Mobilize Your Thinking

When Andrew Bud—an outspoken voice in the mobile content industry and executive chairman and co-founder of mobile transaction network mBlox, a company connecting content providers and mobile operators at the heart of the off-portal experience—waved his arms and declared that mobile content was "boring," "stale," and "sorely in need of a rethink" during a recent industry conference in London, you could feel the shock waves.

Mobile content could be so exciting, but the choices we have (ringtones, images, updates) are stuck in the 1990s. We gravitate to content that helps us personalize our mobile devices (ringtones, wallpapers). Beyond that, we seem to require content that tells us how things are (weather, news), where things are (maps, directions), and what everyone we know is up to (Twitter, Buddyping). But is this an accurate picture of our content preferences, or do we simply choose the best of the worst when offered? The numbers certainly signal that mobile content needs refreshing. Total premium revenues are flat in most mature territories, and M:Metrics, a comScore company, reports that content revenues are down a whopping 20% in EU5 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.) in just 1 year.

My take (garnered from a string of conferences, speaking engagements, and meet-ups with mobile Web 2.0 companies coming out of stealth mode) is that the real revenue opportunity is not in pushing out mobile versions of content we know from the internet; it’s in providing content that connects the dots in our personal profiles and our daily routines to help us manage our lives—at the moment we need it most.

It’s in its early days, but clever companies are combining phone features with personalization and pattern recognition to introduce content and services that are more intelligent and more resourceful than anything we’ve seen before.

Take Proxpro Prompt, a GPS service in beta for BlackBerry devices that fuses the device’s digital calendar with GPS to tell users exactly when they have to leave to make the next appointment based on a real-time understanding of traffic conditions and related factors. By integrating GPS with the calendar of a device, Proxpro compares current location with the time and location of the user’s next appointment, and 30 minutes before the best departure time, a "when to leave" alert pops up automatically on the user’s mobile device. A map displays the fastest route and the current traffic conditions.

Julian Bourne, Proxpro CEO, muses about ways to plug in other content, including points of interest, breaking news, and anything else people need to make decisions and execute them on the move. Get the content mix right (as Prompt has) and you deliver more than content; you enable the individual user to make a better judgment about future events, if not predict them. Surely that is content people will be willing to pay for.

At the other end of the spectrum, Zipipop, a Finnish company, is breaking the mold with a mashup of presence, location, calendar, time, and address book phone features (to name a few). The result is a service designed from the ground up to help us manage our social lives on the go by helping us reach out to friends, communicate our (future) plans, and close the loop by arranging and confirming the meet-up. Richard von Kaufmann, Zipipop creative director, tells me it’s all about enabling what he calls "intention broadcasting." It’s like status messaging—e.g., telling people if you are online—but with the emphasis on the future. It’s easy to imagine some exciting scenarios and the monetization schemes when users communicate their intentions freely and let content companies listen in.

Content has always been central to our lives, but now it is essential. We started the adventure with communication (PC, mobile, and a range of devices that combine the two) and have just recently begun to navigate the terrain that connects our conversations via new forms of collaboration (social media, online communities, mobile social networks, and all the spaces in between). These new companies, and others like them that are still under the radar, are taking the first exciting steps to enable coordination, using the tools and technologies at our disposal to create and distribute a long tail of contextual content and services, helping us make our lives more manageable and enjoyable.

The mobile content market may be stuck in a rut, but only because our thinking about it is equally out-of-date. It’s not about delivering prepackaged content or even helping us make our own; it’s about enhancing collaboration on the move where content is a valuable part of the exchange helping us transcend the present tense and plan our futures.