video based profile) will become the most obvious feature needed for a business.Future trends suggest rich media driven ads will become a defacto in online space. In addition, Google began providing an online suite of applications and recently, a web services offering like Amazon with its recently launched Google App engine.
The only question here is whether they are doing it in an innovative way or just following the trend.
The rest is of no value, at least to me.My recommendation is that Sensis needs to hire a User Interface(UI) designing team. Beginning as a search company it has quickly expanded into various sectors in a short period of time.Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, has said that it's not a media company but a technology company.
This can be achieved easily because Sensis can partner with other vendors in that segment to integrate with the portal.
All the vendors are moving to SAAS (made famous by Salesforce and Amazon) or have SAAS capability and it will be easy to achieve this capability.Sensis revealed they are about to add the facility to embed video advertising, in the concluded conference on Friday, April 11, 2000 at SMX Sydney.
Integrating different stacks can be daunting, even though most of the stacks claim they are interoperable. Sensis should try to get the best people in the business, perhaps the guys who worked in the APPLE online UI team.
Allows users to send the local contact information directly to their mobile phone but they must complete a free registration process. Read it here.As far as engineering is concerned, Telstra's emphasis is on hardware-oriented, network ownership-centric service creation, Google's is on software-services-powered engineering (though they've done some great server farm work to support this).Considering the Sensis and Foxtel (50% holding) subsidiaries, does Telstra appear to be media company? When clicked on more sites, got a new popup frame via AJAX and that blocked the main search bar at the center of the page. My experience and wisdom tells me it works fine in a homogeneous environment, but in a diverse environment it's challenging to achieve. That investment might be costly, but the quality and returns would be enormous.Martin Fowler (CTO at Thoughtworks) has written a post why PeopleMatterMost. One of the focus point of SOA is to make this task easier by adopting and following standards.
Foxtel (pay TV), being a media house doesn’t have any bearing on Telstra's and Sensis branding and market positioning. It will cost more, but the value they bring in will help the business enormously in both the shorter and longer run. A lot more can be done in this area.In general all of the major sites (except homeatyellow) have too much information on the site, which leads to a pretty bad user experience.

Re Brand it It's better to re brand the Sensis portal as Australia’s Directory, eCommerce and Map Portal or other suitable slogan, instead of currently branded as The search engine for Australians. Rendering in Firefox, which has 25% browser market share and is growing and Safari (Macintosh and is growing), is poor. Example the AFL site that is controlled by Sensis, doesn’t render the content in desired format on non-IE browsers and non-Windows platform in comparison to what is achieved on IE. It will be a good exercise to make some changes when it comes to interoperability between browsers and platforms.Performance (Quality of Results)More and more people are using Google for search whether it is news, general information, forums, images or maps. Personalised Home - Create MySensis Google gives users to have a personalized home page known as iGoogle, where they can addvarious applications like email, news feeds, weather, alerts and calendar and so on via widgets. The reason they are doing this is because not only can they find things more easily and rapidly, but the results are also more relevant to the search criteria. The new Whereis site is a mashup containing places of interest like ATMS, Hotels, Rental Places and others, Technology stack is J2EE (new Whereis might be ROR) and mobile version is available.5. Any business (or a person having a business listed or account with Telstra) should be able to get this page and then they can keep adding various services via the widgets.
Therefore the quality of results on its search is poor.As far as the local business directory search is concerned via White Pages and Yellow, it is fine. One of the useful widgets will be to able to see your mobile phone bill updated every 24 hrs or a tag cloud of the most searched categories by other people and so on.Homeatyellow site has started offerings on these lines. For example, tags are visible for popular search items on Yellow and customisation is available. CitySearch®, - entertainment guide for restaurants, bars and clubs and events in every Australian capital city7. So credit should be given to the team.Search results on Whereis are quite good, especially the value they offer compared to Google.
This is exactly what is needed, but it would be better to offer this at the Sensis main page combining with others services instead of just Yellow.
On a newly launched Whereis site, when searching for a specific location, it not only finds the relevant location, but gives information on nearby Hotels, ANZ ATMs, nearby secure parking locations, rental properties and others useful information.
The Long Tail - Monetise it BetterSensis seems to be diversifying its service offerings quite rapidly. Even though response time via Ajax might be bit slow or because of network congestion, but once high powered broadband is available these latencies will be less.MarketabilityThe creation of Sensis in 2004 was Telstra's strategy to become a major media player, focusing on advertising.
In my view Sensis needs to find a better way of selling and monetising the rest of the services to get the real effect of diversification and The Long Tail.
As mentioned above, Sensis manages 14 services, with each product having it's own identity and marketing budget. Become a Leader in Mobile OfferingsMore and more people have started using mobile devices and this is on rise.
SouFun - Chinese real estate and home furnishing and improvement web site with 51 percent stake in it.Sensis Services - Under The Scanner It's time to see how Sensis services and their offerings stand out when analysed under the scanner.
Sensis could better organise their services into 'sub-umbrellas' by grouping them based on what each of the products or services do. Only major services like Yellow Pages, Whitepages, Trading post, Whereis, Mobile, City Search and Media Smart were anlaysed. This is an area where Sensis should be putting more resources, because Sensis is doing a catch up job up in most areas. The rest of them don’t have much bearing on Sensis numbers and brand except SouFun (which is targeted for Chinese market and has no bearing on local market)To analyse the service offerings the following aspects were considered. In this digital age when we leave our house to go out, most people make sure that they are carrying 3 things, no matter where they have to go.
When we are at home we are already connected to outer world, but when we go out we have a device, which can allow us to connect with others. For example, Yellow Pages is offered as having 'Map based search'- what is the benefit in this?
Another example to support this, in a recent survey in Japan, young people were found having better typing skills on a mobile than a on a pc, which shows how times are changing. Mobile will be the obvious platform for consuming services and is the way to move forward.Sensis has started offering Yellow and WhitePages on Mobile, but it's very basic. There is a lot of potential in this space and should start concentrating in this area as many other players like dLoook, TrueLocal, Google Maps already have mobile offerings.5.
Start Building Apps for iPhoneAs alluded above Mobile offering will be the major market for any company engaged in online services. Make it available in GPS Unit (Car Navigation)The new site for Whereis looks really great in its offering (not in UI), especially with its mash up of services.
As part of this new mashup you can get information on nearby Hotels, nearby ANZ ATMs, nearby secure parking locations, rental properties and others useful information.One of the other offerings locates the nearby, NAVMAN dealer (a New Zealand-based GPS systems company, that provides stand-alone GPS units). This suggests that NAVMAN have a business partnership with Sensis and might be using the Whereis map for its GPS units.Sensis can further build this partnership and start offering business listings in these units.

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