Searching for personalization

19 Sep 2006


In fact, they'll have to, says Shen of Gartner, if they don't want to be relegated to bit-pipe distributors in the mobile search game. 'It's doubtful whether carriers will be able to take a meaningful share of [advertising] revenue,' she says. 'Nevertheless, carriers could get more negotiating power if they build network intelligence into their searches to enable better targeting.'

And even then, she adds, mobile search ad revenues won't reach significant levels until mobile search reaches critical mass. 'More importantly, the industry needs buy-in from major advertising agencies and publishers to promote mobile search as an effective and personalized way to target individual consumers.'

Personalization gone wild

And, as you might expect, the list of challenges doesn't end there. One issue of contention is usability. White-label search solutions tend to perform better than Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN, according to Gartner (see sidebar, 'Should you Yahoo‾', p.22), but in essence, it comes down to the ease of inputting info on a PC keyboard vs a mobile phone key pad.

Nokia's Kanjilal says this is less of an issue with more advanced handsets like its N series phones. 'You don't need a browser for it. The search bar is already there, and you type in your query and off you go,' he says. 'For lower-end handsets, it might be more of an issue, but it's slow and steady as capabilities improve across more handsets.'

Mobile apps developers are already looking at ways to make mobile search easier, such as 'on-device portals'. Action Engine, for instance, has a solution that allows its customers to create portals on the phone itself, which in turn enables users to search for information much faster  using '80% fewer keystrokes and trips to the network' than browser-centric solutions.

However, there are plenty of non-device related issues that will impact mobile search, says Kanjilal. 'The readiness depends a lot on the environment - the connectivity has to be there, the data charges have to be attractive and there has to be enough relevant content.'

Another factor to watch out for has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with privacy. Just because a cellco has tons of data on a customer's usage patterns doesn't automatically mean that info can be made available to advertisers. Indeed, notes the Gartner report, 'the mobile phone is a personal device, and people may not like advertisements at all. It's vital that the industry addresses issues of privacy and the security of users' information.'

This was painfully illustrated after search log data on over 650,000 AOL users was leaked onto the Internet in late July. Actual users weren't specifically identified by the data (apart from a unique ID number), but in many cases the search terms added up to some potentially embarrassing user profiles. It's worth adding that the AOL leak was the result of a third party given access to the data - a common source of personal data leaks - which suggests that just securing your own databases isn't a guarantee against privacy breaches.

As such, says Effting of LogicaCMG, the ability of cellcos to leverage user data to bolster search engine ads may be limited by relevant privacy regulations.


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