I did get a chance to stop by the Mobile Monday Mumbai meeting last night and it was fantastic! First of all thanks to Veer and Rajesh for inviting me to participate in the panel, I’m always happy to share what info I can with an audience so hungry for information. I was really impressed with the folks attending the event. A highly entrepreneurial crowd who weren’t afraid to stand up and ask questions and challenge the responses they got back. In many ways it reminded me of the Silicon Valley crew …. Interesting huh? They even had an SMS backchannel setup during the panel! I was already paying a decent amount of attention to this environment because the numbers that AdMob sees say this is one to watch. After seeing it first hand my geek gut sense also says it’s one to watch. If you get the chance to check it out firsthand I can’t recommend it highly enough. I took some pictures of the event as well, I think they give a great feel for what the audience was like.
I was hoping that the carriers in a rapidly developing area like this would be more supportive of their local entrepreneurs and businesses. But unfortunately the general guideline that carriers are bullies who somehow feel they’re entitled to own a user because they paid for some spectrum holds true here. They talk at one time about knowing a user and being able to deliver them highly targeted and personal results because of their intimate relationship, and then say they would cut off advertising services and kill off anything that competes with their own revenue stream. I’m not sure about you, but that’s not the kind of company I want to have an intimate relationship with! They obviously don’t really have the well being of their users at heart. They have the well being of their users at heart when it allows them to stifle competitive innovation. But when it comes to things that make their users happy but that the carrier doesn’t profit from, well then of course it’s their right to regulate what goes across their network and the user be damned! Unfortunate that this keeps playing out all over the place, it’s really limiting what mobile could be to have these folks as the gatekeepers.
The carriers are also unaware of a lot of the activity going on with the local users. They think they’re filtering free content. Maybe they just don’t understand how the interweb works? I could see them manging to filter out anything from the outside web with a content type audio/mp3 to kill off MP3 ringtones. But could they filter out images as a whole? Sounds a little far fetched, even for them. So at least wallpapers and backgrounds, to some degree, could be available for free out there. I know lots of people can attest to the size of the India mobile web market, Paul Smith I know saw the size of the traffic when he was running his own test of a public version of wapTags. It’s out there, I know it’s not just AdMob seeing these kinds of numbers.
There were a bunch of questions about what people seem to be doing when they browse mobile from India. I don’t have an exhaustive breakdown, but I have at least a few examples that I know popped up at some points. Much of the traffic is to community sites and chat/forum areas. Why would people in India be hitting sites like that so heavily? Many of them seem to be related to Bollywood. Gossip sites, fan sites, photo sites, forums, etc. Apparently people are hungry for more than what the established media channels provide them for their stars. Hardly surprising, that happens all over the place. Also very popular are the mobile versions of news outlets in English speaking areas like the US and the UK. At one point during the World Cup we were seeing enough cricket related activity on mobile that I actually setup my own cricket news aggregation site (cricketfan.mobi) specifically to make some of the less mobile friendly content more accessible.
The common question across the panel was what will it take to make the mobile advertising industry experience explosive growth during the next 12 months. My answer is that from where I’m sitting, the mobile advertising industry is already experiencing explosive growth. Its been happening for 12 months already, and it’s going to keep going for many more I think. But what could accelerate it to an even greater pace? I think everyone had pretty much the same take on that, standardization and metrics. The online advertising market really took off when there were standard ways to make buys across multiple advertising providers and standardized ways to collect those results across all and measure benefits. And advertisers want to be able to understand what their expected results can be going in and feel assured that they’re not being duped into wasting money. So you need compelling success stories that map neatly to what incoming advertisers are expecting to do.
Which is somewhat at odds with the other major message from the panel, that mobile advertising is a new medium that allows for mass customization and rifleshot accuracy in your messaging. While that’s a fantastic idealistic outcome, I would definitely caution against putting all your eggs in that basket. Every medium thinks it’s new and ultimately completely different than what came before. And it is, but only to a degree. It’s a beautiful and unique snowflake, just like everything else. The advertising market will only bear so much infrastructure cost before it’s just not worth their money to put a message out. Sure, it’s technically possible to figure out where someone is down to the square meter and have a message that’s targeted to their income level and browsing habits and that particular 9 foot square section of the earth they’re standing on. But somewhere well before we get there we hit the point of diminishing returns with respect to what most advertisers want and how much it will cost them to get it.
In the US an ISP has almost the same set of info that a carrier does, but we don’t see ISPs participating in the online advertising ecosystem because so far it just hasn’t made any sense. No one can make it work at scale profitably. Yet the carriers think they are the key to advertising in mobile, and I just don’t see that on the mobile web side. Perhaps when it comes to marketing through messaging like SMS. But overall they need to stop thinking about marketing to their user base as their right and start thinking about it as their privilege. Do it right and everyone benefits, them included. Do it wrong and everyone suffers, and people get angry, and they lose users, and advertisers lose audience.
A little realism in that respect would go a long way, and I think the scientific method applies here as well. We can sit around all day and debate what the mobile advertising market wants, but without empirical evidence to back it up we’re just spouting philosophy. The best way to know what works and what doesn’t in mobile advertising is to try it. You’ll probably be surprised. I know I definitely was.