Ground Truth Lifts Veil Of Secrecy In Mobile By Mining Carrier Data

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Google (NSDQ: GOOG) bought the largest mobile advertising network — by far — and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) purchased the second largest.

But we didn’t know that for sure — at least not until now. Seattle-based Ground Truth, which has been operating in stealth mode for about a year, has quietly been collecting data from carriers and other infrastructure companies to see the real traffic logs of the mobile internet. Without that kind of access, the industry has been operating blind, relying instead on customer surveys, analyst estimates, or other third-party reports. If the data is all that it cracks up to be, there’s a chance that mobile can gain credibility and rival other great advertising mediums like the internet and TV. Ground Truth’s Founder and CTO Michael Libes: “This is the first time we have actual numbers, not surveys or estimates on what people are doing on the mobile internet.”

Here’s some of what can be learned:

— Google did buy the largest mobile ad network, by far, Libes said, and Apple bought Quattro Wireless, the second-largest.

— More than half of the top 10 websites in mobile are mobile-specific brands, and not high-profile internet brands. The are: MySpace, Facebook, Google, Mocospace, FunForMobile, AirG, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), Cellufun, Mbuzz and Myxer.

— 64 percent of all mobile page views are for social networks.

— The carrier decks/portals are only generating 9-10 percent of the mobile internet’s page views, despite the presumption that carriers can influence where subscribers go.

For Libes, the information is a gold mind. Having worked at several mobile startups, including co-founding mobile search firm Medio Systems, he was always looking for data points to make decisions. But mobile was at a disadvantage because it doesn’t use cookies to track users’ behavior, like the wired internet. Up until now, anecdotal evidence has indicated that the mobile internet is growing rapidly. Just ask Libes if this is true: “It’s not a tiny little market. Browsing on phones is picking up dramatically….My guess is that we are somewhere before the knee of the curve and that’s with things doubling year-over-year. Soon it will hit and then we will be growing by five or six times.”

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes at Ground Truth to make this happen. It had to convince the carriers and others that it was in their best interests to share such sensitive and proprietary information. In order to do so, Ground Truth promises to make the data “non-personally identifiable.” That means it will never be used for immediate actions, such as using a subscriber’s location to send them an ad. Instead, they aggregate the information. For example of the millions and millions of data records Ground Truth receives, it picks a sample size of 2.5 million subscribers.

For now, they are tracking five key metrics about the mobile internet, including number of unique visitors, page views, sessions, session length and advertising clicks. In the future, they’ll track other aspects of mobile, like video, applications, data cards and shortcodes. The information is updated weekly, not monthly or quarterly like other reports.

The carriers bought in to the idea because they may have all the data, but it has never been easily accessible. Sterling Wilson, who was brought on in February as president and CEO, said carriers have never been great marketers. “Much like the publishers, they need a tool. It’s very valuable to them,” he said. Previously, Wilson was president of Qpass, a back-end infrastructure company that was purchased by Amdocs (NYSE: DOX) for $275 million.

Ground Truth will sell access to their database to publishers, who want to learn more about how their mobile websites and their competitors’ are doing. That database will be limited to the 2.5 million sample set, but Ground Truth will generate detailed reports for carriers that are based on their entire subscriber base. Wilson would not say how many partners they currently have, but that they “have a broad variety of data providers who have a diverse group of subscribers using multiple handsets.”

Since starting up in February, Ground Truth has grown to 15 to 20 employees, including contractors. It has raised $2.6 million in venture capital from Walt Disney’s Steamboat Ventures and Seattle-based Voyager Capital.

5 Comments

Eric

Tricia, Please. This is really a marketing piece/advertorial for GT – might it be more fair to label it as such? For journalism’s sake, I’d like to at least know how much of this was actually written by you or GT’s PR team.

Jamie Hall

Real data, based on actual usage and traffic, has been the key missing component when it comes to really following what’s happening on the mobile Web. It sounds like these guys will be able to shed some light where it’s most needed.

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