Posts about mobile

Mobile’s not the next big thing, just a path to it

The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge just announced its next theme: mobile. And that’s a good thing because news organizations have been all-too pokey in figuring out how to serve people in this venue.

When Arthur Sulzberger announced his hiring of a new CEO, the BBC’s Mark Thompson, he said, “Our future is on to video, to social, to mobile.”

With respect, I’m not so sure. Saying that mobile is what comes next means, I fear, that we’re going to take what we do in media — making content, selling audiences — and figure out how to keep doing it on video, in social, and in mobile.

But that’s not what we really do.

Is Google just doing mobile next? Google has a mobile operating system. It has a Google-branded phone and tablet. It bought a phone manufacturer. It made apps for all its services for mobile. Even so, I don’t think Google is becoming a mobile company. For Google, mobile is a tool, a path to improve its real business.

What is its real business? The same as media’s business should be: Relationships — knowing people and serving them better because of what it knows about them.

With newspaper companies, I’ve been arguing that they should abandon page views as a metric because it has been a corrupting influence that carried on the old-media myth that the more “audience” you have the more you can charge advertisers and the more money you’ll make. The pursuit of page views has led news organizations to draw traffic — people — they cannot monetize (because they come from outside the market or come just once from search or Drudge). And the insistence that they remain in the content business has led news organizations to believe they must still sell that content; thus, pay walls.

Google views content — our content — as a tool that generates signals about their users, building relationships, data, and value. Google views mobile as a tool that also generates signals and provides opportunities to target content and services to the individual, where she is, and what she’s doing now (thus Android’s Google Now).

We in news and media should bring those strands together to knit a mobile strategy around learning about people and serving them better as a result — not just serving content on smaller screens. Mobile=local=me now. We should build a strategy on people over content, on relationships.

That’s what mobile means to me: a path to get us to the real value in our business. For you folks cooking up ideas for the Knight News Challenge (and for you, my new neighbor, Mr. Thompson) I suggest starting there.

P.S. When I tweeted a link to this post, I said the lesson is, “Mobile is a path not a destination.” Felix Salmon thought a fake me — or Deepak Chopra — had taken over my account. No, I just want that on a bumpersticker. I’ll license rights to T-shirts and hats.

It’s not a mobile phone. So what is it?

“Mobile phone” is a misnomer that is leading industries — especially media — astray as they try to develop services and business for the next wave of connectivity. So what would a better name be? I’ll have a nominee in a second. On this, the fifth anniversary of the iPhone, it is appropriate and long overdue that we rename this disruptive wonder. But first, let’s dispose of these old descriptors.

“Phone” doesn’t work anymore, of course, because we — especially the younger among us — are using these devices to call people less and less. Note these stats in the UK from O2 via Shane Richmond in the Telegraph:

“Mobile” doesn’t work because that makes us envision a user on the road or on the sidewalk when, in fact, most of the use of tablets — which often fall into the mobile-device category — is at home. I use my “mobile” phone all the time in my office and even at home and certainly in boring meetings, when I’m quite sedentary.

Mobile = local = around me now. Mobile is my personal bubble. It is enhanced convenience, putting the device and the world in my hand. But next imagine no device: Cue the war between Siri and Google Glass to eliminate the last mediator, the thing.

I see companies assuming that mobile requires maps and geography or apps and closed worlds. But I think what we now mistakenly call mobile will instead be about getting each of us to what we want with fewer barriers and less effort because the service has gathered so many signals about us: who we are, where we are, what we like, whom we know, what we know, what we want to know, what we buy…. The power of what we now call mobile, I believe, is in signal generation and the extreme targeting and convenience that enables.

What we call “mobile” is disruptive in ways we can’t yet figure out. We call it “mobile” but we should call it “what’s next.”

But what do we call it, really? I asked for a new name on Google+ and at last count got 164 responses. None satisfied me. I also asked on Twitter and there I got an answer I like:

In Germany, they call this wondrous device the “handy.” Actually, it’s “Händy,” but to paraphrase Mark Twain, “we’ll bring the vowels, let the Germans bring the umlauts.”

“Handy” is wonderful because the device fits in the hand. But even when it won’t — when Siri or Glass replace it — the word still works because it is, indeed, handy. It is the ultimate in handy: convenient, personal, nice to have.

iHändy. Sounds like iCandy. It works, ja?

AT&T’s cynical act

AT&T’s service sucks. Just listen to our most trusted newsman on the topic. But AT&T response to this core business problem is not to improve its service, to invest in better ways to handle more customers.

No, AT&T’s response is to change its pricing to make us use its service less.

That’s cynical. It’s evil.

