The Next Web Launches Today

If you live in New York or San Francisco, you can start using a new online shopping medium starting today. GeePS.com, a wireless shopping portal based in Cranberry, N.J., is launching its beta test.

Because the Enhanced 911 (E911) service on which location-dependent data services are based isn’t ready yet, GeePS CEO Andy Goren says, his initial offering depends on Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) monitors currently being installed only in some Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) phones.

By the end of this year, Goren expects one million WAP phones to be in use, which will be followed by a quick roll out of E911, bringing the benefits of services like GeePS to nearly every cell phone user. GeePS should be available nationwide by that time.

It’s a chicken-and-egg question, he believes. Services like GeePS provide cellular networks with a financial incentive to deliver E911 location services that were originally demanded by government. The GeePS service also works with Palm VII devices, he adds.

Network operators “do have to change some servers on the back end to allow third parties to connect and get the location information, but they see it as a revenue stream. That will change the market quite dramatically,” he says.

GeePS is launching its beta test before the technology is ready “to create buzz and find merchants,” Goren adds, and to learn how consumers will actually use wireless shopping services.

Initially GeePS is asking consumers to visit its web site and create their own preference profiles, which will let it customize ads sent to the phones, Goren says.

Once that’s done, and you have the phone running, Goren says, “you would see a 20 percent deal at the GAP” as you walked by the store, and once you were inside, the phone could offer up-sells and cross-sells, matching shirts to pants, for instance.

Merchants can just send ads or give GeePS access to their cash registers and back-end servers, which would allow users to pay directly through the phone. “Our goal is to provide this end-to-end solution for merchants,” he says. Going to market first helps bring in customers, which in turn brings in merchants.

Goren expects the earliest “GeePSters” (his word) to be business travelers, followed closely by “young early adopters,” i.e. gadget freaks. So the initial merchant targets for Goren are restaurants, hotels, car rental companies and other service businesses.

The biggest problem remains the amount of screen “real estate” on most cell phones. Goren uses a NeoPoint unit with a 12-line screen, but most of the current WAP phones will have just four lines of 12 characters each. That’s why location services are key to the success of the new wireless web, he says.

“The real estate is so small. You can’t flood it. A message has to be relevant,” he says. Use of the GeePS web site by users will also be important in the early stages. “If you sign up with us you don’t have to get everything. We have a sophisticated personalization system, so you can specify the merchants you want, and not get flooded with junk.”

Chatting with Goren about the service and its prospects, what struck me most was how little is really known about how people will take to it. On the wireless web, it’s 1994 all over again, and whether any new player will end up as a Yahoo or GNN remains to be seen.

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