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THE BUZZ

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

The vibe in the mobile industry now is completely different from the tone emanating from Wall Street (and financial districts worldwide for that matter). In fact the mobile internet feels more vibrant now than it did just six months ago. Let me explain.
A BULLISH INDUSTRY
I was recently in Silicon Valley to speak at CTIA Wireless and participate in an MIH strategic conference. While in the Bay Area, I also visited two games makers – EA and Guitar Hero – as well as made a trip to Facebook’s headquarters. These were the impressions I was left with:

  1. The hype surrounding the iPhone’s launch has led more cellphone users to surf the mobile internet. People are venturing beyond social networking sites to find useful applications and information.
  2. More people surfing have led to more people publishing. That’s a no-brainer. Major sites like Peperoni are still experiencing increased traffic, but their share of the market is falling as more and more content, much of it free, comes online.
  3. The “publisher crunch” that had characterised the mobile internet is over. Earlier this year, a few major sites dominated mobile traffic. These publishers – and the telecom carriers — were able to dictate advertising rates. No more.
  4. Advertising rates for the mobile internet are starting to settle at a healthy sustainable level. Six months ago, mobile ads were begin sold on the idea that the cellphone screen is personal and that carriers can share profile information. Nokia’s CPM rate, for example, was 40 euros. (40 euros per thousand ad impressions.) The comparable price on the internet was less than one dollar. So at 40 euros, marketing campaigns needed a much higher – and unrealistic – conversion rate. Today the effective CPM rate is as low as 50 US cents in India and between US$1 – US$2 in South Africa.  (FYI, falling CPM rates are good news for ad networks like BuzzCity.)
  5. Games companies are taking interactivity, user-generated content and online communities to a new level. They create platforms – backdrops, context, rules, controls. But users drive the experience. The skills of a games company are similar to movie making, where you need to know how to “tell a story”. But the games company goes one-step further to allow users to participate in the story telling. The latest version of Guitar Hero, for example, allows users to create music and share it with the Guitar Hero community. 
  6. More than half of Facebook’s new users are coming from outside the United States. Friendster is enjoying a surge in its mobile traffic in Southeast Asia.  Even Silicon Valley is beginning to understand that there’s life outside the US.  Most “overseas” mobile internet surfers, by the way, use normal mass-market phones.

DO CARRIERS SEE THE WRITING ON THE WALL?
As overall mobile internet traffic is on the rise, the percentage of users visiting sites built by telecom carriers is falling. Telecom companies are still trying to “control” mobile devices, but the sooner they learn that they’re a PIPE, the better.

Carriers can be stubborn though.

Unfettered access would be a pretty bad experiment”, T-mobile chairman and President Robert Dobson told a CTIA audience. “There needs to be some stewardship or control.”

Huh?!

During that same panel discussion, the audience erupted into cheers when asked if they would like to see open access.

Unfortunately some telecom companies still use dubious techniques – like browser hijacking – to direct consumers to their sites. South African carrier Vodacom, for example, recently launched a mobile internet service that it claims enhances user experience. Their service is being widely condemned by consumers and industry participants though. In fact, online services from internet banking to messaging to YouTube have been rendered inactive by Vodacom’s meddling. The South African chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-ZA) says Vodacom is “breaking the Internet for millions of customers.” The carrier counters that it allows content publishers to opt out of their service.

I wrote about browser hijacking a few months ago and showed how Singapore-carrier M1 was altering our mobile web pages. Well, I’m happy to note that M1 has quietly removed their branded header and significantly scaled down their footer. This isn’t the complete withdrawal we’ve sought, but it’s clear they’ve gotten the message that users don’t want their interference.

BE A GOOD PIPE
As a business consumer, I do have a suggestion for how the telecoms could maximise revenue AND provide a better service. Differentiate between business users who need better service and retail consumers who are more price-sensitive. Provide businesses with Quality of Service agreements and charge a higher price for reliable, always-on network coverage. Charge a low flat fee to retail consumers who don’t mind the occasional spotty coverage. It’s like the difference between flying economy and business class. The carriers should also dedicate resources to provide better indoor coverage and consistent high-speed connections.

Carriers’ insistence on providing content reminds me of an article I recently read in the International Herald Tribune about the online adult entertainment industry. Subscription-based porn sites are suffering a downturn in their business for the first time. There’s just too much free content online so consumers aren’t spending what they used to on the product. Porn producers are trying to turn the situation around by producing better quality movies. One company even said they built an impressive waterfall as a backdrop. I broke out laughing when I read this. People watching porn don’t care about waterfalls!

Similarly, telecom carriers should provide customers with what they want. Don’t sell us bundled products with bells, whistles and portals we don’t need. Sell us what we want – unfettered data transmission!

