Real-Time Mobile Search

Steve Arnold

Well known search guru Steve Arnold moderated this interesting panel on mobile searching.

Mobile searching panel (L-R): Gregory Grefenstette, Antonio Valderrabanos, Benoit Leclerc

Gregory Grefenstette, Chief Science Officer, Exalead, began with a description of search-based applications for mobile platforms.  Mobility is no longer a choice. It is “everyware” (analogous to hardware and software).  Mobile is the primary platform of engagement of information for consumers and users. According to a Forester report, enterprise mobile workers will represent 73% of the US workforce by 2012, and by 2013, there will be 1.2 billion mobile workers in the world, accounting for 35% of the global workforce.  By next year, you should no longer be asking what your mobile strategy is. Mobile working is not like playing; workers want to have everything available in a single application.

We carry a computer all day long, along with our wallet and keys. In 59 countries, there are more active mobile subscriptions than people. Last year, 6 trillion texts were sent! 32% of adults prefer text. Mobile is now a dominant force. The average teen sends or receives 3,339 text messages every month! That equates to 14 hours of attention to texting per month! The average user gives attention to text messaging is 150 times a day, which equates to once every 6.5 minutes. Any device that people are looking at every 6.5 minutes is very important!

The most popular mobile application is Google Maps, followed by weather, and Facebook.  In the shopping area, the average time for consumers to decide to make an online purchase is 1 month; for mobile platforms, the average decision time is 1 day. And when a mobile is lost, it takes only 1 hour on average to report it.

Because of the rise of mobiles, the balance of power has moved from TelCo operators to app developers, and handset manufacturers have lost control over the information experience.

 The mobile platform has become completely open. Most phones now being sold are smartphones. By 2013, we can expect that most people will be able to consume information and use apps.  Here is a view of the mobile services ecosystem.

“Experience platforms” are where people spend their time online, the most popular of which by far is Facebook.  We are now in a “doing” environment; mobile has moved from talking and texting to other things using apps.

The top criteria for selection of a phone are its operating system and the selection of apps available.

The computer we carry now is more than just a computer. It has senses–sight, touch, motion, direction, sound, and touch. This enables us to make sense of the world. (Google Googles can detect faces, for example, and Facebook has integrated this technology.)

The Internet will become the Internet of Things, where there an API for everything. Intel has predicted that everything that can benefit from being connected will be connected by 2020. We can now gather vast amounts of data and process it in a real-time stream processing of unthinkable amounts of data. The web will be no longer static where we used to pull down documents but will become one where will consume information in real-time. It has become the “right-time web”. Our thinking is being aided by the devices we carry.

Information is shifting from document-centered to distributed to linked and streaming real-time data. There is a huge shift in the way that IT is being thought about. New types of data are emerging and replacing the old transaction-based data. Information can now be tailored and made contextual.

See Golding’s slideshare site for more resources.

John Barnes, Incisive Media UK, told us what we know to design for mobile platforms.  He noted that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device worldwide. Mobile is part of a ‘multiscreen’ life, in which we have a growing number of screens in our lives.  Anyone building a digital service will need to provide for an effective experience across many devices, which Barnes called “polymorphic” publishing.  There are 3 types of polymorphic publishing:

Digital publishing is all about the audience and content, not the technology. For many years developers looked at average screen sizes and aimed at that in their work. Size has increased and has splintered into many sizes, so one can no longer design to a single average size.

m.editions of websites provide full integration with a content management system. Specially optimized templates can be served to the user depending on the mobile platform they use.  This has the advantages of being able to use the same domain name for different platforms and integration with a variety of systems. There is no clear leader in operating systems for browser-based apps, but the iPhone and iPad are extremely popular.

Many people want to have an app; here are some development criteria for developing one. Note that commercial requirements are major drivers of the choice of apps.

Key findings:

  • There is a high propensity for sharing, so subscription and search services do well.
  • User behavior is changing.  They are always “on”, so it is critical that apps are easy to use.
  • Much web content is not ready for the shift to mobile yet because much of it was developed to be used on desktops with big screens.

Sheila Fahy, an attorney at Allen & Overy LLP, described her experiences in bringing one of the first legal apps (The Little Red App) to market.

Why are we all downloading apps? We like them because we are comfortable with them. The Little Red App was to bring employment legal facts into a single place. It took 2 months to bring it to market and cost £19,000. It is free to download; from its launch inJune 2011, it has been downloaded 837 times, 760 of which came from the UK.

Lessons learned:

  • Keep it simple. Everybody wants to do an app. Recycle something you already have. Don’t try something complex because it will be expensive to produce.
  • Don’t give away your “crown jewels”.
  • Have a business plan.
  • Keep the development team small, flexible, and diverse. Deconstruct the information and work out all the links and actions needed. Draw out every screen.
  • If you have a lot of words, an app is not for you, so you should think of something different.
  • Brand is hugely important.
  • Do as much preparation as possible before you involve the developers.
  • Build in lots of testing time.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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