My MRG Conference 2011 speech

At the MRG Conference 2011 (pdf link to programme here) I was given a three-minute slot to talk about anything I wanted under the banner “Six industry speakers share the good, the bad and the ugly from our industry”.

This is (roughly) what I said:

Good afternoon everyone. As Research Manager for Mobile, Social and Syndication at the BBC I’m understandably enthusiastic about these areas. So today I’m going to take the first area I mentioned – mobile – and explain how its characteristics make it appropriate as a research platform.

The first is universality – mobile has more coverage than any other research method. A big claim maybe, but Ofcom stats say that

  •  77% of households have PC-based internet
  • 85% of adults have a landline
  •  91% of adults have a mobile, and this rises to 98% among 16-54 year olds

More than 91% of the UK might have a home and can be reached by door to door, but realistically, once you factor in accessibility and interviewer safety, mobile will have the largest potential audience for research – though the key word there is potential; there is still the small hurdle of getting the audience’s contact details.
The second characteristic I want to mention is relating to proximity. More than any other platform, mobile is our go-to device. It is nearly always turned on, it is nearly always on our person and thus it is when we have some free time or are bored it is the first thing we turn – in fact I can see a few phones in the audience now. This captive audience on mobile has massive potential for research purposes, though we need to ensure what we ask them to do is both interesting and relevant. Easier said than done, perhaps.

But, this is predicated on the notion that we need our respondent to interact. We can do many great things on mobile – video diaries, photos, status updates etc and in real-time. But one of the real strengths of mobile is its latency. Why ask people what media they are consuming when mobile sensors can match sound to TV and radio; record web browsing, use GPS to plot outdoor reach and time spent; and soon use near field communication to record sales of newspapers and magazines. Admittedly, not all phones can do this just yet, and privacy is obviously an issue, but again, there is big potential.

The young will drive this, for mobile is a youthful medium – 16-24s say they would miss mobile the most if they had to give up media. These behaviours might not be mainstream yet, but a dozen years ago owning a mobile wasn’t mainstream, and look where we are now. But there is also a second aspect to this point around youth, and that is that the medium is nascent. We’re still learning all the time – no one can say they’ve cracked mobile in terms of capturing and utilising. This is a huge opportunity for research agencies both big and small to move into.

This is an opportunity because it doesn’t yet exist. There is plenty of innovation at the edges, but the market isn’t yet mature. So while I’ve identified several benefits to mobile research, they come with caveats and are more theoretical than practical. So as much as I want to say mobile is good, I can’t really. I’ve talked about the universality, the go-to nature, the latency and the youthfulness. That’s U.G.L.Y and it ain’t got no alibi, it’s ugly.

sk

Some things I’ve learned about tablet computers

The shorter version:

Some things I’ve learned about tablet computers include:

  • Penetration remains small but is growing
  • iPads are the only tablet in town
  • They have their own niche in the media landscape
  • Tablet use is largely additive to other forms of media
  • They aren’t mainstream yet – but could be

The longer version:

Some facts and data about tablet computers that I’ve sourced (from publicly accessible information) include

  • 3.62m people in the UK now own a tablet computer, equivalent to 7.6% of the population and up from 2.8% in November 2010 (equivalent US figures put penetration at 11%)
  • The iPad represents 73% of UK sales, and 97.2% of all US tablet traffic
  • Tablets combine mobile’s portability and flexibility with computer’s power and screen real estate. However, they are most likely to be used in the living room, with 62% of iPad owners never or rarely take their devices out of home. Although they are owned by the individual, 7 in 10 owners share their device with others – most likely a partner or spouse
  • With the exception of desktop computers – at least two thirds of US tablet owners said their usage of other devices (ranging across all four screens) was either the same or had actually increased
  •  326m tablets are forecast to be sold worldwide in 2015 – more than five times the figure estimated for 2011 (63.6m)

Sources:

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2800841720/

Download the award-winning Brandheld presentation

As mentioned in my previous post, I had quite a successful experience at the Media Research Group conference in Malta.

My presentation on Brandheld: Unlocking the potential value* of the mobile internet, which won the IPA/Simon Broadbent award for Best Paper can now be viewed and downloaded on Slideshare. I’ve even included an amended version of my speaker notes, although due to the terms and conditions our research participants agreed to I am unable to show the three (frankly awesome) videos we produced.

The presentation is embedded below (RSS readers might need to click through to see it)

Additionally, most of the other presentations from the conference can be downloaded from the MRG website. It’s definitely worth checking out, though the presentations that were speech accompaniments rather than slides/handouts don’t make a lot of sense without the accompanying notes.

Any feedback or (constructive) criticism would be appreciated. My contact details are on the final slide, or on the “About the blog” page if you don’t want to do so publicly.

sk

* The title occasionally switches between “potential value” and “value potential” – the former comes to me more naturally but the latter is probably better

The mobile phone is the drill to extract the data

Last week I wrote a blog post entitled “If data is the new oil, we need a bigger drill“, where I complained that we weren’t making enough use of the potential data available to us.

