BlogHer | bet '11 Technology Track: Making the Most of Mobile

Liveblog

Welcome to the BlogHer | bet ’11 liveblog of the Making the Most of Mobile panel.

What follows is the juiciest pieces of a lively conversation amongst our talented and visionary panelists.

Angela LoSasso - panel moderator, Director of Social Media at RIM.
Barb Dybwad - Dir of Content, Tecca.com, a consumer electronic site.
Amy Friedlander Hoffman - Priority Digital Media
Nina Bhatti - Principle Scientist, HP Labs

Moderator Angela LoSasso:
A lot of us have been entrepreneurs or had to be entrepreneurial in our jobs. I was first in social media at HP. Around the world increasingly the PCs are mobile phones. Companies increasingly have to take this into consideration.

Amy Friedlander Hoffman:
Content for mobile has moved a lot slower than the rest of the web. A lot of deals that were made proved to be too early, and now we're seeing video growth, as in consumption in video. It's just taking off.

Barb Dybwad:
I spoke on a panel at BlogHer 2005 on a mobile panel, and talked about how it was the hotness. And it's still the hotness. There was a 70% increase in smart phone sales since 2009. The mobile devices we have are more powerful than the desktops we had 5 years ago.

Nina Bhatti:
No mobile handset maker can innovate as quickly as entrepreneurs want to create applications. Mobile strips sites down to the most important activities and content, simply because they have to. Sometimes the mobile sites are better than the websites. [Now] more people can innovate. And this makes it more possible to get support for mobile content and application initiatives.

Angela:
With the increasing usage of mobile, make sure you can allow advertising opportunities on your mobile site.

Amy:
The traditional way that content has been made and paid is different. [Before] it Was advertising and subscription based. Now it's been the ability to pirate or steal content. And now content people are in the middle of that. Can they offer content and get paid for it?

Barb:
Mobile by nature is a social device. People forget that they used to talk to people on the phone, but that was the original use case! Now you can layer software on top of that. There is a trend to thinking about this device in an intimate way. [This is] a natural extension from the history of the device.

Nina:
We have this mobile app that we developed, and you take a picture of something and you get information back about it. We took this to a home improvement store and showed them how this application could accurately identify the true color of an image, and can d0o color calibration. We found the CIO didn't want people to use mobile, they really wanted people to come into the store with a chunk taken out of their wall! Now they realize that people want to do things from home, and that commerce starts at home. The reach of the mobile is quite powerful. We have a lot of products that have home decor applications, which are decisions that are driven by women. But women don't have time to search through a lot of images on websites. Now that company wants to see this application again, that CIO is not there. Now I see that companies keep talking about how
vastly their sales are happening via mobile.

Barb:
The shopping experience is starting at home where people can get what they want and get better prices. Now it's come full circle and people are in the store with their mobile devices making decisions, and they may still go back home and buy it.

Angela:
People like to go into the store and feel the product, and then they may go home and buy the product. Mobile makes it easier to feel the product and then do some price comparison [while still in the store]. It's nice to have that
immediacy.

We were talking about mobile features that you can't live without. What are some of the features you can't live without for your business?

Barb:
I get incensed when I can't send an article or post to myself or a friend. And GPS.

Amy:
The way most people get their news. My mobile is the place I get all that information. I think there is great value in publications, and people still want a voice and a filter.

Barb:
Personalization: there are some new players. If there are 1000 feeds in my news reader I need to know which are most important. And notifications. If I really like what you're doing and I need to have information in real time [then] I want to get a push notification or a txt message. Or if it's something that's not as important send me an email. If it's really important all of those things.

Angela:
How do you go from idea to plausibility? How do you know what platform to start with? How do you find developers?

Barb:
It depends on who your audience and customers are. If you can find out or intuit what devices those people use, great. If you have a community of folks that you can survey and ask them what devices they use, and ask them what they would value in a mobile service. I don't think you need to be on every platform, but aim to be where your customers are.

Nina:
It depends on what's important to prove at this stage. I work with very new technologies. I work with early stage conceptual technologies. The goal is to prove that it can be done at all. You have to prove that it's easy to use, that anyone would use it, that it converts someone from a user to a buyer. You can dummy up the part that isn't totally pertinent when you're presenting to executives to get buy in. They will allow that. You have to demonstrate the core thing, have that be your unique value proposition. If your goal is to show that people can't stop using your product, it's fine if you show just 12 people can't stop. You don't have to get 5000 at first.
Just need enough to get a convincing story.

Amy:
And it depends on who you're trying to convince. If it's a marketing person, you just need a Flash demo. If people need to experience it, there has to be enough for them to touch and feel.

Nina:
If you're on the content side, I think it has to look good. And know that the higher you go in a company the less air is in the room. The best thing is if they can play with it themselves.

Audience question:
How do you navigate all the considerations between all the native platforms?

Angela:
It's about knowing your audience and what platforms they use. It depends on what are you doing to help them meet their objectives and what they aspire to. At RIM, they work on making sure that developers have an easy time developing applications. And now we are going to be able to run Android apps.

