InfoSpace.com is an interesting mobile company. It's a mobile web pioneer - launching it's first mobile site - a phone directory search eight years ago. It's a real survivor too. The company weathered the original Internet bubble, the early failure of WAP and it's own mismanagement to build a relatively successful business creating mobile sites and back end services for mobile providers. Some of the services InfoSpace provides to carriers include portals, messaging, white label web and directory search services and content storefronts. InfoSpace's customers include ATT, Virgin Mobile, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Verizon. The company has been much in the news of late. First a rumor that it was about to acquired which gave the stock a nice, if temporary lift and then news that InfoSpace had sold it's Moviso mobile content (ringtones, graphics and games) division.
One thing I like about InfoSpace is that the branded mobile sites they create for carriers are sometimes served on public IP addresses. That means they can be browsed from any carrier or even using a desktop browser. Current examples include the ATT Media Net portal and an astrology page for T-Mobile.
InfoSpace also has a big desktop web presence with phone directory and local search sites Switchboard and Infospace.com and a bunch of meta search engines including Webcrawler, Dogpile and Zoo.com. In spite of this, InfoSpace hardly participates in the off-portal mobile web at all. Until recently the only non-carrier branded InfoSpace sites were a wml-only portal (infospace.com/wap/index.wml) that has been around for years and another long running portal site for Avantgo (infospace.com/__info.avant/). Both of these portals provide News, Sports, Weather and the company's directory search services
I was surprised when exploring Frog (review) to find that one of the optional links that you can add to your Frog homepage, an ATM Finder, was a deep link into a new unbranded local search and directory site from InfoSpace. The site is called InfoSpace FindIt (wap.infospacefindit.com) . InfoSpace has just launched GPS enabled Java version of FindIt which is a $2.99/month (60 day free trial) subscription product. More information on the Java version of FindIt can be found on this product page. It looks like the free mobile website is being offered as an alternative for phones that can't run the Java application.
I was curious to see how FindIt compared with the other six mobile search engines I reviewed in Local Search Shootout last month so I ran FindIt through the same two tests, a search for "Sushi" in 94132 and another for "Western Wear" in Dublin CA.
To summarize the Local Search Shootout scoring criteria, sites got 1 point for each sushi bar found within 2 miles of zip code 94132 and 1 point for each 'Western Wear' shop within 10 miles of Dublin, CA. Applications with efficient user interfaces were rewarded with bonus points, the application requiring the fewest key presses got 5 points, second fewest 4 points, 3rd 3, fourth 2, and fifth 1 point. Additional points were given for features - "click to call" phone numbers and driving directions were each worth 2 points, maps and the ability to save locations or queries were each worth one point. The winner was Local.com with 27 points.
InfoSpace FindIt scored as follows:
Sushi: 3 in 2 miles from 94132 = 3
Western Wear: 0 in 10 miles from Dublin CA = 0
maps = 1
directions = 2
click to call = 2
keypresses 55 (5th best out of seven) = 1
no saved locations or queries = 0
Total: 9 points
InfoSpace's 9 points put it in a tie with Ask.com for fifth place among the seven local search engines.
FindIt has good usability but only fair results. The search for "Western Wear" turned up 23 results but all were irrelevant including a Petsmart location and a Dive Shop! The sushi results were not sorted by distance. The two closest were the first two results but the next result was 6 miles away and the third one within 2 miles was on the 10th result page.
FindIt's local search gives you a choice of typing in a search query like "sushi" or picking various categories from a list. I used the free form version of FindIt's local search for the test because neither "Sushi" or "Western Wear" are available as FindIt categories. Although I was rather negative about category search in the Shootout piece most commenters seem to like it. I partially agree, categories are good for things that are commonly searched for like ATMs. FindIt's ATM search is excellent finding 49 ATMs (including about 10 duplicates) within 2 miles of a San Francisco residential address.
The Find Person and Reverse Lookup features in FindIt are very good. They are easy to use and I had no trouble finding every listed number that I tried. Only US phone numbers seem to be supported, however.
The site's usability is excellent with appropriate page size, lots of accesskeys and use of
style="-wap-input-format:'*N'" to switch the keypad to numeric for the zip code field. Browser detection is used to deliver wml to phones that need it and xhtml-mp to modern devices. The size of maps is also adjusted to fit browser dimensions.
It's good to see InfoSpace in the off-portal mobile web space again. I'm hoping that they will offer an updated xhtml-mp version of their portal as well. That a company that's always relied on carrier deals like InfoSpace has created a new off-portal site seems to confirm that the walled garden model is dying and the future of the mobile web is with open access.
Link: wap.infospacefindit.com (xhtml-mp/wml)
Ratings - Content: Usability: