GigaOM's Mobilize more interesting than CTIA?

I’m looking forward to my fourth CTIA next week. I’ve made great friends and contacts there in years past. Hopefully there will also be some interesting launches and things to learn. Last year it was great to hear Steve Ballmer’s keynote and the launch of Facebook’s Blackberry app from the front rows.

I’m even more excited about GigaOM’s upcoming Mobilize conference two weeks from today (Sept 18). Well focused, with a concentration of fantastic speakers and topics distilled into a day of single-track panels, a format I really enjoy.

They all look interesting enough to keep me glued to my seat for the day, but perhaps this is the one I’m most looking forward to:

Money and Friends: The Promise of Social Networks on Mobiles

Social networks work on the pc web. The 100 Million users that Facebook are about to reach is testament to that. Many in Silicon Valley are rubbing their hands at the prospects of riches being mined from mobility meeting the social graph. But the real question is will it work? Will people want it? Many transitions from the web to mobile have landed with a wet thud. We ask the people at the frontline of making social networking work on mobile what obstacles and oases they see on the road ahead

Sebastian Rupley, PCMagCast John Faith, MySpace Mobile
Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook
Noelia Amoedo, Hi 5
Evan Tana, Loopt

I’ve been asked to talk to several startups in the mobile social space. Despite being a mobile advocate, I often walk away scratching my head about why I’d use them at all, much less how they’d integrate with my existing networks and the experience on my laptop, or how they really take advantage of anything mobile. John Faith and the rest of this panel are absolute tops in the field who will have fascinating thoughts to share. Can’t wait to hear them.

SMS/Mobile Web promotion for In Plain Sight

Today’s Mobile Marketer has a long article about promotion for the a new USA Network series:

“This [In Plain Sight] program relied a lot less on our technical ability and more on our creative and strategic ability,” Ms. Lawrence said. “So, from conception to execution, the content of the [mobile] campaign was created by the Hyperfactory with collaboration with the USA Network.”

I’d love it if they had shared more of the thinking behind the strategy and the creative. The article also doesn’t detail the working of the program, but I like to try as many of these as I can.

Turns out, It doesn’t work on my iPhone, and it doesn’t seem to be well-promoted.

Still, it’s an interesting project, the problems are fixable, or at least worth learning from.

I haven’t seen TV spots for this promotion, but I hope they include them during the show and throughout the week. Mobile programs only work as well as the promotion for them.

You start by browsing to a website (online or mobile) where they ask for your phone number. They send you a text message.

Why not let me start by sending in a text message? Isn’t that faster to explain in a TV ad anyway?

Plus, that would save me a step.

It’s still difficult on the majority of handsets to browse to a specific URL. It takes even longer to go get on a laptop and find where to sign up for this mobile promotion on the USA Network website. Plus, I have to know what WAP is, since that’s the name they use in a list of games.

Why not speak in the user’s language and call it “mobile” or “cell phone” instead of “WAP Witness Challenge”?

Once I found the site online, I pick one of four characters to play, then entered my cell number. In a few mintues, I got a text message to my iPhone, replied, then got another:

49737: IPS: Welcome to WITSEC! To confirm your witness, please reply Y to this message.
me: Y
49737: IPS: Ur all set.U’ll reeive 1 msg/wk.Text STOP to end msgs. Follow the link to help Terry in his 1st situation.

I wanted to know where the shortcode was hosted, so before I went on with the game, I also sent the ‘help’ command that carriers require:

me: help
49737: Nintendo T&C’s: Max of 5 SMS/month. To stop, txt STOP. Std rates apply.

Hmm. Looks like this still needs to be updated and the shortcode is being re-used from a prior promotion, whoever is hosting it.

I went back to the earlier message and clicked the link in the text message. My iPhone browser loaded

This rendered a blank screen!

I reloaded and got the same blank screen again.

I copied it into a browser window on my laptop and was able to see the web page I couldn’t see on my iPhone.

It explained a simple scenario and offered me three choices.

The text seemed like it could be tighter, and I don’t understand why this refers to my witness, Terry, as “them” and “they.” Why pick a witness character at all if the following text would be generic?

I tried each of the three choices, each leading to a screen explaining the complications resulting from my actions.

My life as a Witness Protection agent sounds difficult.

All three screens end with the text:

Thanks for playing the IPS Protect Your Witness Game! Continue to secure the safety of your witness by making the best decisions to keep them alive to see another week. Good luck!

