Adapt Or Die: Debating The Future of The Mobile Web & The User Experience; Why The World Wide Wait Could Wreck Mobile Search & What To Do About It

Topic: Search | Author: Peggy Anne Salz | Date: December 7, 2007

bnettv Adapt Or Die: Debating The Future of The Mobile Web & The User Experience; Why The World Wide Wait Could Wreck Mobile Search & What To Do About ItUsing time back in the office to review my previous weeks’ back-to-back briefings, shows and client meetings, I have uncovered some real gems that merit a closer look. Some I have made the focal point of the MSG podcast series, and others I have singled out for inclusion in a series of reports and white papers – so check back regularly. I was also pleasantly surprised today when, Nicole Scott, reporter for bnetTV (CNN for the tech scene – and well worth checking out) sent me the link to her company’s coverage of Mobile Internet World, the inaugural conference and expo that took place in Boston just over two weeks ago. I made the transatlantic trip to take part in an invitation-only roundtable and luncheon to discuss key issues in mobile search. Nicole caught up with me later for an impromptu interview about progress at MSG and my take on mobile trends, including social search. Click the image and listen in.

And while you’re at it, check out bnetTV interviews with Brendan Benzing, VP Mobile Search and Marketing, InfoSpace; and Eran Wyler, Founder and CEO, InfoGin. During our roundtable discussion, both pointed out that the buzz around Android and the Google-led Open Handset Alliance has placed the importance of a mobile Internet, embodied in open standards, front and center. What could this mean for mobile search? There are several doomsday scenarios that place mobile operators on a slippery slope to becoming a dumb pipe. But Brendan had a more upbeat view.

While there are some unsettling question marks around Google’s motives, the outcome to watch is how the new interest (translated: rhetoric) in openness will likely whet user appetite for more control over their search experiences and results. Brendan is also betting that users will gravitate to a variety of sources for the answers they need, a shift that will require operators to combine and expose results from storefronts, the Internet and the mobile Web. Any vendor spin aside (InfoSpace of course offers a federated mobile search solution that brings together results from a variety of sources), Brendan does have a point. If open is the flavor of the day, then operators will have to put up or shut up.

Keep in mind that the OHA and Android would not have found such broad support had mobile operators exercised their influence to encourage openness and innovation on mobile devices (instead of locking down phone features and erecting impenetrable garden walls…). Now that openness is the new religion, the pressure is on mobile operators to embrace inclusive rather then exclusive approaches to mobile services – among them mobile search.

Follow this thinking to its conclusion, and operators will not only need to adapt their strategies; they will need to need to adapt the content delivered for viewing and interaction on a mobile device. This emerging mega-trend (and the realization that squeezing a Web page on to a mobile display is a fatally flawed approach) puts the spotlight on technologies that can analyze, adapt and convert Web content to any device.

Jill Aldort, Senior Analyst, Consumer Mobility Applications, Yankee Group, who led our Internet World roundtable discussion, revealed that her research shows 13 percent of users surf the mobile Internet, up from 6 percent last year. The increase is encouraging, but the catalyst will likely be technologies such as InfoGin that “make the browsing experience more positive and create a trickle-down effect.” The bottom line: As mobile users demand open access to content wherever it lives – and don’t know, or care to know, the difference between Internet content and made-for-mobile destinations – content adaptation solutions will be a must-have for operators and content providers alike.

Jill’s observation dovetails with the trend that Eran sees. He counts over 25 operator deployments, a whopping 18 this year alone, and reckons his company will more than triple its year-over-year revenues. Mobile search, as the interface to all things digital, is a great place for mobile operators to start as they find their footing. “We have operator customers who have been afraid to open their portals, but when they did offer our solution [and, hence, open access to adapted- for-mobile Internet content] they found they doubled their overall data traffic.” On-portal traffic also increased significantly because users literally liked what they saw, he said. Put simply, giving users more control over their content, in this case allowing them to surf the Internet, can pay-off big-time – and has for InfoGin customers.

