The walled garden returns

Finding content on a mobile portal can be challenging. This hinders the uptake of new services created, targeted and pushed by the mobile operator.  If a new service is hard to find it will not be used, no new revenues will be generated and data uptake will remain static.


Enter mobile search.  Since T-Mobile launched its Web 'n' walk services in June 2005 brandishing Google as its new search engine, the bubble surrounding mobile search has escalated.  Now nearly every Internet mobile search engine is entering the mobile space and new targeted mobile search companies are mushrooming. 

Mobile operators are proudly announcing that the days of the walled garden are over. New buttons such as 'outside Vodafone live' are being introduced on Web portals and the Web is now more readily available.  Nokia has also launched its own mobile search engine with Yell.com, and Motorola devices will have dedicated Google buttons. This makes finding the search engine simple. But this does not mean that the mobile search is better than before.

Anyone that has used T-Mobile's Web 'n' walk can tell you that finding content off-Web is not any easier than on-portal. Indeed there is no walled garden, but this means that users receive pages and pages of information that is simply un-navigational on a mobile device.  This makes finding information even more tiresome than before. 

Initiatives such as the Mobile Web Initiative from the W3C will create new mobile standards for designing and creating mobile Web pages to make made-for-mobile sites rise up the search engine navigation bar during data mining. This will ensure that users searching with Yahoo! or Google on a device will see made-for-mobile sites first. The efforts of .mobi (mobile top level domain) will make finding mobile sites easier.

These will no doubt generate greater interest in mobile content and bolster the use of the mobile Web.  But they do not represent the future of mobile search. 

Mobile search needs to be contextualized, simple and channeled.  Content location must be instant and predictive.  Users need to be encouraged to continue to search for and buy new content and services.  So search engines must be local.  This means that content is guided, made for mobile, precise and easy.  Simply rendering existing Internet pages for the mobile device will create sore eyes.

The user experience must be paramount to mobile search.  Poor quality Web sites need to be blocked and search criteria must be limited from unlimited to merely ten hits per event.

The best example to date of 'open' walled garden search engines are in France and Belgium.  Operators in these countries are now taking mobile search into their own hands to launch services such as Gallery or PlazZza.  These operator white label search engines locate content on all mobile operators' portals in France or Belgium.  The search engine finds content from paid advertisers or existing mobile content first.

 

Even SMS short codes can be sent from the device for free links to marketer's Web pages.  Search then becomes local and content from all portals - Vodafone live!, i-mode or Orange World - can be viewed and purchased by consumers. 

The mobile search engine of the future must appear like that of an Internet search engine.  It should replace the front page of a mobile portal to offer greater choice to consumers.  A white label search engine from the operator should even sit in front of the Google search offer.  The trick remains giving consumers want they want, but selectively - the feel of the open Internet but within a walled garden.

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