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Categories: Lai Kok Fung

The Best of myGamma Awards

September 14, 2008 Leave a comment

By Yuszela Yusoff, Manager, Content & Community

Hi everyone. Part of my job is to monitor trends within myGamma — to know what’s hot, what’s not and identify new features to make the community even better. This week my job became a bit easier, because we’ve created a platform for myGamma users to vote on their favourite sites: The Best of myGamma Awards. Twice a year, myGamma members will vote on their favourite myGamma content. The results of the first Awards are in. Let’s take a look:

BEST MOBLOG: HELPING UR FREND
“SEUN+D+VALIANT”, a 19-year old male from Nigeria, offers advice and a discussion forum on how to help friends and family when they are down. “BE A GOOD LISTENER,” he writes, “afta a divorce ur friend wil want to tel u a litle story abt hw it hapen. It is beta 4 u to listen atentively. So u wil knw a way of helping a divorcee.” More recently, our award-winning moblogger is also encouraging his fellow mobloggers to wear a whiteband and Stand Up Against Poverty from 17 – 19 October 2008.

BEST GROUP: WEIRD WORLD NEWS
Did you know that Kenyan youth raided Barack Obama’s ancestral home in Kenya? His grandmother, who lives there, is fine. The thieves were pursued by the whole village and quickly caught. And who would believe that scientists have unearthed a camel jawbone that is one million years old? Syrian scientists have also found bones of a 100,000 year-old camel that was four meters tall. Nearly 290 myGamma members contribute to this group.

BEST PHOTO ALBUM: NATURAL BEAUTY SHOTS28-year old Jyoti from Madhya Pradesh, India shares illustrations of nature. A number of the images concentrate on the colours and texture of water.

BEST MOBILE HOME: NITAI.MYGAMMA.COM
This category is for the best mobile homepage. Users can insert pictures, links to their groups, blogs and external sites. The winner this time is Nitai, an 18-year old engineering student from Bangaladesh. Nitai has created a mobile page with links to administration tools, news, wallpapers, software and more.

REFLECTIONS
It’s quite exciting to see the variety and richness of myGamma’s user-generated content. Over 1400 mobile albums, blogs, groups and homepages were nominated for this first edition of the Best of myGamma awards. The top five nominated in each category were opened up to voting by members. Each winner received up to 5000 Gamma Dollars. Nominations had to meet the following criteria in order to be considered:

(a) Creative, fresh and original
(b) Updated regularly
(c) Attract regular comments or postings by other members
(d) Have a consistent theme

We’re happy to reward and encourage individuals who post great content and we hope the awards will spur even more and better content generation in the future. The awards process improves the stickiness of the social networking community and is also an opportunity for members to rally their friends to support them.

LEARNING AND NEW TOOLS
BuzzCity meanwhile has listened to our members and evaluated their feedback – in informal chat sessions, from member surveys and the Best of myGamma Awards process – and translated these ideas into new several new features:

Shoutbox was suggested by a member who wanted a quick way to broadcast messages to friends. Shouts are short messages like “Watching a cool movie called . . . “ or “going out of town this weekend” which are posted on a user’s profile page. Friends can subscribe to your Shout feed or follow all shouts on the public Shoutbox page. Users can submit a shout from their profile page or (in some countries) by SMS.

“Tell a Friend” makes it easier to share content, whether its a great moblog, cool photo album, useful mobile homepage or an interesting group (basically all of the categories above that are currently considered for myGamma awards.)

Search is a straight-forward feature to help myGamma users locate other members & content of the community, images and other information.

Like any community, myGamma is always evolving. My team at BuzzCity follows the pulse of the community through constant interactions with members. We learn about their habits and lifestyles – key information for both for us and our advertising partners. Informal chats, customer service feedback, member surveys and now our new myGamma awards are keeping myGamma at the top of its game.


FOOTNOTES
This is a busy 2 weeks for us in Europe. Wandrille from our Paris office will be speaking at CEE Com Conference in Prague (17th & 18th Sept) on “(How) Can Telcos Leverage Social Networking More Effectively?”

If you are in London, you may want to meet Wandrille at Mobile Web Europe. This will be held on 22-24 September 2008, Paddington Hilton, London. Wandrille is a panelist for a discussion on “Going it alone in the Mobile Web World – What Strategies should Off- Deck Business be employing to be Successfully Discovered?”

We’re also attending Ad-Tech London and the ME Awards where we’re among the finalists for Best Communities Company.

Kok Fung meanwhile, travels to Moscow to speak at Mobile Service Evolution Russia & CIS. The conference (24th & 25th September) explores the best strategies for operators in Russia to develop and launch innovative services. Kok Fung will share insights on mobile communities, the various worldwide trends and outline the potentials for different market players.

Categories: myGamma, Yuszela Yusoff