What’s next? Eran told me his company is gearing up to release enhanced personalization technology “that will give users more control over the look and feel and the way content appears on their devices.” Part of this will be smart navigation and the other part will be features that “enable users to ask the server to analyze a page of content according to the individual user’s needs.” For example, a user viewing a page of financial news could request the system to return only a list of stock quotes. InfoGin will also allow users to see a page map on the device so that they can click in on areas they find interesting and zoom in and out much like they do on an iPhone.

I’ll reserve opinion until I’ve seen these enhancements in action. But I can say the InfoGin demo I did see was impressive. (Again, thanks to Eran and his team for taking an hour to answer all my probing questions) In a word, the technology analyzes the Internet site to “determine the importance of each object” according to a variety of key parameters such as the location, size and code associated with each. I’ll deep-dive in a future post – and possibly circle back with a “before-and-after” video – but for now let me say it does a good job of cutting out the clutter and placing the most important elements first. Advertising is also recognized as such and reordered to have a top-notch spot on the page – with Flash alive and kicking.

Between meetings, I made it to an Executive Session on the Mobile Internet Ecosystem. The discussion centered on the barriers to mobile data usage (the lack of flat-rate tariffs and the usual gripes around devices, battery-life etc…). The consumer perspective was supplied by Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to high-level knowledge exchange, thought leadership and personal relationship building among senior marketing and brand decision-makers.

Donovan’s main contribution was a well-received summary of the CMO-sponsored landmark study of some 15,000 consumers in 37 countries. The Global Mobile Mindset Audit, released in February 2007, revealed users suffer from “function fatigue” and are challenged by a growing list of functions they neither use nor understand.

He also shared some lesser known research, specifically focused on mobile search, collected by MatrixView Limited, a company specialized in web acceleration technologies to cut content delivery times for online and mobile searches. (Again, my thanks to Donovan for connecting me with Arvind Thiagarajan, MatrixView Chairman & CEO!)

Rather than report the snippets from the conference, I contacted Arvind, who agreed to an interview just yesterday and also pre-briefed me on his Monday product launch.

First the stats, which are based on a survey of over 500 mobile users in the U.S.

· 50 percent say slow mobile Internet response causes frustration, abandonment or limited use of search

· 81 percent are frustrated with the speed of mobile web search

· 51 percent are very or extremely frustrated

· 40 percent of users have abandoned their search due to long load times

· More than a third don’t even try to search the Internet on their phone

As more Internet content is adapted for mobile, Arvind sees his opportunity in accelerating the delivery of that dynamic content to mobile devices.

To this end, the company is set to launch SWISH DWA (Dynamic Web Acceleration), a mobile application designed to do exactly this. It consists of a server module that is implemented on a proxy server, and the client software is implemented on a mobile device. Content is accelerated because intelligent and self-learning algorithms, developed and patented by the company, effectively compress the right data at the right time. “It’s all about enabling faster mobile search through compression that is optimized for the content and the transmission bandwidth.”

Proof of concept: MatrixView chose a Nokia N95 handset that runs Symbian 3.0 as the target mobile device and demonstrated the effectiveness of using SWISH on a dynamic website (in this case a Google search page). By enabling SWISH on the mobile software application, the Google search results page downloaded much faster than before. (No exact stats though. According to MatrixView, the exact quantitative improvements could not be measured due to the non-availability of accurate profilers that run on mobile devices. )

Arvind tells me the next step is to implement the SWISH application on J2ME devices. The target audience is search companies, retail sites and content sites. Two major search companies are currently evaluating the technology.

In principle, less data means faster page delivery to mobile and reduced user frustration – and that can only be a boost to mobile search. As the mobile industry speeds toward the vision of an open mobile Internet, we’ll no doubt see content acceleration and adaptation companies play a pivotal role in the mobile search value chain. So best squeeze to make a space.

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