So I can look forward to another text message next week, hopefully this time it will render correctly on my iPhone.

Presumably they might also want to send me messaging reminding me of the air time for the next episode.

I like the idea of having a simple game to play along with a series. Getting a weekly text message along with the weekly show makes sense, especially if it serves as a reminder of the airdate.

To ensure the game stays interesting, all witness situations are rotated to make sure that no two witnesses receive the same question each week.

Also, the witness status is completely customized to a particular witness and the answer that the players chose. In essence, there are more than 290 different witness statuses that the players can uncover.

This part of the program doesn’t make sense to me and makes it sound like the program is more complicated than it needs to be to meet the strategic goals or to be creatively compelling.

It doesn’t look like the complexity actually enhances gameplay.

What is the strategic or creative imporance behind having players choose from between several witnesses anyway? Is the suggestion that someone might play this game with more than one witness (or more than once)? Isn’t the whole point to create a mobile subscription list and provide short, compelling content once a week to provide a airdate reminder and that little engagement extra?

I don’t see why this game wouldn’t be good to implement with a text-only option, dropping WAP altogether. The descriptions are text, the choices are text and the result is text. The only picture is of my character.

Sure, it’d take some fancy editing to cut down text to 160 characters, but it looks to me like that might result in an improvement. Mobile thinking requires focus that gets across the most important points and drops the rest.

We like mobile for it’s forced brevity: make things clear and respect our time.

As well, few mobile users in the US consistently browse the mobile web (latest public M:Metrics numbers: less than 15% access it in a given month), so that would have a major impact on potential reach of this promotion. Did they have a strategic reason to accept limiting the demographics targeted to mostly to those with smartphones and the few other regular mobile web users?

Taking that with the quote from the beginning of the article, it sounds like Hyperfactory avoided complex custom programming for SMS in favor of building all the complexity into WAP, and got a little carried away with the creative beyond what would enhance the actual user’s experience.

A different set of compromises could have stayed on strategy, increased reach, maintained creative integrity and been implementable on a budget with many mobile platforms without custom programming.

Comscore buys M:Metrics

An web strategy/analyst friend asked on Twitter what I thought of this afternoon’s news that Comscore had purchased M:Metrics.

In more than three years I’ve been doing mobile, M:Metrics has been invaluable for industry usage statistics to give me information in the US and worldwide for facts and figures like what percentage of US subscribers have sent a text message in the last month, or how many have a full keyboard. Their ~120 customers have been large players in the mobile space including mostly carriers and handset manufactures, perhaps some entertainment heavyweights selling ringtones and games in mobile.

According to M:Metrics, of 226 million US subscribers, only 13.5% Accessed news/info via browser in February 2008. They’ve stopped publicly releasing the percentage who text each month, but it’s likely more than 50% at this point. For comparison, they indicate that over 20% play a downloaded game or send/receive a photo.

Thus, smart mobile marketing has included the more common modes to be able to reach as many handsets as possible: voice, text, ringtones, etc., and the best often give users options with one or more.

Mobile web still has limited reach.

Still, M:Metrics recognized the growing buzz around mobile advertising, and thus mobile web, adding products in this market outside what was previously its core anticipating the market.

It seems like more buzz, more startups and more investment has been shifting this way. learly the move paid off for M:Metrics in terms of an acquisition. Comscore is likely in a much better position to sell those services than M:Metrics was.

So is this smart buzz and a smart move for Comscore?

Comscore focuses on web metrics. They want M:Metrics for mobile web metrics.

Honestly, I’m not sure what it would have cost Comscore to build out the mobile web piece it’s buying in M:Metrics. I suspect it might be cheaper to build much of that technology than to integrate it, but I’m just not familiar with the details.

As well, I believe the majority of M:Metrics revenues have come from the rest of its business. I wonder what will come of that part of the business with the Comscore acquisition.

Anyway, back to the mobile web, and mobile advertising.

M:Metrics reports that “smartphone users to spend an average of four hours and thirty-eight minutes per month browsing the mobile Web in the United States.” It seems inevitable that devices and networks will add more capabilities and speed so that the mobile web becomes usable for most mobile subscribers, so that 13.5% number should go through the roof, right? And mobile advertising should go through the roof with it just like the buzz says?

My thoughts on this will have to wait for a later post…