August 17th, 2005

Mobile Search: In Search of Revenue? Not Yet

Google’s recently announced acquisition of Android is one of many recent acquisitions by large online portals and search engines. They purchased Dodgeball (mobile social networking) last month. AOL announced their acquisition of Wildseed last week. Amp’ed acquired Ninja. The list goes on. There are others yet to be announced.

With all of the acquisitions, there has been a lot of speculation re what is everyone up to? I think it’s mostly companies bringing expertise in-house and adding on to existing products. Not speaking specifically to these acquisitions, but there are a lot of small companies that are developing great technology that won’t survive as a stand-alone product in a market. Many of these acquisitions are buy vs. build to add to internal arsenal rather than “big” signals of where they are headed more strategically in the market.

Getting back to Google, AOL, et. al., I’m sure all possibilities are on the table for them as they consider how to move forward in the cell phone domain. Every large player with content and a loyal customer base is evaluating their potential as an MVNO. Large search sites want to leverage their online success in the mobile space. Everyone wants to improve the user interface, reduce the number of clicks to their content, improve the search experience, etc.

Most of these acquisitions to date have been relatively small in size – at least in terms of revenue or people added to the existing organizations. So, many incremental steps as they test the waters, learn from trials, and wait on a mobile audience to mature in terms of how they use their cell phone.

Many of the applications that these players have on the cell phone today equate to some type of search application or service. At the end of the day, the local content is what they’d like to monetize. Significant revenues in the near term are not realistic. Ad-supported models are difficult as local content is scarce. 411 information and local search rise to the top of the list in terms of consumer interest in mobile content services, but, for now at least, they are at the top of a list of services with few paying subscribers.

I think we’ll continue to see acquisitions and beta products from all of these players. It’s a great time to be testing the market and learning. Consumer expectations are still fairly low and there isn’t a lot of money being left on the table – yet – if it’s not perfect today.

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