Holiday Driving, Traffic And Billboards

It's over.  I survived. The 2010 holiday season, or at least the parts that include buying and swapping gifts, travel, cooking and eating, is over.  Only New Year's Eve is left to tackle, but that can be done in cabs and out of view of one's own family.

Based on the horror stories of those who have been traveling to and from the snowy regions of the world, I should consider myself lucky.  All my immediate family and in-laws live in northern California, so I had only wet highways to contend with, even if it was hundreds of miles of them.

As is my usual ritual, I carefully studied all the billboard advertising as we zipped down U.S. 101 toward the San Mateo Bridge; or via I-80 across the Bay Bridge to 580, Interstate 5 and out toward Yosemite via California 99.  The farther out from the Bay region one travels, the more the billboards are about the usual consumery stuff.  But while still in the Bay Area, one consistently encounters billboards for products and services found exclusively on the Internet.



My all-time favorite is the massive, neon-lit Yahoo sign on the approach to the Bay Bridge.  It looks like one of those old-timey motel signs one might still find on Route 66 and reminds us to check-in to Yahoo next time we're on the Internet.  A new favorite is the constantly changing billboard seemingly owned by Zazzle on the southbound side of 101 at SFO, which shows the latest art available to print on just about anything one might think of printing art on.  Zynga's billboard is just across the highway from Zazzle's and usually promotes its latest game, but sometimes pleads with drivers to submit an application for one of its many open positions.

On the connector between I-80, U.S. 101 and Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco, you'll find the latest billboard from -- that would be the Yellow Pages, for those not in the know.  Their latest effort to drive up search volume for their online business listings is reminiscent of another billboard campaign designed to capture market share from Google a couple of years ago.  Back then, was still pulling out all the stops to return to viable-competitor status with Google, and the company used catchy outdoor ads that actually used the word "algorithm" in the ad copy to drive up search volume. claims in its billboards that by using its search, you'll more quickly find what you're looking for so you can get on with what's really important: your life.  The company "Click Less, Live More" campaign seems to indicate that the alternatives require lots of refined search queries and endless clicking to get to what you want.  (Perhaps they missed the memo in re: Google Instant?)  Of course, I had to check it out while en route to my sister's place in the Great Central Valley. 

The home page is eerily similar to Microsoft's new Windows Phone interface, with multiple tiles guiding you into sensible categories where you (presumably) will instantly see or find what you need without further fuss.

Like the Windows Phone interface, it's nice.  

But though Microsoft has been expending considerable effort and cash on winning market share in its own challenge to Google's search dominance -- with some success -- it's still all too tempting to simply declare the game officially over.  

At the recently concluded Search Insider Summit in Park City, Utah,  itself a snowy place, Wall Street search and social media analyst Lou Kerner essentially declared that, in the social media space, it was "game over."  Facebook has won.  While there are some also-rans and interesting social networks with decent audiences, Facebook is the hands-down winner in the race.  

It was in 2010 that Ask sort of threw in the towel and all but admitted "game over" on the search front, declaring it was giving up on grabbing market share from Google and returning to its Jeeves roots by providing answers to vexing questions, not search results.  The Yellow Pages, some version of which was recently delivered to my front door as a couple of books (and then instantly dispatched to the recycling bin), is in the process of reinventing itself.  Its core product, the printed book of business listings, once indispensible, is now used more often to adjust the height of computer monitors.  With its days numbered, then, Yellow Pages had to do something. 

So, more billboards. 

Yahoo's billboard has been up a long time, though not nearly as long as the nearby Coca-Cola billboard, which has been an iconic feature of the San Francisco skyline since before World War II.  Still, it hasn't done much for Yahoo's search business.  While Coke has maintained its dominant market share over the last 70 years, Yahoo's position, at least vis-à-vis search, continues to erode. So how to win -- or at least gain some traction -- against Google Search?  Is the game, in fact, over? 

One thing seems sure: billboards may not be the answer.

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