Why Your Viral Strategy In Mobile Is Destined To Fail


imageDan Shapiro is the CEO of Ontela, which builds software that helps users upload their photos from the phone to their favorite photo-sharing site, like PhotoBucket. Prior to founding Ontela, Dan managed development of the RealArcade service at RealNetworks (NSDQ: RNWK), enabling thousands of end-users to play classic games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Rollercoaster Tycoon on their desktops. He arrived at RealNetworks by way of Wildseed, where he managed software development for the Identity Cellular Phone, from the modem to the Linux platform to the user interface. Dan started his career at Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), where he was responsible for Windows XP user interface components, the critically acclaimed Windows PowerToys, Windows 2000 Storage Management, and consumer storage in Windows 98. He received a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College. Dan loves unusual cuisines and blogs about his woodworking foibles at www.nothingseveredyet.com.

History has never seen anything like the current generation of internet success stories: Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Facebook, eBay (NSDQ: EBAY). Billions of dollars of value created in a year or two as word about a great service spreads like wildfire. Build a great product, and they truly will come. So, when will mobile seen its share of billion dollar overnight consumer success stories? Bad news: never. Shred that business plan now, because it ain


Warren Stringer

When Hotmail launched in 1996, there were 36 million Internet users – using mostly dialup. As of March 2009, 37 million iPhones and iPod Touches sold. A large enough sub-species to propagate something interesting and useful.

Albert Lai

while I don't entirely disagree with some of your comments, I think your title and thesis is mildly over-reaching.

The assumption implicit to your argument is that:

(1) you're building an application that sits inside traditional closed handset environments vs. the iPhone or Blackberry, where you as a developer can assume that the user will have (a) reasonable amounts of mobile data access/cost, (b) users have open access to the web and have a transaction platform like the iphone store and/or ability to install apps directly from a web site [i.e. blackberry, and andriod]; (c) the magical day for when (a) and (b) will happen is far off and/or are insufficiently large market opportunities in the reasonably near future.

(2) to be successful, and be "viral," your mobile app only lives inside the mobile environments w/o access to emerging viral channels (the fact is, there are a number of mobile apps that are cross platform– that work on multiple mobile devices, and also social network environments ) — many emerging social games already do this across iphone, and/or andriod, and facebook/web — and leverage the facebook ecosystem and facebook connect (and more recently OpenSocial) to gain access to a much larger range of viral channels beyond just SMS and email invites.

Mobile = social, and social and viral channels on mobile are rapidly evolving to become much richer and more prevalent in mobile devices.

Eric Swain

Good post. As we know, the answer to the problem is time. Hopefully, the operators (indeed all the industry players) are finally realising that open standards and affordable, reliable network access are what will drive growth (and profits) in the mobile internet and application space.

The iphone has demonstrated to the operators that there is a huge appetite for Internet browsing on mobile phones and for mobile applications. The old closed development system and walled garden model that western operators have employed has retarded the potential of mobile to date.

I, however, think that is all changing. The future is mobile (and social).

kim b

because… if you read his article, your friend needs a data plan to surf off deck on many operators. not everyone has such a dataplan. worst case scenario they don't have such a plan and they can't reach the destination. best case scenario they don't have a dataplan and they CAN reach the destination but they get RAPED on the a-la-carte charge for casual data browsing and will associate the service with the huge bill and swear off the service permenantly. basically operators kill this business.

Drew Robertson

Not a perfect retort but why could't an offdeck browser-based mobile app have a chance at viral gold? Something like mTVoIP?

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