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Trying to Find the Mobile Searcher

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Ben Charny's eWeek article: Mobile Search Struggles to Find an Audience, reports on why some say that mobile search is having problems finding users.

The most oft-cited reason here for search's cell phone failure is the phone itself. Typing in any information, like a Web address or a search inquiry, using a phone's cramped keypad is a chore many people aren't willing to put up with. Handset makers have tried to ease the thumb strain using any number of innovations, such as adding miniature QWERTY keyboards, or software, to complete words as they are typed. But it has obviously not been enough.

Yes, I'm a frequent mobile searcher with my Treo 650 that has a mobile browswer and a QWERETY keyboard. When I go out and do demos about mobile search in general (not just what's available on a Treo), the response I get is what I often here when it comes to other forms of web searching.

+ I had no idea that I could do "that" on my phone!

+ You mean I can get addresses, maps, weather, sports scores, and more on my mobile phone?

+ I can search for info on my regular computer and then send the info to my phone as a text message.

+ I don't have a mobile browser, I guess I'm out of luck.

How can people use a service if they don't know about it? How can they take advantage of an SMS search tool like 4info.net if they don't know it's out there and more importantly, what it can offer them?

Of course, these are the early days of mobile search (and I'm still very bullish), but it's going to take search service providers doing more to get the word out not only on paper but with live demonstrations to not only the "classic" early adopters but to other groups who might find the services useful. In other words, get to potential users by going directly to them not wait for the technology to slowly move into the mainstream. Right now, medical and legal professionals are increasingly becoming big users of mobile search. Heck, the National Library of Medicine has offered a mobile versions of their PubMed database for years.

I also think the move that we're seeing in "regular" web search from only providing lists links to answers to actually returning a specific answer to a factual query (Who won the academy award...?, What is the population of Chicago?, Where is Timbuktu located?) also lends itself perfectly to the mobile searcher.

So, where is the money in all of this? Who's going to pay for it? How can you get ads into a very small amount of space. As I said at Search Engine Strategies one model that should be looked at is branding answers and databases. For example, if you're searching for sports facts, that type of query might be branded by a certain company. Let's call it, "Nike's Mobile Sports Search." Searching for movie facts? What about the, "Netflix Mobile Movie Search?" You get the idea. A local search could be branded by a local company or merchant. You might also include a line preceding a mobile search answer like, "this info is provided by xxx company."

Have you ever heard of Guinness beer? Of course, you have. (-: Have you ever seen, searched, or read Guinness World Records. Well, this classic reference resource began as a branded tool to settle bar bets by the brewery.

Why can't companies/services do the same and brand mobile search tools?


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