A Portal Of Unanswered Questions

Fair warning. Both my daughter and my girlfriend are fond of reminding me that as I get older (oh, so much older than they) I tend to get befuddled by simple things. This may explain my confused intrigue with Yahoo Go, the very promising mobile portal I poked at in my last column. Or, it may be that Yahoo has reached so far here in trying to aggregate so much onto a handset that it exposes a host of long-term issues the mobile content and marketing world haven't even begun to address.

For instance, how many content brands can we manage on mobile? Yahoo Go aggregates a lot of weather, news and financial info quite well and perhaps well enough for most mobile needs. I think we tend to strip-mine the top soil of data in most content categories, and so I wonder how much room there is for branded publishers to add value. After reviewing so many WAP sites, I have a sizable bookmark folder on my mobile browser. But the impulse to check in with a round robin of my usual brands is not there. Some of the brands have text alert services to keep their brands top of mind. In principle, this is a good policy on the platform, but guess what? My SMS inbox is getting to be a pain in the ass. This is not email. Every time Letterman sends his top ten list, ThisWeek has new columns, CBSNews has a breaking story, etc., etc. I get pinged and all I see is the number of a short code sender I can't remember. This isn't going to work. I need another answer.

In the Yahoo Go model I can subscribe to feeds pretty easily, so I would get the information in one place, but the contributing publisher misses all the branding opportunity it gets from me coming to a destination. In my E! Entertainment feed in Yahoo Go, for instance, I click into a story that gives me straight text within the Yahoo Go interface. There is an option to push me to the EOnline site, but it isn't necessary. As a consumer, this model works well. A well-constructed portal would pull my favorite brands together and let the most recent info float to the top. Surfing is not an option on a phone. But as a publisher I have to wonder where my mobile audience gets monetized in that model.

I know that Yahoo is just ramping up its mobile banner ad program, but right now I get a single, bland call-to-action ad from Pepsi every time I load the program. In a portal model, mixing up the creative is going to be critical, I suspect, lest the banner slot here turn invisible faster than it did on the Web.

I am also guessing that users would appreciate a little more creativity on this platform. On mobile, a single advertiser owns the page, and there is some opportunity/obligation that comes with that position. I find myself a bit disappointed at the blandness of mobile banners, because I think on some level I want the advertiser to use that real estate more creatively. As the inexplicable success of paid ringtones and wallpapers attest, it doesn't take much to entertain us on mobile, and yet we crave it. It would seem to be a natural for my ubiquitous, relentless Pepsi ad to offer a ringtone or graphic as gimme for entering their sweepstakes. And BTW, the landing page for this Pepsi ad doesn't even let me enter the sweepstakes by phone or jump to a mobile page. It just tells me where to go online. We have to get more creative with the mobile page than this.

Yahoo's superb oneSearch search box is a great example of making mobile search work and opening up the possibilities for sponsors. Yahoo verticalizes the searches so a "bulls" query in the sports area brings up relevant results for the team. But what makes oneSearch so compelling to me is that Yahoo has verticalized the front-end query and then clustered the back-end results. The results on a search are categorized by content type and additional opportunities like news headlines, mobile sites, graphics, etc.

This is really rethinking search for the mobile environment. It has to be smarter and anticipate so much more about what the user really is after in this mobile context. For marketers there is the opportunity to have their wares show up in these content buckets. Sponsored wallpapers and ringtones, branded information feeds, or even a separate category of contextual ads could be of value here.

What this doddering and aging brain is learning from Yahoo's first real stab at a mobile portal is that a good mobile content and marketing delivery system may not look as much like the Web as we may have hoped. We need aggregation (or at least I do -- but I am so old) but we need it done in ways that maintain the integrity and identity of brands and gives them a business model. But most of all, we need more advertising that doesn't mimic the Web but recognizes where and how to add value to the mobile experience.

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