Roughly 150 mobile enthusiasts crowded into a Microsoft conference room on Monday night at the Mobile Monday meeting to discuss mobile analytics, the careful analysis of specific user data to drive big business decisions.
While Web companies have long been interested in kneading numbers, mobile business has its own angle--and its own turf to prove. Here are three reasons why mobile analytics matter.
1. Greater Internet demand
As mobile technology improves, it comes down to simple math that more people will access the Web from their smartphones more often. It's widely cited that in developing nations, more people use cell phones to get online than they do PCs. And when they do, suggests Opera's most recent report on the mobile Web, mobile surfers act just like the desk-bound, using their phones to search, socialize, and access news and entertainment.
Opera, Skyfire (beta), and iPhone's Safari browsers already give surfers the ability to view entire Web sites on their phones, then zoom in where desired. Optimized mobile layouts are still a viewing option, but no longer a necessity. The take-home message is this: As mobile surfers grow steadily in number, cell phone users will make up a larger slice of an ordinary Web site's total audience.
2. More money-making opportunities
Web businesses lean on analytics tools, like Google Analytics, to identify how visitors use their site. Based on the findings, which often point out areas of weakness and strength, companies are able to reposition their site targets to influence user behavior, for instance taking measures to induce repeat visits. In this way, jockeying around with the numbers can result in bigger bucks, especially when talk turns to mobile advertising.
Put simply, where people are, ads are. As the experience of the mobile Web increasingly mirrors the desktop, advertising will follow suit. In fact, it already has. Banner ads, link ads, and revenue sharing with search engines are three ways that cell phones are hooking into the Internet economy.
There is a trend among the companies that have started early, said Jason Spero, vice president of marketing at AdMob, which demonstrated a beta version of its free mobile-analytics tool on Monday night. Ringtones and other entertainment content comprise the largest chunk of mobile advertising, Spero added, along with car ads, TV and movie promos, and ads for well-known consumer brands.
The total mobile-ad spend may not amount to much in the grand scheme. VentureBeat, a blog tracking venture capital, cites a "consensus that mobile-advertising market revenues are somewhere between $100 million and $200 million worldwide." Regardless, it is a sign of growth in an emerging and ever more closely watched market.
3. Rising competition
Distilled, an interest in mobile analytics is a test of the mobile industry slowly and more surely delivering on its promise to be the next paradigmatic information-processing medium. I need only to mention Friday's hotly anticipated release of the iPhone 3G and rumors of a 3G Android phone for T-Mobile in October as a proof of progress.
As an inevitable flood of new users will choose one device family, operator, or platform over another, companies will rely on analytics to edge the competition.
Who's keeping score?
The tight knot of engineers, marketers, and entrepreneurs gathered at Mobile Monday certainly validated the importance of analytics, but ownership over those business-changing numbers is much less clear. Opera Software is two months into releasing public reports of its users' browsing activity after substantially changing the methodology after the first month.
Nielsen Mobile is another scorekeeper that gleans data on consumer behavior, but it does not yet have intimate access to Internet traffic. AdMob takes a third approach, calculating advertising impressions and click-through rates to form a datascape.
A central collection, however, is still absent. Opera's Odland and AdMob's Spero agree that ComScore or Nielsen will have to pump up a robust mobile data-gathering service for the industry to really cash in on the numbers. When it does, expect even better hardware, software, and Webware to follow.