AT&T got rid of unlimited data (except for grandfathered accounts … else those changed accounts could all cancel without paying AT&T’s just-increased cancellation fee). They paint it as lowering the price but in truth they lowered the value.

The sick and stupid irony of this is that it was AT&T — in the person of Tom Evslin, then head of AT&T WorldNet (remember them? AT&T killed that golden goose, too) — that turned off the ticking clock on the internet when it established flat-rate pricing of $19.95 a month for unlimited use of the internet. That is what exploded use of the internet and enabled us all to browse without worry. That turned the internet into an industry.

And now it’s AT&T that turns the clock back on. Tick. Just as mobile is about to explode with new devices and new uses for us all to be ubiquitously and constantly connected doing all kinds of new things and creating new value along the way, AT&T says it wants nothing to do with that explosion (because it would have to work harder and invest more to do better). So it makes a business strategy out of imprisoning Apple fanboys as long as it can and making them use its service less. Tock.

AT&T also tries to push us off its network both with its pricing and with the promise of wi-fi. Its press release even makes it sound like an AT&T service that we can use unlimited wi-fi in our home! Thank you, AT&T.

Let’s note that AT&T’s action in relation to the iPad is nothing short of bait-and-switch as it was sold as using the magic of unlimited data with plenty of data-rich applications and now the price of that gadget only soars if you actually use it as it was designed: to consume media constantly.

I would hope that Apple is chagrinned about the door to which it has delivered its customers. But Apple sniffed the shark when it picked AT&T, making Apple’s control more important than its customers’ service and value and its partner’s quality and ethic.

Of course, this is all the more painful because AT&T’s competitors also suck. Verizon, which most say has good service, has data caps. T-Mobile, which I’m using on my Nexus One, has unlimited data but its network is about an inch worse than AT&T’s. When I was on Sprint, its service wasn’t great but at least they still have unlimited data. But with Verizon and Sprint, I can’t use their phones when I go abroad.

America’s mobile phone industry sucks! That’s more than a mere consumer kvetch. It is a strategic failing.

Hey FTC, if you really want to serve the future of media, why don’t you figure out how to instill real competition in the mobile industry? Right now, it’s a miserable quadopoly that has us by the balls and squeezes.

Can you hear me now?

: Oh, I meant to add: With GoogleVoice and Skype, I don’t even want your voice minutes, phone companies. All I want is your data. And I don’t even necessarily want data over your stupid caps. I don’t want to worry about it. Selling me a service I have to worry about is bad business.

Can you hear me now?

: Here’s Steve Jobs at D on AT&T. Nothing is said of AT&T’s moves to screw his customers the next day. Did he know about it? When asked what he’s going to do about AT&T, he essentially shrugs:

: LATER: Folks in comments and Twitter say that this is an open market and AT&T can set the prices it wants. Yes. And I can get pissed and leave. They say that some people use lots of bandwidth; the classic argument. OK. So AT&T says that only 2% of users exceed its limit. So they are making 98% of users now be nervous in hopes they will use less of the service they are paying for. That is what’s cynical and evil.

Mobile=local

At the Brite conference, I talked about mobile coming to be synonymous with local. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote on the topic for an essay in a German book about the future of the net:

The biggest battlefield is local and mobile (I combine them because soon, local will mean simply wherever you are now). That’s why Google is in the phone business and the mapping business and why it is working hard to let us search by speaking or even by taking pictures so we don’t have to type while walking or driving.

The winner in local will be the one that knows more about what’s around me right now. Using my smartphone’s GPS and maps—or using Google Googles to simply take a picture of, say, a club on the corner—I can ask the web what it knows about that place. Are any of my friends there now? (Foursquare or Gowalla or soon Facebook and Twitter and Google Buzz could tell me.) Do my friends like the place? (Facebook and Yelp have the answer.) Show me pictures and video from inside (that’s just geo-tagged content from Flickr and YouTube). Show me government data on the place (any health violations or arrests? Everyblock has that). What band is playing there tonight? Let me hear them. Let me buy their music. What’s on the menu? What’s the most popular dish? Give me coupons and bargains. OK, now I’ll tell my friends (on Twitter and Facebook) that I’m there and they’ll follow. This scenario—more than a newspaper story—will define local.

To do all this, Google—or the next Google—needs two things: First, it needs more data; it needs us to annotate the world with information (if Google can’t find this data elsewhere on the web, it will create the means for us to generate it). Second, Google needs to know more about us—it needs more signals such as location, usage history, and social networks—so it can make its services more relevant to us.

