Mobile ‘walled garden’ services: haven’t you paid attention?

Mobile ‘walled garden’ services: haven’t you paid attention?

I’ve written quite a bit about mobile search on The Next Web Blog and recently called it the ‘Achilles heel of Google’ in a piece about Taptu. Since Google and other major search engines were built for the desktop, they likely lack the kind of thinking that is needed for this complete new way of searching. The new, smaller yet mobile-focused search engines do get that, and therefore get awarded and some good buzzing in blogosphere. The CEO of Taptu, Steve Ives, said: “Mobiles are supersocial devices, so if your service isn’t relevant to you in a social way it won’t get used that often”.

Yet when I read an interesting article by interactive marketing man David Berkowitz today, I noticed that there’s also another battle going on the field of mobile search. Berkowitz describes five predominant ways consumers can search through mobile devices: on-deck, off-deck, applications, voice, and SMS. I’d like to focus on the first one.

Walled gardenWith on-deck search, Berkowitz is referring to mobile search and mobile Internet usage on the carriers’ branded portal. According to him, this is the most used form. These portals offer default search engines, powered by mobile advertising companies like Medio Systems and JumpTap. As you can tell by their websites, these companies are both focused on monetizing search and see content as a nasty side-effect. Berkowitz draws a strikingly good comparison:

The deck is exactly like AOL in the 1990s, where AOL focused on bringing brand-name content to the user in its walled garden.

Wow, that’s really great guys, follow the example of AOL. Remember how that ended? Users who had walked around in the walled garden of AOL suddenly discovered that there was a whole new world out there. Ok, not one where AOL was making lots of money, but why would they care? They’re the users! They want good content! Not some fake articles that are just written to sell stuff.

So of course, many users left, even when AOL offered open Internet connection. Everyone associated AOL with the walled gardens. So why are the mobile carriers doing the same thing? Again, we’re at the beginning of a new revolution and again companies start creating portals. Sure, the masses will fall for it the first year, but it’s only a matter of time before they ask for off-deck searching – like Google and Taptu – and other off-deck services. When it comes to technologies that are all about connecting people, a walled garden just don’t work. So, all you carriers executives out there, you’d better think of another strategy before your brand gets hurt.

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