Barb:
For us the first iteration of the mobile was very much mimicking the content on the website. Now our priority is to add in "nativization" (having special mobile apps on the mobile site that aren't on the main website).

Nina:
You can also do the ad hoc license, you can allow people to use it that way, instead of going through the app store. I try to keep a core base of the technology for each native mobile platform. But the UI is always different for each platform. It used to be that we always had to have something run on a Blackberry and then the conversation changed and we had to have it run on an iPhone.

Amy:
Is there a platform that you can get to market? Is there something that you get going, that's new? Those people may focus their attention on you.

Audience question:
Most of you are from big companies with a lot of engineering resources, and a lot of us are from small companies. When do we know it's time to have an engineer that's totally focused on mobile?

Angela:
It depends on your product. If you need someone to develop with you may be able to look at a revenue sharing model with a partner. Netflix did this when they needed help and "open sourced" a project and made it a contest that developers competed to come up with the best solution.

Barb:
We outsourced our mobile with an aggressive timeline. There are challenges: you have to think about time zones and communication, you have to think about shared vision and what happens if you have a new idea and need to shift. We are in the process of bringing that in-house so we have internal stakeholders that can see beyond the life of the contract.

Nina:
We struggle with resources in big companies, too. While we may be more stable, there is a lot at stake, too. We have to struggle to get resources. That's why big companies buy small companies--they're agile. You have
to be able to specify what you want very clearly for these projects to be successful.

Amy:
In a market like yours (education materials) it's only growing and kids are getting into mobile. Since you know that, it makes sense to invest in that.

Audience question:
Can you talk about mobile payments? There is question about if it will take off.

Angela:
It has certainly taken off globally.

Barb:
Square is the most known system and it's poised to revolutionize small business. NFC is a lot more nascent, and there is a lot of experimentation going on. And now that big players like Apple are sniffing around that
technology, it is getting more attention.

Angela:
When you see a trend coming to a tipping point, sometimes one format gets adopted.

Nina:
It's not nascent to me as a technology. People in Japan use it. It's really a question of comfort and expectations. For example, we know that if a website is working really slowly people think it's insecure. When I see what people are paying for on the iPhone app store with their mobile, I know that people are comfortable with that. I think there is a big crack in the whole system. I think a lot of us are getting security fatigue and we want the convenience of mobile payments. In France in 1997 I was at a conference and the waiter had a mobile card swiping system.

Angela:
There is a lot to learn from global. In developing economies the innovation there is incredible, it's out of necessity.

Audience question:
Are there any other areas that larger (such as educational content) companies might be ignoring, where there may be opportunity for smaller more agile companies?

Barb:
With the rise of G4, there are more opportunities for how people use mobile at home.

Amy:
Tablet consumers consume at a higher rate, 2.5 times of movies, 3 times for games, almost 2 times for publications. There is a lot of opportunity across this group.

Nina:
I think there are lot of vertical markets. I don't think anyone intended that tablet-sized devices to be great for older people. They're intuitive and they don't have the small buttons. This is what's making the mobile and web line blur. Some companies think about what a 17-year-old boy wants, but there is a lot of the world that is not a 17-year-old boy.

Amy:
And then you look at Zynga where their average user is a 43-year-old woman.

Angela:
Is our infrastructure in the US ready for all this mobile use?

Amy:
Not for all of the things we do. Not if we try to consume content the way [we do with] broadcast. With the increase of 4G we'll see more bandwidth. And what that the network can actually do is important. Does it know where you are and what you're using and doing? This is what a lot of companies are trying to use.

Nina:
There is only so much the network can do. In the future you're going to see people bouncing around between the 4G and the local wireless network automatically and you won't notice it.

Audience question:
I can't help but think there is a negative social consequence to mobile apps. I think we're developing this because we can and because we can make money. And I worry about the increasing isolation of people.

Angela:
I think it's a fair question. I think we're in an early and positive stage, especially for women and families.

Barb:
People said this about the telegraph and movies, and said people weren't going to talk directly to each other. I think it's a big of a double-edged sword because you can always be connected. I think about how easy it is to drop my sister a text when I'm in the middle of doing something else. I try to look at where the boundaries are when I'm getting burned out. Ultimately it's up to us as individuals to decide when to turn these off. But these are the tools that are supposed to help us be more fulfilled in our lives, and not burn us out.

Nina:
The person who asks the person in line about their app and if it's good now has something to talk about. We don't keep correspondence anymore. I found old letters from a friend and I'd forgotten what we'd talked about. For the last 10 years I don't have an analog, stable storage of these correspondence.

Amy:
I send my kids emails to their account, in lieu of a baby book. Their grandparents do that.

Audience question:
Being where we are geographically right (in Tucson, Arizona) now people forget that information is very controlled and people don't have access to it. Rural areas don't always have connectivity.

Barb:
Obama just passed the mobile broadband initiative that can bridge that digital divide. I read an article about farmers using Twitter to coordinate when to plant crops. But I agree that this is an underserved market.

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