Google’s synchronicity

On the latest This Week in Google, we talked about many of Google’s product announcements and enhancements and though none on its own was earthshattering, as we added them up, I started to see synchronicity approaching — all the moreso last night when TechCrunch reported that Google’s negotiating to buy Yelp.

I see a strategy emerging that has Google profoundly improve search by better anticipating our intent and then moving past search to build hegemony in local and mobile (which will come to mean the same thing).

Add up Google’s recent moves in local/mobile:

* Yelp would bring Google a scalable platform to get information and reviews about every local business using community. Yelp enhances Google’s place pages. Place pages enhance Google Maps. Google Maps are our pathway to local information on what we still mobile phones but will soon see as our constant connectivity devices.

* Google distributed 190,000 QR codes for local businesses to paste on their front windows. Take a picture of it and Google will give you information about the place (see: above). Businesses have another reason to advertise on and be found through Google and its business center.

* TechCrunch also speculates that we could use these QR codes to check in to Foursquare, Gowalla, et al. Local is social.

* Google Goggles goes the next step and lets you take a picture of a place — or object (or soon, person) — and use that as a search request to get local information — or leave it.

Thus Google becomes a doorway to the annotated world. Everyplace has information swirling around it; Google organizes it and motivates and enables us to create more information for it to organize (more on this idea of the annotated world in another post).

* Google’s reported phone is said to have a “weirdly large camera.” If that camera becomes a key to visual search, that makes sense, eh? That also gives us a better way to take more geo-tagged photos, which better annotates the world and gives Google more information to serve back to us.

* Google is trying to get better at recognizing speech to prepare for a voice-controlled (read: mobile) web world. That, say Chris Anderson and Tim O’Reilly, is why they give away GOOG411 for free: to learn our voices. And now note that Google is asking people to donate their voicemails to Google’s effort to improve its own transcription. Search will become visual and aural (read: mobile).

* Google Earth is coming to the cockpit of the new Audi, giving drivers rich geographic data about where they are and where they’re going.

* GoogleMaps on Android will now tell you what’s nearby.

* Let’s not forget that Google will make money on local — Eric Schmidt said on CNBC a year and a half ago that Google will eventually make more on mobile than the web (which, to me, doesn’t mean phones; it means our constantly on connection devices). This is why Google bought mobile ad leader AdMob for $750 million.

That’s mobile. Now look at some of its search enhancements to better intuit intent:

* Go to the Google home page. Start typing “Weather in Lon” and stop there. Google will not only suggest that you want weather in London, it will give you the forecast for London right there in the search box. You didn’t even finish typing in what you wanted to ask and Google gave you the answer without you even having to click and go to a site.

Google search

Google’s holy grail, they’ve long said, is to anticipate your intent. That explains, I think, some of Google’s other moves.

* Google DNS is supposed to speed up the web for you (speed is a big Google cause these days) but it also gives Google an invaluable source of data about web usage: who goes where when and before and after what sites looking for what. Now, your ISP knows that. But with DNS, Google could know that. It makes Google smarter about the web and its content as a whole, certainly, and so long as it is careful about privacy, it can enable Google to target to us better.

I see a day when search (like news) is no longer one size fits all. Search will be customized, personalized, and targeted to us and our contexts: who we are and where and when we are asking for something. This, I think, could mean the slow death of the dark art of SEO.

* How will Google get us to use its DNS? Well, I’ll bet it will be the default in computers equipped with Google Chrome OS. And I wouldn’t be surprised of the Google Chrome browser can provide some of this data to Google.

* Google launches social search. This creates more context and gives Google another clue to intent.

Now add back in all the mobile developments above. This gives Google more context to anticipate our intent.

But that’s not all. I’ve said for sometime that Google is behind in battles for the live and social web and was going to say here that it was bypassing those strategies to concentrate on mobile/local. But as I wrote the post, I saw more threads in both live and social.

* Google added Twitter to its search results. That’s pretty much a BFD. But it shows they’re trying to grapple with the live web. And that’s why there are never-ending rumors about Google buying Twitter.

* Wave is an important shift in the metaphor for content creation, making it collaborative (read: social) and live. Google added social tools to Google Docs. It make Docs a path to publishing (and being found via search) on the web. Creation itself is a social act once it enables us to connect.

* Add in the social bits above: Yelp is a community tool; QR codes and visual search will let us talk about places and things and find each other and meet; Foursquare and Gowalla make local social and Google could help them.

Last night, after the Yelp report, I tweeted this: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”. Om Malik piped in: “@jeffjarvis I love your unrelenting belief in google. I think u need to start look at world in a non-search context.” But then I said – and others agreed: “I also think Google is starting to look at the world in a non-search context (i.e., local, live, mobile)”.

