Date: Wed, 2006-02-08 08:57
I went to the 4th monthly Mobile Monday London (aka momolondon), my third one. I missed the one last month at Yahoo's offices because I was in Turkey.
Google really laid on a slick hosting job. They had nice printed signage, including a label on the elevator button for the floor to go to, coat check, free t-shirts and pens*, plenty of free booze and food handed out by catering staff wandering the floor. The presentation equipment was also tops, dual projectors and the presenters' slide shows were technically seamless.
* Figuring out how to open the free pen may be an example of the infamous Google recruiting tests, it took about 3 or 4 different approaches before I figured it out. Maybe not something to brag about.
Oh yeah, the presentations themselves were pretty interesting as well. The theme for the evening was payment systems, in other words, ways for content providers to make enough money to make it worth doing. This probably is the biggest thing holding back the content industry, shady ring-tone clubs aside.
Shannon Maher from Google gave the first talk, and although it was the one least targeted to the theme, I think that most of the attendees, sated with Google-booze and delicious toothpick-meat, didn't mind. Google is building a new London-based mobile engineering team to complement their team in California. It sounds like their main reasons for doing this are to tap into the European mobile scene, given that as Mr. Maher said, the UK now has 100% penetration versus 70% in the US; and for partnerships with external organizations, including carriers (mobile network operators, as I usually call them), OEM's, and "industry", whatever that means.
Maher was fairly cagey on the specifics of Google's product plans, at one point begging that he hopes not to see his offhand musings blasted onto front pages the next day as announcements of new Google services. He said the first step is to bring existing properties onto mobile, then step 2 would be to innovate, and design for the mobile experience.
One thing he mentioned that I think resonated well with attendees is that Google considers small content providers as being of key importance, and wants to help them out. In an industry which cripples itself with walled garden strategies, breaking down the walls is the only way to get the kind of success people keep claiming is inevitable. Google is an ideal company to help with this.
An interesting point that Mr. Maher made was the fact that search is very different on the mobile. The mobile web is not nearly as well-linked as the regular web, so Google is struggling with finding all of the content that's out there so people can search it.
Other attendees raised questions about how people are actually going to "discover" mobile services. Very few people whip out their phone and go to Google to find things the way we do on the regular web. The operator portals can be a major source of traffic, but the most popular is the old fashioned texting a keyword to a shortcode approach. I believe that mixing non-mobile and mobile is the key, both for this discovery/marketing process and for most applications. There was some discussion on the floor about mobilized adwords and adsense, but I think there's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of using normal Google Adwords to drive people to mobile applications.
Margaret Gold presented Luup, which is Yet Another Payment Scheme (my term, not hers), basically a mobile-oriented Paypal. She used a new-fangled presentation style, rapid-fire slides with just a word or two or a picture, which was pretty cool. But when someone asked why Luup will succeed where others have failed, especially given that Paypal can easily move into mobile, her answer was pretty weak, basically saying there's room for more than one. The Network Effect suggests that there probably isn't room for more than one, and Paypal already has a massive head start. I don't think being the first into mobile will matter.
One thing a lot of mobile dotcom wannabees don't appreciate is that mobile is not an entirely new playground, it's just an extension of the web. There's a parallel here with the original dotcom bubble, where entrepreneurs thought the web was an entirely new economy, separate from the old one. It turned out to be just another facet of the old economy.
Jeremy Flyn from Vodafone talked about xPay, which sounds like a set of standards which is trying to pick up the pieces left from the crash of SimPay. One of the reasons SimPay failed was that it used a single model across Europe, but different European countries have very different economics for mobile content, including how much they pay out. Flyn repeatedly emphasized that the UK has the highest payout to content providers for premium SMS messages. So xPay is a UK-specific standard, which the operators and SMS aggregators will hopefully all sign onto.
Richard Watney from Reporo gave a fairly brief demo, using a phone, of their service, which basically seems to be a custom J2ME shopping applicaiton. Users browse shops that have signed up with Reporo, and Reporo stores credit card details and uses them to charge purchases.
So the talks were fairly interesting, although in a lot of ways there didn't seem to be anything very new. I think this demonstrates that online mobile services, although it's becoming very hot at the moment, is still struggling to find it's place in peoples' everyday life. I'd say we're basically at a similar stage to the 1996 Web, where very few people were actually making money outside of porn and ripoffs, and it's still difficult to make an unshakable argument that it will become a real, profitable, mature market. Personally, that's what makes it fun to me, just like then, it's uncharted territory.