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There has been a lot of controversy over the term 'Web 2.0' and the concept of the evolution of the web from a collection of websites to a comprehensive computing platform for serving web applications to end users. When it comes to the cell phone medium, however, is it possible that the real evolution of the Web will be for media companies and mobile operators to rely less heavily on it?
If recent trends are any indication, the answer is clearly "yes". Heavy-hitting brands like Apple, Yahoo, TiVo, and Google have all recently expanded their mobile strategies beyond the simple, and somewhat limiting, experiences available through messaging and mobile Web technologies to offer the improved usability and personalization options that downloadable applications and on-device portals can provide. The focus seems to be transitioning from 'Web 2.0' to 'User Experience 2.0' as these brands prioritize the customer experience and are exploring the best ways to reach their consumers during their busy, on-the-go day.
Big Brands Lead the Charge
While using the Web to deploy services makes perfect sense for companies targeting the PC user, the limitations of the wireless phone form factor (i.e. screen size, memory) has made the long-term success of the mobile Web much more uncertain. Many brands are looking to alternative technologies to offer richer, more user-friendly access to their services than the mobile Web can provide. In fact, there is currently a lot of activity going on behind the scenes as the big brands race to be the first to establish a ‘stickier’ loyalty with mobile consumers.
For example, Yahoo's recent Yahoo! Go initiative expands way beyond the company's traditional mobile website to deliver consumers with a downloadable application that keeps the Yahoo! brand always one-click away from any consumer. The downloadable application offers a permanent portal on the phone into a variety of Yahoo! services including email, local info & maps, news, sports, finance, entertainment, weather, Flickr™ photos and search. This gives Yahoo! consumers an easy way to access services without typing in long web URLs on the tiny keypad or waiting for frequent between-click network delays as they move from one service to the other.
Clearly, the company is throwing the user experience gauntlet down to their competitors, like Google and AOL , who are also looking to reach (and advertise to) the owners of the over 900 million cell phones being used today. A Thomas Weisel research note written by analyst Christa Quarles recently stated: "We do believe that Yahoo! Go Mobile has done a terrific job of bundling its local content offerings in an easy to use package (complete with widgets and other neat features)….We could envision a world in which Google is able to bypass the carriers altogether to create an ad supported mobile network where its content (i.e., local search, maps, etc.) serves as the “portal” for consumers to move on to the mobile web."
MSNBC.com was another company that launched their on-device portal technology this year. In discussing their decision to expand beyond their mobile website, Dan Mucha, director, business strategy and development, offered this reasoning: "As a leading news site, MSNBC.com is constantly striving to provide the optimal digital news experience for consumers. We recognized early on that mobile phones provide a convenient channel to give consumers the news and video they want while 'on the go' and therefore pursued a strategy to distribute our content through multiple mobile products, including an MSNBC.com WAP site and an on-device ‘Multimedia on Mobile ’ news portal. While the WAP site leverages the Internet browser to reach the broadest audience, the 'Multimedia on Mobile' on-device portal offers our customers a rich, highly usable content experience, exposing MSNBC video and slideshows and enabling personalization and messaging. The on-device portal also enables our advertisers to reach consumers through both display and pre-roll ads in an engaging environment, which we believe will drive high click-through rates."
Mobile Advertising Spurs the Growth
Many analysts have attributed the rise of Web 2.0 to the tremendous growth in online advertising. As Dan's comments point out, when it comes to mobile, major brands are also counting on advertising dollars to spur the growth of content discovery. However, these brands are quickly realizing that limitations of the wireless form factor, such as dropped connections and triple tapping, can making advertising on the mobile Web highly ineffective and frustrating to consumers.
By prioritizing 'User Experience 2.0' over 'Web 2.0', these companies have started rapidly deploying downloadable applications and on-device portals that compensate for the form factor problems that the mobile medium presents. With less reliance on the network and a commitment to easing navigation, on-device portals ( ODP ) are emerging as the answer for companies looking to overcome the pitfalls of the mobile Web by reducing the amount of trips necessary to discover and consume information. This technology extension offers consumers a smooth way to enjoy mobile content and serves up advertisements in a user-friendly manner. By presenting advertisements offline and updating them on a scheduled basis, rather than making consumers wait for advertisements to load on their phone, the on-device portal overcomes the 'don't make me pay for this' frustration that the mobile Web often presents. For the big brands, this means that with the improved user experience they can drive greater advertising dollars than could be achieved using the mobile Web alone and build their brand equity through this growing wireless medium.
The Market Heats Up
When a need arises, there are always companies looking to fill it and the market for on-device portals is certainly heating up. Small, agile companies are becoming the necessary ingredient for big brands that want to get to the mobile market quickly and begin generating their share of the billion dollar mobile advertising and merchandizing market that many analysts are predicting.
Clearly, when examining the future of 'Web 2.0' for mobile, it is important to realize that the principles that were valid with the computer don't necessarily carry-over to the mobile phone. Putting consumer needs first means that companies must examine and repackage the way they deliver their services to the wireless consumer. It is refreshing to see, however, that the big brands are thinking about the best technologies and methods to serve up Web 2.0 content over the mobile medium, even if it means spending less time on the Web itself.
This article was contributed by Anne Baker. Anne leads the worldwide marketing and public relations program at Action Engine. As part of the executive team, she is in charge of managing and developing all aspects of the company's promotional, product marketing, and communications strategy.
Anne specializes in wireless software marketing and has experience on both the network side and the consumer side of the wireless industry. Before joining Action Engine, Anne spent six years at wireless OSS software company, Metapath, transitioning the company through its purchase by Marconi Wireless, now a division of Ericsson. At Marconi Wireless, Anne led the worldwide OSS partner and marketing programs for the wireless division.