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The mobile trap

Much has been written on how big the mobile audience is, and how it offers an opportunity to appeal to a mass audience. Even better, it’s an environment where consumers will more readily pay via micro-payments for “Freemium Services“. It’s a dream come true. Or is it?

But here’s the challenge: There are, so to speak, a couple of rather large gorillas in the room. They go by the names of the mobile networks and the mobile handset manufacturers. Building your mobile site or service is but 30% of the job done. To really capitalise on the big mobile audiences you, the independent mobile site builder, need a relationship with a Nokia or a Vodafone. It’s the on-deck phone presence that really matters. That’s what allows you to participate in the mobile traffic fiesta.

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The mobile web business environment is just not the same open, free-for-all environment that the traditional web is. It’s an environment dominated by networks and handsets, and if you have an independent mobile site or brand, you need to take cognisance of that.

Of course there are exceptions. The local instant IM success story MXIT, with its outrageous 9-million users, didn’t need a relationship for its stellar growth. There are other examples too. The point is however that its the networks and the handset makers that are closest to the consumers, and you need to be in bed with them to participate. An interesting twist is that many handset makers and networks are beginning to build their own social media and social network properties with vigour, some on their own, some in partnership with others.

One wonders if it will ever get legal. I’ve heard this argument before, and I have my doubts. The argument points to how the Microsoft antitrust legal battles played out. The company was accused of acting unfairly by pushing its own software on Windows to the detriment of outside software makers. Would a cellphone network or handset maker pushing its own web properties to the detriment of outside players constitute a similar such practice?

Whether or not you think the cases are comparable or not, my feeling is that its better to form partnerships than speak to lawyers.

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