YellowBot – Local Search that Works

Over the years I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Yellowpages.com for local search, yet in a display of cognitive dissonance I keep using them when I need to find a local business. Almost every time I give up and Google, which itself is okay but not great for local search. The yellowpages.com categories are confusing, their notion of local doesn’t map to mine (they returned South El Monte for something… that’s LA), the reviews are practically non-existent, and the interface is confusing.

So yesterday I need to find an appliance parts store and after yet another frustrating experience with yellowpages.com, I ended up googling and by chance found local search engine YellowBot.com. What a pleasant surprise.

The interface is smart, using tags and skipping categorization altogether while instead relying on good search. I searched on a couple of different business types and in each case the list of returned items was pretty damn good. The review data is spotty but that’s not surprising, it looks early stage, but in some categories it’s not bad. I have two standard searches that I use to test local search, “pizza” and “car wash” and in each case I was impressed with the results.

I haven’t tried the mobile version yet but suspect it will be similarly useful.

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Airlines Now Want YOU to Lobby for Them

sympathy_meter.jpg What a crock of shit. Apparently the 12 CEOs of U.S. airlines who are signatories of this open letter to the public really believe that every time a futures contract is traded it goes up in value… unlike their stocks. After billions of taxpayer dollars bailed these airlines out following 9/11, they have done nothing to restructure and reinvent U.S. aviation, instead relying on the same old excuses about why they can’t compete. Now it’s oil and sensing an opening in favorable public sentiment, the airlines are now playing victim and blaming crude oil speculators for their latest round of problems.

A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

[From Recession Watch: Oil! Airlines Issue Open Letter Asking You To Help Them Lobby Congress]

It’s dishonest and duplicitous to the highest degree when airlines ask the public to regulate commodity prices and then immediately suggest they they themselves should have minimal regulation. If I lobby Congress for anything it is going to be limits on $15 surcharges, late and cancelled flights, redemption fees for frequent flier award tickets, and generally pissed off employees.

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Oil: are we in a bubble?

Two things caught my attention as I watched crude oil prices fall again… the Iranians shooting off a bunch of missiles and talking tough did not scare the market, and demand for gasoline fell in Asia and the U.S., which during peak summer months is pretty significant.

In Asia governments can no longer afford to subsidize gasoline pump prices so as those consumers start to pay market rates, or close to it, they pull back their consumption. Mexico can’t afford it much longer either, Pemex will ultimately have to raise pump prices. In the U.S. drivers are pulling back in the face of rising energy costs that not only get them at the pump but also at the grocery store. Pump price subsidies distort marktetplace driven demand and if the price of gasoline and diesel stay where they are, it is impossible for governments like Mexico, Indonesia, India and even perhaps China to continue the subsidies.

One interesting thing to consider is that the marketplace for commentary has pretty much accepted that oil prices will not collapse because the supply is finite, global demand will continue to grow and exceed supply, and geopolitical instability will present the opportunity for market disruptions.

The best estimate of the future price is therefore the current price. For it to move upward, rationally, you need new information–i.e., information that none of us knows now. The basic logic behind the predictions I hear of ever-rising prices–the supply is fixed, oil is neat stuff that helps grow economies, there are a lot of economies that want to consume more of the stuff–is all well known to everyone. You should assume that the price is roughly as likely to fall as to rise.

[From Megan McArdle (July 09, 2008) - Oil: are we in a bubble?]

If anything the price of oil today seems driven not by geopolitical issues but rather the valuation of the dollar and uncertainty about what actual demand and inventory levels are, specifically in India and China which don’t put out data on either, unlike the U.S. and Europe.

The assertion that we are running out of oil is technically accurate, after all it is a finite resource that when used is converted into other non-reclaimable forms (unlike iron ore which can be recycled till the end of time). Having said that, over a hundred years of supply in the ground in known reserves even when taking into account growth in demand. Estimates for oil in shale and tar sands alone are around 2 trillion barrels. Current known reserves of crude oil are 1.3 trillion barrels, according to Oil and Gas Journal (this estimate includes 174b barrels of Canadian oil sands), but it’s important to note that OPEC producers are generally believed to underestimate their reserves in order to manufacture scarcity which benefits them in the market.

There are another 6.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in known reserves. Include coal, which can be liquified, and there are 200 years of supply there alone. Simply put, there’s a hell of a lot of hydrocarbons in the ground… think about the span of technical and industrial achievement of the entire 20th century… that is what is in front of us.

While I’m tempted to say that there is a bubble in oil prices, what is more likely to occur, if not already, is an investment bubble in clean tech, which to date has produced little that can scale and outside of corn farmers in the midwest, hasn’t generated much in the way of returns. Oil will fall and while I am not qualified to make this projection (just being honest) I would say that $80-90 feels like a right settling point for crude once the speculators decide that the Greater Fool theory no longer applies.

NewsGator iPhone App

nnwOnHomeScreen.PNG NetNewsWire is now available on the iPhone. I don’t normally write about every product that we release but this one is really really cool because it takes full advantage of the touch interface to vastly enhance the user experience of a mobile feed reader.

Apple made a couple of really strange design choices, like the headset jack requiring an extension, and the lack of copy/paste, but adoption of the touch gestures really makes this device in my opinion. Ironically, touch gestures may be a primary reason why we don’t have copy/paste…

Brent put a lot of work into this app and it reflects not only his intuitive sense of what is right in a Mac app, or in this case, a Mac app on an iPhone, but also what works for users. I’ve always admired that NetNewsWire has a deep bench of features available to the user, but the user experience doesn’t overwhelm you with features.

Here are some screenshots of the app in action. Go download it from the App Store today.

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