Mobile Search, yet to come of age…

Mobile search is such a hot topic right now that you cannot open a wireless magazine or newsletter without search related articles screaming at you. It’s not just the bigges like Google and Yahoo who are making all the noise, there are numerous start up’s each claiming to have the killer technology to offer the best user experience. I personally have met with four mobile search start up’s in the past week, all based out of Bangalore.

Mobile search is a broad umbrella that has various niches- content search on WAP portals, localalized and location based search for information, paid search, unpaid web search, sms based interactive search, voice based search, etc. In the mobile content world, offering consumers easy, intuitive content search capabilites are thought to be the most important factor for increasing usage given that efficient content discovery is so difficult on the limited real estate available on the phone screen. Apart from using search for content discovery, building models for paid search is a as bandwagon everybody wants to jump on.

Intrigued by all the noise about mobile search, I decided to use the search capabilities on O2’s WAP portal in the UK (O2 active), a few days ago. My experience left a lot to be desired and clearly mobile search has a long way to go before it becomes the goldmine it is predicted to become. I record my experience below and hopefully very soon this will sound like people talking about their dial up internet days in todays broadband world :).

“I read about MTV’s listing on O2 active and tried finding the MTV link on O2 Active a few days ago. Browsing the portal under the ‘entertainment’ section did not help me find it, I decided to use the FIND tab at the bottom of the page. I typed in MTV in the text box, clicked on FIND and was taken to a search page powered by Motionbridge, a white labeled mobile search provider and then I was being redirected to an … WAP page when an error message popped up on my screen saying ‘file format not supported’ and was left stranded on a page showing “connectibg to mtv, powered by motionbridge”. Hmm…

I clicked on the back button and went back to the FIND tab and typed in ‘beatles ringtones’. This time I was taken to a page that said “results for beatles”, via the Motionbridge intermediary page, and was shown a listing of truetone and ringtone categories – recommended O2 hot picks, Scissor Sistors, The killers, and some general categories such as UK top 10, best sellers, More charts, Artists and Bands, etc. I went down a level on each of the links displayed and could find NO mention of the Beatles. Finally at the bottom of the bottom of the listings page, there was a text box with the prompt “search for 20000 ringtones”. I again typed in Beatles and was taken to a page with 23 Beatles polyphonic tones and wallpapers listed. NOTE – this second search was not powered by Motionbridge and finally showed me relevant content. Phew! It took me a good 10 minutes and innumerable clicks to find what I wanted. “

Surely, mobile search, even in its most basic form, can only get better from here. However, improved user experience is not a concern, that is bound to happen very soon. My bigger concern is revenue models for the search start-up’s that are dotting the landscape from Seattle to Cambridge to Bangalore. None of the search start-up’s I spoke to had a convincing revenue model thought through.. Even more fascinating is the amount of VC money these search start up’s are raising without even a half baked revenue model. And of course, the big bad wolves named Google and Yahoo are waiting to gobble up all the small furry animals in their path…


About Deepak
Venture Capital and M&A advisor, Entrepreneur, Startup enthusiast..

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