That post was in relation to online research. But on reflection, the opportunity is far greater elsewhere.

On the mobile phone.

Introduction

And, as far as I am aware, it is an area even more underexploited than online data capture. Aside from the odd application (such as Everyday Lives – which looked very similar to Evernote last time I looked), mobile survey panels (such as One Point) or academic experiment (Contextphone in Helsinki), I’m not aware of any innovations in mobile.

Which is a shame, since it is arguably the most powerful media platform for data capture. The Wikipedia page on the 7th mass media lists the eight unique benefits mobile has. Of most relevance are that the mobile is

  • Always on
  • Always (well, usually) carried on the person
  • Available at the point of creative inspiration
  • Highly personal, and personalised

The unique benefits of mobile make it an ideal instrument for both active and passive data capture – for explicit answers and for implicit inferences.

Forms of data capture

I’ve drawn an arrow below of the five primary means a mobile can capture information. It is very much an early draft, so feedback or criticism is very much appreciated.


Ways in which data and information can be extracted from the mobile phone

Background capture

As mobile technology advances, devices incorporate more features that produce information on the location of the phone, and thus the user. These include:

  • Time – the time itself, and the time it takes to do something via a clock and stopwatch
  • Date – via a calendar
  • Space – via GPS
  • Proximity – to people, objects or events via GPS, bluetooth or RFID chips
  • Movement – in three dimensions via an accelerometer, or inferred through GPS and clock
  • Environmental factors – through thermometers, altitude readers and so forth

In addition to location, the following can also be determined through past or current behaviour:

  • Spend – via the in-built payment mechanism
  • Social graph – via the address book
  • History – via cookies or memory
  • Broad character traits – by how the phone has been customised or used

While in future, these will be augmented with innovations such as voice and face recognition (a Google Goggles type of service).

Either on their own or in combination, these features facilitate some extremely powerful data capture. They effectively allow us to understand the “where” and “when”, and potentially the “with”.

But it is only the first level of information capture.

Activity Capture / Activity Follow-up / Prompted Activity

I’ve grouped these three stages together, as they are essentially variations on a theme.

The mobile phone has a large number of features and services that can be used for data capture. These include

  • Voice calls
  • Text messaging
  • Voice recorder
  • Note taker
  • Calendar
  • Bluetooth
  • Games
  • Camera/scanner
  • Video camera/editor
  • Music player
  • Web browser
  • Email/social network use
  • Application downloads/use
  • Shopping/purchasing

The most passive form of data capture is in recording the functions that a person uses their phone for. Forms of analysis this facilitates include

  • Combining activities with the data dimensions outlined in the first section for understanding of individual uses
  • Utilising path analysis across all feature uses to understand how the phone is used as a single device, rather than as a collection of services
  • Converting phone calls to text, and then using sentiment analysis to infer meaning across all forms of communication.

These aspects augment the “where”, “when” and “with” with the “what” and “how” – at least in terms of mobile phone behaviour.

A slightly more active form of data capture would move closer to capturing the “why”.

For instance, a push notification could be triggered when a certain activity is undertaken. This could request a simple answer to a question.

For instance, if I were to use my camera to take a picture, I would know

  • Where it was taken
  • When it was taken
  • What it was taken with
  • How it was taken (landscape or portrait, flash or natural, first attempt or fifth)
  • Potentially who/what it was taken of
  • Potentially who the person was with at the time

But it wouldn’t be known why the photo was taken, or whether the person was happy with the photo taken. A simple question or two would solve that.

An even more active version of data capture would be to explicitly ask the person to use their phone for a particular person. For instance, they could be asked to use the camera to scan each item they buy on the high street or to use the voice recorder or note taker each time they spot a certain advertising campaign. These methods are used by a couple of organisations – MESH spring to mind – but have little noticeable traction to date.

This manual mechanism may eventually be superseded, as technology allows us to automate more of the data capture. Its only real relevance would be in forcing someone to participate in a behaviour where they naturally wouldn’t.

Direct questioning

As should be obvious, the more explicit forms of data capture are those that are most prevalent – primarily because their implementation is independent of technological advancement. For instance, we’ve always been able to interview people over the phone. As technology improves, the interfaces underpinning this method will also improve – we will move from SMS surveys to java to html to html5 or native applications, with touch screen drag and drop functionality.

Benefits

As I mentioned in my previous post, we aren’t close to reaching the level of data capture that is possible. We need to augment explicit questioning with the context that can be inferred from the situational data collected. The mobile phone, moving across space and time and with its unique benefits, offers even more scope for collecting meaningful data.

