Humanizing Mobile Search

The arrival of Android and the remarkable success of the Apple iPhone have encouraged consumers to explore the mobile internet in record numbers. However, the new interest in mobile content and services is not limited to the 10-plus million consumers who are fortunate enough to own a high-end mobile device. Recent stats show that consumers—even those with low-end devices—are beginning to explore the wealth of content and apps at their fingertips.

This shift in user behavior dovetails well with another trend sweeping the mobile content space: the emergence of a more open mobile web. Chinks in mobile operator walled-garden portals are encouraging users to check out content beyond the carrier deck at precisely the time that companies are coming online with solutions designed to make self-publishing a no-brainer.

A company gaining serious traction in this area is Wapple, which has introduced technology allowing the creation of superior mobile websites and applications that are optimized to every handset and browser. In November 2008, the company unveiled Wapple Architect, which enables publishers to quickly mobilize their existing PC content and apps to create new mobile services that integrate existing data and content—and be certain they will work on every mobile device. That’s no small feat if we consider that publishers currently going mobile face the daunting task of supporting more than 50,000 devices and a variety of operating systems.

Solutions such as Wapple couldn’t come at a better time. Consumers are excited about mobile content just as an avalanche of wireless application protocol and web content from a long tail of publishers is about to come online. This budding interest in mobile content puts pressure on mobile search engine companies to help us effectively search the plethora of indexes flourishing just under the radar, such as blogs and user-created music and videos.

Traditional universal search engines work well on computer screens. On mobile devices they read more like information overkill, and their inability to index the cool content we’re making ourselves is another strike against them.

The personal nature of the mobile phone, its form factor, and the obvious shortcomings of PageRank algorithms (mobile sites generally do not link to each other) play in favor of finding a new approach to mobile search that puts people back in the equation.

This is where Taptu comes in. This nimble newcomer has rocked the industry with a unique approach it calls "socially-assisted" mobile search. This approach takes universal search to the next level, crawling and indexing social networking sites and destinations, such as MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia, to expose an eclectic mix of results and content we might not have found otherwise.

Yet Taptu has gone beyond injecting human preferences and human judgments into computer algorithms to pinpoint truly relevant information for consumers on-the-fly. It has quietly and cleverly taken the lead in allowing people to communicate those results easily to their peers.

The flagship service is 1-Tap, a feature of Taptu’s mobile search service that lets users share their mobile search results (including cool mobile content) in one click. To save users from typing in their friends’ details, 1-Tap can also tap into other services such as web-based email and Twitter.

As Steve Ives, Taptu CEO, puts it, consumers on their mobile phones want interaction, and searching for content in isolation is not a satisfactory experience. "It’s not about finding results on a mobile phone; it’s about sharing those results with your friends," says Ives.

Taptu’s respect for what people prefer rather than what algorithms dictate has earned it a string of accolades in the last months, including the top prize at the first-ever Mobile Search Awards recognizing the best mobile search company of the year.

Taptu has also begun to take mobile search to the people, providing its service to mobile social networks such as The model benefits the ecosystem: Community members find and share cool content, social networking companies monetize their inventory through paid search advertising, and Taptu gains insight into content and results that please real people, not algorithms.

It’s still in the early days, but the place and the power of people in mobile search is clear. As the worlds of mobile search and mobile social networking collide, it will produce opportunities for companies to tap the community—both implicitly and explicitly—for high-quality results.