Update from the MMA


Last week I attended the MMA Consumer Best Practices Industry Forum in Denver. It was an interesting gathering of marketers and carriers. (Mobile advertisers were absent.) We collectively reviewed the changes to the CBP and various guest speakers offered up their expertise on various subjects. The goal of the CBP is to help the industry self regulate in order to prevent others from creating potentially crippling regulations that would hinder the growth of the mobile industry.

Mobile Marketing Association

One of the newer sections referenced in the document and in the meeting was mobile social networking. Andrew Osmak of Lavalife spoke and here were several issues that came out of this conversation, one of which was the moderation of content. This task of age appropriate content appears to have fallen on the carriers (Sprint, AT&T, etc) primarily due to the potential legal recourse if someone received something unsolicited/offensive on their network. Because of this, mobile marketing companies spend an inordinate amount of time working with carriers to insure their content & methods are approved by the carriers and their legal departments. (Imagine if the web had to be run this way.) This is a definitive barrier to entry to many companies.

After his presentation Andrew and I spoke about moderation of mobile social networks. He agreed that social networks are best moderated by members but doubted that carriers would allow this form of moderation to be their solution. We also talked a recent example of attempted moderation that occurred on Digg. This past May, Digg learned that even though they created the infrastructure, they no longer run their business. When someone posted the decryption key for HD DVDs and Digg took it down; there was a “user revolt”. This makes moderation (other than user based) a dangerous proposition. If I feel like the business is filtering me, then I will not stay. Several years ago about one third of Friendster members left for MySpace due to better functionality. Imagine what they would do if they felt like a business did not respect their freedom. The real issue is the carriers. They need to protect themselves and this (along with paying for content) has severely limited what is being done with mobile in the United States.

With Google planning on acquiring the 700 MHZ spectrum, the industry will surely change. The existing model of WAP services, aggregator, content provider and carrier will change. There were a few in the meeting that seemed to understand that short-term (relatively speaking) mobile phones will be another window to the Internet. Mobile will either be a primary or secondary screen for users. With television content now online, television itself will be third place or potentially fourth place with “location based screens”; sometimes in kiosks and sometimes not. The Internet on your laptop and the Internet on your mobile device will be vying for 1st and 2nd place, based on the users behaviors.

Recent reports show that since the writer’s strike the traffic to some video sites has doubled. (I’m curious to see how much this trend reverses itself after the strike.) A recent report by Forrester shows that Generation Y users (18-26) are online 12.3 hours which is equal to the amount of TV they watch. The amount of time spent online for this age group has almost doubled since 2004.

The issue of content moderation is one that will not change for the mobile industry immediately and needs to be addressed for the online world. For those of us with children; this is a real issue.

At least part of the answer lies in Google’s embrace of the OpenID system. The concept, also known as single sign-on, is not new and is very simple. Originally built to eliminate the need for users to sign-on to every site they were a member of, OpenID (in coordination with the work of the DataPortability Group) could address the need for moderation and facilitate behavioral advertising at the most granular level. If everyone were to embrace the system, your online identity would be known when you were on a site. This identity would be created and managed by the user. For underage users a system could be put in place that may involve having an IP (and a mobile number) associated with that individual. I’m not trying to design the system. I’m simply saying that there are options to help resolve this issue.

As the mobile phone continues its inexorable path towards a focus on Internet services, I am curious to see how we will get to point B. The video below from he World Economic Forum provides a great snapshot of the barriers that are left to overcome.

By Michael Myers