Potential uses for the data capture include

  • Calculating sleep quality/efficiency (an iPhone app already does this, to a degree)
  • Monitoring movement, speed and proximity of people across an environment could be used for town planning
  • Alternatively, it could be used to plot the efficiency of layouts in supermarkets. If the phone could calculate eye line (it would probably need to be attached to a necklace), it could even inform how the shelves are stacked
  • Providing an understanding of people’s lives – when using and not using their phones.
  • Exploring how things spread across mobile phones. For instance, one person could undertake a type of behaviour, come into contact with someone else, and then the second person undertakes the behaviour. Network effects could be used to identify the mythical influencers
  • Tracking spend can be used for financial management
  • A networked calendar/diary could become predictive e.g. rescheduling a meeting to take place 15 minutes later due to traffic
  • Tracking movement can improve the measurement of exposure to outdoor advertising
  • Sound recognition could be used for radio or TV exposure, and improve out-of-home consumption measurements
  • Inefficiencies of usage could be explored e.g. the time it takes to connect a phone call can be compared across devices and networks

Practical obstacles

Evidently, the previous section was quite speculative and fantastical, but I hope it underlines the potential. Nevertheless, several obstacles need to be overcome before this point is reached

  • What is the best way to collect such information? Within the operating system? The network/SIM? Via the web or an application? The O/S with control of the API would appear to be best placed, but do they have the inclination?
  • Although phones are always on and regularly used, they are also regularly upgraded. Information collected would need to be portable for long-term tracking
  • Similarly, a phone is more susceptible to breakage, theft or loss
  • Background data capture would be a tremendous drain on the battery
  • Effective data capture would require an entire network of people using it – this is highly unlikely, not least because there will always be a significant proportion of people for whom a mobile phone will just be a device to make and receive emergency calls
  • More behaviour will be transferred to the mobile, but it will only ever capture a small proportion of our lives
  • Coverage and connectivity isn’t good enough (in the UK) for full capture – unless information can be stored natively before it is uploaded to a central server
  • Massive issues of data protection and privacy. Some people (such as Nicholas Felton) would enjoy tracking their movements, but I suspect – outside of paid-for testing – few would appreciate it. Particularly since the mobile is the most personal of devices Imagine if large corporations were able to track the movements and social graph of its employees through mobile phone usage?

Conclusion

This post seems to have been sidetracked into future gazing, but my underlying point remains. The technology is available for us to capture far more information – and thus understanding – then we currently do. Organisations should look to harness and utilise this data, to provide contextual meaning to what people are doing.

Thoughts on how we could do this – or on how people are already doing this – would be much appreciated

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kioan/3011984637/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/_parrish_/2575256484/

A new era for mobile?

Mobile phones on a train in Japan

I’ve been speaking to a lot of people about mobile recently – partially because I have finally got an iPhone, but primarily because I am working on a project around how mobile phones fit into the media landscape.

Mobile phones as a technology are unquestionably mainstream, and have been so for about a decade. There are currently more mobile phones than people in Europe, and a recent study suggested that children get their first mobile when they are eight years old.

However, mobile as a media has taken a lot longer to infiltrate mainstream behaviour. There have been numerous false dawns in the past – notably around mobile TV – but the time for mobile does finally seem to have arrived.

And the driver for that is the mobile internet.

SIDENOTE: The mobile phone has found some exceptionally important uses in the developing world – Mo Ibrahim‘s work is a good place to start in this respect – but my research is focusing upon the West, and primarily the UK.

The four factors that have been influencing take-up of the mobile internet (in the UK at least) are

  • Faster network/connection speeds
  • Emphasis on unlimited data packages (even on pay as you go tariffs)
  • Greater choice of content
  • Better (in functionality and usability) handsets

In my opinion, the third and fourth points are a result of the iPhone. Relative penetration of the iPhone may still be low, and few of its functions may actually be “new”, but both the iPhone and the App store have changed the public’s conception of what a phone is and what it is used for.

To indicate how revolutionary it is, consider how many other phones are referred to by their brand name? Only BlackBerry, and that is arguably because it the initial emphasis was on email rather than telephony. The iPhone managed to set itself far apart from all other handsets on the market. It is aspirational and has caused other manufacturers to fundamentally change the way they design and market their handsets.

Furthermore, the iPhone has disrupted the mobile market. I believe iterative upgrading of handsets is still the most prevalent form of changing phones, but a significant minority are abandoning the previously well-formed “upgrade curve” and converging around high-end smartphones.

By changing the perception of what a phone is, a new coalition of users can be persuaded to change their willingness to pay. A person may have been willing to pay £20 per month for their mobile subscription to make calls and texts. However, that person may be willing to pay £35 per month for a smartphone subscription that gives them email, games, maps, videos and so on in addition to calls and texts.

These people may still have different levels of comfort with technology, and thus usage of the different features will vary, but the capability is there for all to engage in this new behaviour.

And that is quite exciting.

Not just in itself, but also in the effect this behaviour has on consumption of other media channels. The mobile extends the PC behaviour in complementary and competing ways, and it is important to understand the relationship that the two platforms have with one another (in addition to the other media channels – this remote record tool from Sky is a great example on how mobile can feed into the core business).

The environment is fast-moving and volatile, but it does appear that mobile is finally emerging as a media channel to be reckoned with.

I anticipate this a topic I’ll be returning to on numerous occasions – both here and on the Essential Research blog where I hope to update on the progress we are making on this project. In the meantime, I’m bookmarking all relevant articles and blogs here.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocoarmani/

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