I believe that’s what we’re seeing here: the start of Google’s view of itself after search. Not that search will go away but it will become less important in the shifting mix of out rings of discovery. And if search is going to stay preeminent, it had better update itself profoundly.

: See also Gina Trapani’s excellent roundup of Google’s amazing 2009 developments.

: LATER: Kara Swisher says Google is also eying real-estate search Trulia.

Spoiling the paid party (again)

Paid Content reports today that The New York Times Companies’ Martin Nisenholtz is talking about charging for the paper’s mobile app.

On the face of it, this seems to make sense: People are paying for mobile content and functionality (ring tones vs. earth-shattering news, ferchrissakes!) and for mobile apps. The New York Times iPhone app is downright wonderful. It’s far better than The Times’ Kindle app (no fault of The Times; all the Kindle news sites are sucky). I’d pay for the app – once.

But would I pay for an ongoing subscription to it? Well, here’s the problem: my iPhone brings me the web and I can read The Times there without paying. Damn, that genie; doesn’t know his place (in the bottle).

Nisenholtz says, quite rightly, that one problem with the iPhone app is that there are fewer opportunities for advertising. And even so, the few ad avails I see are all filled with free house ads for The Times itself; obviously, the sales staff hasn’t taken seriously the opportunity to sell this prime audience (why is it always thus?). So The Times’ app makes bupkis. Even the house ads are irritating, so I might pay for an app without ads. But then I’d be paying for less irritation rather than for the content.

What’s the solution? I haven’t the faintest idea.

Holding a conversation with Google

I can’t wait to get the Google iPhone app that answers questions asked by voice:

Tim O’Reilly called this one a year and a half ago, I think, when he said that GOOG-411’s core purpose or fringe benefit was that Google would harvest our voice samples and out of them create the best voice recognition online. Now Google can answer any question we ask (we’ll see how well it works sometime today).

This is about mobile, of course. Eric Schmidt told Jim Cramer a few weeks ago that in the future, Google will make more from mobile than from the web because it is a better targeting opportunity and targeting — relevance — is Google’s real business. This is also about the next real operating system of the internet. Microsoft has its voice-recognition software, of course, but Word isn’t where this battle will be fought. The sidewalk is the place.

The challenge of live search

As the web turns live — with broadcasters streaming and with anyone carrying a mobile phone broadcasting — the next big challenge for search will be how we can find what’s going on while it’s going on. How can we search the live web?

I’ve written here before that witnesses sharing what they see via video from their mobile phones will change the essential architecture of news. No longer will CNN tell witnesses to send things to them that they then vet, package, and present to the world. When a Qik or Flixwagon user sees live news and broadcasts it on the web, it won’t be through CNN. CNN’s challenge will be to find it and its choice will be to link to it or embed it or not. That changes the role of a news organization in the ecology of news. It might even take them out of the flow of much of live news unless they can come up with systems to find and recommend what’s happening now.

Even when dealing with known, branded sources of live broadcast, there’s a challenge. I want to see whether anyone — TV or radio network or citizen armed with a Nokia — is going to broadcast Barack Obama’s speech about race from Philadelphia today. But I can’t find that.

Google is not prepared for the live web. Google values pages that grow links and clicks over time. It understands the permanent web. Of course, that is a protean thing, a growing brain. But it’s not live. Technorati likes to think that it gives us the live web but I’d say that instead it gives us the dynamic web, the latest static pages. It also doesn’t give us live.

How can you find and value live? Looking at links will make you too late. Traffic might tell you something — why are people swarming around this video stream? — but that, too, will be unreliable and probably too late. Brand won’t be a help because the witness will almost always see and share news before a reporter can get there.

Nobody would have had any reason to know that I was on the last PATH train into the World Trade Center on 9/11 but if I’d had the phone I had now, I would have been broadcasting the news from eye-level — not from rooftops three miles away — as it happened. How could you have known that?

There will need to be a new system where, Twitterlike, he who’s broadcasting live can alert the world about what he’s sending and others — audiences or armies of interns monitoring these feeds — help the good stuff bubble up and quickly.

If this doesn’t exist, the live web’s value will be as perishable as smoke. If it does exist, we’ll probably find what’s going on — what’s news — around the present news architecture. And then we’ll have to wonder how we vet and confirm that what we see is real.

Live changes everything — again.

* * *

Seconds after posting this, I see Dave Winer — who else? – at the start of such a structure of leading us to the live web. He Twittered: “I’m making an MP3 of Obama’s speech. I’ll publish it a few minutes after the speech is over, 15 minutes from now.”