The Return of the Ranting Grinch: The Dropped Calls Of 2009

Enough of the holiday cheeriness. Last week I called out some of my favorite things about mobile, from the renewal of the gaming sector on handsets to the emergence of real localized utility.

Bah! Humbug! This is what I get from watching too many holiday specials. I find myself sidetracked from my usual grumpiness. Look at the calendar. Only two weeks left in December for gratuitous editorial list-making. So much to whine about -- so little time.

To wit: my wish list for things that still need fixing in mobile.

Clear up the markets: We love to complain about the sorry state of the BlackBerry and Android application markets, but to tell you the truth, Apple's is a bit of a mess as well. We need Amazon-style recommendation engines that work in order to surface new and noteworthy content that is relevant to us.

But we also need third-party media companies to leverage more of their own marketing. For years, major media companies told me they couldn't wait for the closed garden walls to come down on mobile content so they could let loose their own marketing machines. Content providers complained about what terrible merchandisers the carriers were. Yeah, where are the publishers and their marketing acumen now? I see very little evidence of content providers leveraging their other assets and reach effectively in pushing the mobile product.



Make mobile search mobile search: Perhaps I am alone in this campaign, because I rarely hear others complain that the search results on mobile queries need to highlight mobile-friendly sites. Unpredictable results is one of the biggest problems vexing the mobile experience overall right now. When you click on an ad, on a search result, on just about anything, you never know what to expect. This is true on the Web as well, but a bad click-through is remedied easily by closing a window. On the mobile Web, every click hijacks your screen, and hitting the back button means another page load. When a search result leads you to a full Web page and a tortuous site download, how willing will you be to search again? We need to add seamlessness  to mobile search.

Stop kicking me out of the app: I will keep whining about this perennial peeve until it gets fixed for good. Speaking of seamlessness, there is no excuse for mobile apps not having an embedded browser that will let you click through on an ad without leaving the app.

This may be the greatest source of frustration I have with free apps. The problem is twofold. First, it damages the publishing brand and the advertiser. Users are less likely to click through on an ad, and they mistrust the experience the publisher is creating for them. There is a difference between advertising that is interruptive and ads that are disruptive. When I am kicked out of an app to go to an ad's landing page, I have to reload the app. That is unacceptable. And the apps themselves are not smart enough generally to pick up where I left off.

Hoop-jumping exercises: Some of the most popular columns I wrote all year involved ridiculously intricate mobile marketing schemes that forced users to scan, text, enter, and repeat. These multi-part marketing extravaganzas presumed that mobile users were eager to go through five minute hoop-jumping routines in order to get a pathetic payoff. I won't put the relevant agencies through the pain again, but I will point you back to the ridiculous Nestle candy wrapper episode.

And the weird encounter with a Speed Stik scan code.

And another disappointing scan code adventure involving the animated movie 9.

Will someone at the mobile agencies please assign an intern to test these tortured attempts at mobile coolness before they fly? Just do a gut check on their actual usability?

Where is the value exchange? So I sign up for SMS alerts from a major film studio and all I get in return are regularly scheduled ads when a key DVD is about to drop in stores. Or, an SMS prompt in a print ad gets me a link to a movie trailer I have seen already on TV ten times. I got 3G for this? From landing pages that offer no entertainment or informational value to SMS "clubs" that are one-way relationships that only serve the brand's interest, mobile marketing generally fails to give consumers a fair-value exchange for their attention and for letting the advertiser onto their phone.

Brands have got to get over themselves. We really are not waiting to hear from them. Every time I click on an ad or follow an SMS link I am lending a brand the platform I also use to make sure my daughter is safe, my partner is picking up the hummus on her way home, my editor got the article in time to make deadline. Respect the personal nature of the mobile phone -- almost all other activities on the device involve an important exchange of value with people we trust. Again, you can interrupt, but don't disrupt.

Privacy is going to bite geo-location on the ass: This year I spoke to way too many youthful mobile start-up CEOs in the local directory and mobile dating space who elide the entire privacy problem. They eagerly anticipate a day when you will be able to see hot dating prospects in your four-block vicinity. They expect to leverage dense behavioral profiles based on your physical activities as well as your mobile browsing activity. A number of these fellows seem to think that younger users are less concerned with the issue or that government would never intrude on their fun. From data security, to data sharing to geo-location, mobile is going to be a flash point for privacy discussions. Whatever kerfuffle you are seeing now over privacy on the Web is only going to be multiplied when it comes to phones

Where's my damned MMS? And finally, whatever happened to a mobile platform that has been almost-there since I started covering the space five or six years ago? There is so much potential here for publishers and marketers to deliver on the missing value exchange in mobile marketing. If all of the pieces in the MMS chain finally came together, then a simple SMS prompt on marketing assets could deliver back to the user an amazing range of multimedia experiences. This is a platform waiting to happen.

But don't let me enjoy being my Grinchy self all alone. Feel free to add your own list of mobile "naughties" below.       

5 comments about "The Return of the Ranting Grinch: The Dropped Calls Of 2009".
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  1. Dale Knoop, December 15, 2009 at 2:04 p.m.

    Hi Steve,

    Keep up the ranting! Where others hear ranting I hear the clarion call for change.

    The only one I would add is the banishment of the phrase "Sequences shortened."

    I would allow it back but only as "Yada yada" as in "Ever been on a call and your friend asked you when the reservation for dinner was? Yada yada it's at 6."


  2. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, December 15, 2009 at 2:51 p.m.

    Hallelujah Brother Steve: "Privacy is going to bite geo-location on the ass." I am baffled why no one sees this freight train coming.

    You and your readers may enjoy Stowe Boyd's sophisticated and thoughtful take on geolocation:

    Until / unless we have the type of intelligent filtering or tagging Stowe envisions, location is a timebomb. Keep on ranting - love the column. (And why aren't you active on Twitter, young man?!)

  3. Grant Cohen from Velti, December 15, 2009 at 3:17 p.m.

    Amen - the mobile search thing is just plain silly - there are enough mobile web enabled sites out there now that they should be given top listing when a relevant mobile search is run... its as if somehow no one at Google has bothered trying to run a search for "Michael Jackson" on a mobile browser to see that the entire first page of results are sites that dont render on a mobile phone?!

  4. James Briggs from Briabe Media, December 15, 2009 at 6:21 p.m.

    Great points. I especially liked the 'where's the value exchange' one. One of the biggest problems with mobile marketing right now is that many brands are disconnected from the process and their agencies believe that if you can send out an SMS message you are doing mobile marketing. Not to bash SMS, because it can be a very powerful marketing tool when properly integrated into a campaign.

    But hey we are less than 20 days from a new year and a new decade. I can assure you that within this new decade marketers will become much more savvy with their mobile investments. Unfortunately, I can not tell you that this will happen in 2010.


  5. Jonathan Madnick from Mobile Ecosystems DC, December 16, 2009 at 11:32 a.m.

    Battery life (a relatively short one at that) of my iPhone. If I have to turn everything off except the phone, which often doesn't ring when someone calls me, then where's the beef?

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