I’ve been skimming through a few of the presentations from Nokia World and taking a look at the MEX manifesto and thinking about some of the themes that came out of the >play conference. Location based services and advertising keep coming up, I commented about that in my initial post after the conference. I’m still feeling a disconnect though, the loop just hasn’t been closed on this one. I think there’s some fantastic potential there, but there are big gaping holes in what needs to be done.
I’m definitely a huge fan of the whole personal communications aspect of mobile. Sure the handset can be just another “pipe to the consumer” that content gets shoved down, but that would suck. It’s a personal portable communications mechanism that should allow me to connect with who/what I care about the most, not just consume. I’m sold on that part, top to bottom. What I haven’t figured out yet is the location based services part of that, and the impact on advertising in particular.
The problem with the location based stuff is that almost everything is invasive to a degree, and for the most part to a pretty great degree. The kinds of location based services that are personal and community focused should be the most valuable if we assume that the personal communications aspects trump the consumption aspects. The Loopt friend finder application is an excellent example of a positive personal communications focused LBS. People keep insisting that this is a great avenue for local advertising, but I’m not feeling it yet. I would like to be, so help me out.
The problems I see:
- No one who uses the app actually wants information about the 300 Starbucks locations within 20 feet of their current location cluttering up the map of their friends. Try it out, snag a teenager in some major metro area and ask them how they use their phone. Seriously, just stop someone with a skateboard and talk to them. They don’t give a shit about businesses in the area. But then ask them if they have any photos and videos on their phone and how they’re sharing them, sometimes you’ll find out they have relatively complex adhoc networks and publishing mechanisms that aren’t being serviced by any current offering unless you really twist on MySpace to make it work for you. It’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t care about what you have to offer.
- In order for that location based information to be “relevant and contextual” (MEX principle #3) it pretty much needs to be profile or recommendation based. Both of which are problematic in the extreme. I’m not saying that they can’t be solved, I just don’t see the necessary solutions coming up yet. Are they out there? Is there someone building an open and sharable community focused platform for mobile recommendations and preferences? I would love to chat with them.
- Mobile publishing is still a major stumbling block. It would be great to introduce people to venues uniquely suited to their personal preferences in their local area, but does that quirky mom and pop breakfast shop down the street have something up online in mobile format that is going to convince the user to wander down and check them out? Usually not. We’re going to have to rely on user generated content for this stuff also. I think stuff like Plazes is driving this in the right direction. But how long has that been going on for, and it doesn’t seem like it’s really hit critical mass yet. Even in Palo Alto, which outside of SF itself tends to be one of the highest density tech communities I’ve found. And their info is really tied to wifi hotspots and not true geolocation info (argue all you want, you know I’m right).
- Location based advertising requires the advertiser to work in a way that’s very significantly outside of their experience. Their campaigns simply aren’t structured in terms of “sending 2000 coupons to people within 4 blocks of Union Square”. If they don’t have a way to measure it and fold it into their other metrics it’s a useless feature to them. It takes time for models like this to work themselves out. And so far I haven’t been hearing the advertisers talk much about location based advertising. Actually what I keep hearing again and again is that dealing with the advertising agencies that control big budgets in advertising requires that you conform to the models they already understand and gradually shift things in the direction you want. There’s a lot of momentum to overcome in the trillion dollar advertising industry. I think it’s worth doing, otherwise I wouldn’t be working on mobile advertising. But a technology focused solution isn’t the answer, no one is going to pay attention. You need to figure out how to make people with money for advertising give it to you. The technology itself is the easy part. But people with the technology stand up and declare the problem already solved. That’s disconcerting to me, and indicative of a pretty major disjoin between the technology providers and the market (not that this particular situation is anything new to mobile). Something like this needs to be bottom up, and the bottom is where the smallest margins and most work are. Yet LBS is seen as a “premium” that can be charged at astronomical rates, and that just sets the bar too high for advertising supported services.
- People familiar with online advertising, and user generated content in particular, know that you make advertising money from Google and YPN not based on your persistent users but based on search traffic. Someone searches on Google for an answer, clicks on the search result linking to some comment to one of your blog posts, doesn’t find what they want there, and leaves via an advertisement. Your persistent readers aren’t a great source of advertising revenue, they’re a great source of content. Let them communicate without interruption and maybe you get to use that content to make some money off of. It’s not clear to me how that maps to mobile and LBS. The key online is that context can be inferred based on the reverse of the index used for searches, but there is no equivalent for the essential location metadata. How do you make that system self-regulating?
There seems to be more and more geolocation/LBS stuff going on all the time, I know you folks are out there, definitely weigh in on this one.