User Generated Content on the Go – by Mobile Monte

My wife is a shrink.  With the exception of clients, most of us love ourselves, want exposure and think we are worthy of others’ admiration.  Thus the supply side of User Generated Content services (“UGC”) is clear.  What is remarkable is that we (me included) actually enjoy watching amateur videos of others. And we do, as evident from YouTube’s millions of downloads a day, and its recent acquisition by Google.

But can UGC go mobile?  Will people be willing to both create and consume UGC videos on the go?   In my opinion, the clearest advantage Mobile UGC offers is the fact that most new phones can capture video.  Thus we can all join in the UGC fun and create our content spontaneously, or capture something interesting we see happening on the street.

However, several key issues must be addressed if UGC is to go mobile. [1] Creating a video on the handset is relatively simply, yet posting it to a YouTube-like site is complex and costly in terms of data-charges for the upload.   Cost issues are addressed below, but transferring “mobile-phone video” to a website requires Bluetoothing it to a PC, then uploading it to the UGC website, a process few of us will bother with.  A dedicated UGC client on the phone can resolve this and allow users to capture the video, then upload it to the UGC website virtually with a single click.  

As to receiving and viewing videos on the handset, there are several ways to accomplish this.  A WAP Pull model involves the UGC mobile service provider posting many videos on a WAP Portal for users to browse and pull.  This model will fail, as have most WAP services, given the cumbersome click & wait, menu intense experience of mobile internet.  The subscription-push model is a viable alternative, where users subscribe to a specific UGC topic (say Entertainment), then have the “Top Entertainment clip of the Day” delivered to them automatically.  Push allows for the automatic delivery of large files (say, overnight), eliminating the need of users to browse-pull, then wait for the download of a large file in real-time.  Customizing the service to the user’s specific area of interest is easily accomplished using a simple web-based (preferable to WAP) registration page, which allows the user to subscribe to a precise channel of interest.

Should the Mobile UGC service provider (say Vodafone) build its own community, or partner with a YouTube-like service?   There is no clear answer.  From personal experience, I would be inclined to say that the latter is the clear answer.  A few years ago I was responsible for designing and selling an advanced client/server mobile Instant Messaging solution.  Effort spent trying to persuade
U.S. operators to buy an IM solution then build new mobile-IM communities rather than wait until AOL, AIM, ICQ and Yahoo agree to interoperate were futile.  Operators had no desire to build new communities, and also realized that users would not duplicate communities – one mobile and one PC-based.  Verizon Wireless finally bought our platform, brought the enemy IM communities together, and created a killer service. 

However, early experience in the UK suggest otherwise, where new mobile UGC communities are being built from the grassroots.   The IM model, indeed may not apply here.  IM requires that your group of close friends/family use the same IM service.  Not so with UGC, where the world is your community.  Also, as the mobile world generates revenue for data consumption, mobile operators can attract attractive content producers by paying them on a per-download basis.

Cost to the user is a critical factor in determining who will operate the Mobile UGC and how the user will be charged.  Unless Mobile operators are intricately involved in the UGC service, the service will fail, primary due to cost issues. The sending and receiving of video content is data intense, and extremely costly to the user, unless a clear monthly fee is established for the service. Mobile operators control the cost of data traffic on their network.  Thus, unless the Mobile operator adopts the USG service and creates clear and reasonable fee-structures for it, no one will use it.

Do Operators want to launch such services? You bet.  From a revenue perspective, most operators subsidize the expensive handsets we use, only to see us load them with MP3 files from the PC, for which the operator seeing no revenue at all.  Operators must find ways to get users to fill their phone with Operator-based content.  From a “Branding” perspective, it would be Verizon and Vodafone’s wet dream to launch a YouTube branded service. 

To summarize, UGC services appear headed for mass-market adoption.  Such a service can easily port to the mobile environment.  A smart, appealing client and simple registration process can offer great functionality that is easy to use.  Operator involvement is crucial.  Given the brand-value of a YouTube Mobile service, I assume that we will see such a service in the near future.

[1] For purposes of this discussion, the term Mobile UGC service refers to a service which allows users to both create content on a handset and post it to a PC/web based community, as well as to receive content from that web-based community.


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