Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mobile Polling the Democratic Debate

After tonight's Democratic debate between Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama, MSNBC asked viewers to vote via SMS as to who won the contest.

This type of polling is near and dear to my heart because the dot-com era company I co-founded, Informano Networks/Recency Data, was the very first to do something like this in 2000 during the debates between Al Gore and George Bush.

Unlike our foray several years ago in which we had to create a cumbersome combination of SMS and WAP to get the job done, MSNBC had an easier time of it because they used a pure SMS solution. MSNBC also had the advantage of being able to tell people during the broadcast to text "1" for Clinton and "2" for Obama during the debate through a chron that appeared at the bottom of the screen.

As American Idol has discovered the lots of people like to do this. It turns out that nearly 90,000 people voted according to a number that was announced on air. That's fantastic because way back when, we only got a few hundred people to participate and we had to incentivise people to pre-register by offering them a chance to win $1,000. Also I don't know how many people watched the debate, but given MSNBC's usual audience of perhaps 500,000 at any given time, it indicates a very large percentage participated.

I was however a little disappointed in the actually execution of the mobile vote. First after I sent my message in I expected a very prompt message back acknowledging my participation. I got one back eventually, but not as fast as I would like.

Also the message said that the survey results would be on MSNBC. I can see how the network would want people to keep watching, but I would have liked to have recieved a real-time pulse of how other viewers were voting perhaps on MSNBC mobile site.

Before the post-debate analysis ended Chris Matthews announced the result 70% Obama 30% Clinton with the caveat that it was unscientific and usually the younger viewers were texting in and they have been supporting Obama. (Hence the fact that Ron Paul won the vote when they did the same thing during the Republican debate). If the analysis is correct I think that's makes the exercise even more impressive because I can't imagine that there were younger viewers engaged enough in the process to watch the debate.

Finally although participation in this SMS vote was free for viewers, except for the cost of sending a text based on the user's data plan, it would be interesting to see what the participation would be if it were a premium message instead. How many viewers would pay $1 to participate in a poll. MSNBC could be making $90K on the exercise minus the cost to the SMS aggregator of sending the text back. Overtime something like this could have a positive impact on revenue.

What if instead of sending back an acknowledgment which asks users to sign up for more alerts (something called Chuck Todd's First Read and alerts from Meet the Press) the SMS contained a sponsorship message. That's more money for MSNBC.

Would people be more incentivized to participate if instead of MSNBC pocketing the money it went to a charity? Now that would be interesting.

Overall MSNBC's exercise shows that a passive medium like TV can be made interactive via a mobile device, and I think more broadcasters will invite viewers to participate that way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Net Neutrality Lesgislation Introduced

Just before Valentine's Day a new bill was introduced in Congress to ensure Internet Neutrality. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (HR5353), proposes to allow consumers and businesses "to send, receive, access, and use the lawful applications, content, and services of their choice on broadband networks" using their selection of devices. The bill also mandates "that content providers not be subjected to new, discriminatory charges by broadband network providers."

This legislation is important for mobile content publishers and device manufacturers because it ensures that network providers like AT&T or Verizon Wireless can't dictate which applications can be used on their network by either banning their use or degrading access speed (or conversely speeding up). Broadband providers would also have to let handsets not directly sanctioned by them onto the Network.

These measures would put the wireless ecosystem in the same position as the desktop world. Cablevision, my high speed provider, doesn't dictate that I have to use an HP computer or that I can't access MTV through their service. Why should the wireless carriers have that power?

The CTIA of course opposes the legislation arguing no problem exists. However given that their funded by the carriers I wouldn't expect them to say anything different.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bigger is Better, But You'll have to wait

The folks at Apple brought the big screen touch phone to the market, but the other mobile manufactures won't have much of an answer until later this year. See Mobile's Barcelona Hangover.

That's going to present a problem for the number of cell phones predicted to be sold this year. The article states that analysts expect 57%-59% of handset sales to be for replacement/upgrade purposes because the market for new subscribers worldwide is tapped out.

So the big question is whether upgraders are going to sit out the year until phones with the new post-QVGA phones appear in the marketplace or rely on aging platforms such as the N-95 from the Nokia.

My prediction is if you need a phone you need a phone now. However if your phone is extension of "You" the brand.

It's Search Stupid

There are more cell phone in the world than there are computers. So how come practically nobody accesses the Internet on the mobile phone? That's the conundrum facing mobile insiders on every continent.

One reason is that with its small screen size and low bandwidth using the Internet on the phone is a pain. Apple's iPhone is changing the experience, but one panelist at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, Spain says that one way to unlock the mobile experience is through Search:

Panelist Mike Yonker, general manager of worldwide strategy and operations for Texas Instruments terminals business unit, said that the way for the user to get the rich content now available on a mobile handset is through the "search" function. But this isn't so easy. He compared the limitations of a mobile handset to a full personal computer screen.

Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but "through a drive-up window." No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window.

See Users' love affair with iPhone stumps Mobile World panel

Yonker is right that one challenge to be solved is helping users find content, but if that content is still difficult to view on the device the experience will still be bad. Expressed differently, it's not only the content that needs to bubble up to the top, but the content has to match the capabilities of the phone.

With the iPhone one can get to a true web experience. But until there are more mini-computers like the iPhone users are going to have to make do with the Internet-lite. And that's not going to grow audience.