In-Brief: A detailed look at Mobicious, a nimble newcomer that has quietly signed a slew of deals with content retailers and fine-tuned its own proprietary crawling technology to create a place where users can find everything for their mobile phone. David Chang, Mobicious co-founder and VP of Marketing, talks about the company’s focus on discovery, plans for expansion outside the U.S. and hints at the pivotal role of social media. Shortly after the audio interview Mobicious took the wraps off of SnapMyLife, a mobile photo sharing and social media site. In March 2008, over 500,000 unique visitors from over 180 countries visited the site, which served over 4 million page views. Since then Mobicious reports over 1,000 people are joining the made-for-mobile community site (which has also appeared in the top ten social networking apps for the Apple iPhone). Could mobile advertising be far off? Read on!
When it comes to mobile content, offering more is good. But offering it all is best. This is the thinking at Mobicious, a Boston-based start-up that has made it its mission to become a kind of mobile content/services/apps emporium. The company, which built a “discovery engine”, has partnerships with around 10 major retailers including Jamster and Thumbplay – alliances that have laid the groundwork for an impressive and comprehensive catalog of 400,000+ premium and free content items.
More importantly, Mobicious has developed the IP to spider mobile content sites (as well as user-generated content destinations) and pull in a steady feed of fresh content from the legendary Long Tail…This has allowed the company to launch 100+ content “channels” where users can browse content according to topic and explore related content. (Mobicious aims to improve its Amazon-like approach to content recommendation – but that’s coming a little later in the roadmap.)
One part iTunes, one part Google (as the company has been described) Mobicious is more than a single destination for users to discover all things digital for their mobile phone. The company also reports high conversion rates for its content partners – generally over 20 percent conversion – and has plans in the pipeline to bring the same positive benefits to mobile carriers who tie-up with the company to boost their off-portal traffic and mobile commerce.
As David put it: Mobicious is in discussions with U.S. carriers about “augmenting their current on-deck content with all of the off-deck content.” How would it work in practice? “If you’re a subscriber, you’ll see not only your own service provider’s content; you’ll see all the off-deck content ‘merged’ into one place.” The result is a “one-stop discovery engine for everything that’s out there.” Unlike a Google or other portal/search provider that would no doubt prefer to take center stage as a content super-store in their own right, Mobicious would “forward the consumer off to complete the purchase at the specific site – whether it’s the carrier’s site itself or a third-party provider….We let the consumer complete [the purchase] using the existing distribution mechanism.
Listen to the podcast here. [14.00]
Business model & making money: Mobicious lets users preview content/services/apps as well as read reviews and rank their own experiences. “There’s quite a large selection of free content that users [in the U.S.] can download to their phones. For premium content we refer consumers to both on- and off-deck suppliers.” The business model is primarily based on referral fees from partner content providers that are our partners (on a pay-per-performance basis). In addition, Mobicious takes advantage of Google’s AdSense and display advertising.
Crawling technology: Mobicious acquires content uses a variety of tools and technologies. “Part of it is spidering content that’s already out there….We’ve identified the top websites that have mobile content. Some of these larger players – because they’ve embraced this sort of distribution model – have XML feeds and structured feeds that we can take directly into our system.” For the rest, the procedure is manual. “The model is very similar to the early days of the Internet [with] Yahoo hiring college kids just to find all of the websites that were popping up. And so it’s a combination [of these methods].” But Mobicious also has its eye on the prize: a comprehensive content index. “If you layer all the metadata, ratings, reviews and tagging on top of the content, it becomes a very valuable information asset – [and one] we would then work with other players in the industry to distribute.”
Google & Co: They are also trying to create a similar index, but David is confident Mobicious has the edge. “We have a significant head start in building up that index….These Internet giants face a pretty steep learning curve, and they been tripping over some of the oddities of the mobile world.”
Cool stuff: Amazon-like recommendations are on the roadmap as a means to “bubble up interesting content” and encourage users to explore more, similar content. But the plan that has the most promise is David’s ambition to mash up a user’s iTunes playlist with the Mobicious mobile content stockpile. “Users could upload their iTunes XML play list and do an auto-match with any of the artists that appear in the play list for other content for their mobile devices.”
Roadmap: “We’re a bit like a search engine that enables people to discover mobile content from other sites. Sometime down the line, as the mobile value chain gets more mature, there is certainly a possibility that we will get much more deeply tied into the payment and delivery side [of the equation] for premium content. But today we’re all about discovery.” Moving forward, look for Mobicious to expand beyond the U.S. and sharpen its focus on mobile advertising.
Social media: David didn’t discuss this much and now we know why. Just last week Mobicious took the wraps off of SnapMyLife, a mobile social media site that lets people (and not just tech savvy teenagers) upload and share photos taken with their mobile phones. The mobile-centric experience also lets users check out their friends’ most recent photos, comments, and activities from their handsets; create real-time alerts to track and know when friends post new photos; and “broadcast” photos to friends and groups in a “follow-me”-type scheme that resembles Twitter. Just add images…
But the real news is buried in the press release and in the presentation David was kind enough to provide as background. The service is fun and interactive, but it also uses scalable filtering technology to eliminate risqué content. This feature does more than lay the groundwork for a widely accepted (and acceptable) community centered on user-generated photos and media; it creates a space where users can “follow and interact with other users and brands while on-the-go.” (To borrow a phrase from the press release…)
Read between the lines and SnapMyLife – which isn’t about chatting, dating or flirting – covers the bases to provide brands a space where they can engage and interact with an audience without worrying about whether the content is appropriate for children and younger users. Those controls are baked into this Mobicious property from the start. And, because the space already attracts a wide range of users from over 180 countries, it’s easy to imagine brands getting involved – big-time. They could take advantage of the demographic/geographic reach to sponsor the community, post images of cool consumer merchandise, or simply introduce follow-me type services around popular celebrities, media companies and brands that spark emotion…
It will be interesting to see where Mobicious takes its new mobile venture. Kudos to the company for developing a community where brands can become involved in – but never dominate – the conversation/exchange between users. Perhaps one better would be for Mobicious to make use of its core discovery engine here as well. That way Mobicious could unite its mobile Web properties and ultimately introduce users to user-generated content and content “broadcasts” they might not have otherwise known existed, as well as useful/relevant brand messages they are likely to appreciate…