Mobile muddle

How do you measure mobile?  It’s a mess, even for web analytics gurus like Judah Phillips at, who said as much in an interview with IQWorkforce:

“The mobile space is interesting to me too, but it’s very much like traditional web analytics on smaller screens with some absolutely crazy data collection, sessionization, and visitorization challenges.”

Huh?  Let’s start at the beginning.

Just as millions of other people, I have a mobile phone.  However, I just discovered that I don’t have a “phone.”  I have a “device,” or just simply, “a mobile.”  That’s right – “mobile” is now a noun.

I guess the definition of “phone” is now limited to something on which you only make or take calls.  And, it turns out, even the lowest end mobiles – or lean mobiles – at least have texting capabilities.  (If you want to sound like a techie, use SMS, or short message service.  Sheesh.)

Samsung V1000 Up until last year I had a lean mobile with a camera.  I loved using the camera but didn’t send photos to anyone because it would have cost me $15, just like that.  I didn’t send any texts because each one made or received cost $0.20 each, which meant every time I got an unsolicited text from a company or an unknowing friend I was a little annoyed. It wasn’t the cost.  It was just the principle of it all.  I neither wanted nor needed these texts, and I had no control over receiving them.

I’m on a smartphone now, an iPhone 3GS, for no particular reason other than it sounded fun.  I’m paying $5/month extra to make or get 200 texts, and I’ve found texting pretty useful – so useful that if I find myself doing more than 200 texts/month I’ll probably pay the AT&T rip-off unlimited-text fee of $20/month.  I’ve also been doing everything else everyone else does – reading news stories, tweeting, updating my Facebook status, checking in for flights, buying things.

IPhone apps And I have no idea whether I’ve been using mobile apps or the mobile web.

It turns out “There are ‘three worlds’ in mobile: apps, mobile Web and SMS. In the
case of smartphone owners, they will use all three to varying degrees.”  (From, March 2009.)

You know what “three worlds” means.  Three different sets of metrics.

And, guess what? Apps are device-specific, which means there are different sources of metrics for iPhone apps (which, contrary to popular belief, hasn’t taken over the world), BlackBerry, Palm Pre, etc.


Mobile web browsers (e.g., Safari on an iPhone) are also device-specific.


All of those mobile usage numbers from comScore, Ground Truth (a mobile measurement firm) and the like only measure one mobile world, the world of mobile web browsers.  They don’t measure usage from apps. And how many people use mobile apps rather than the mobile web, especially for Facebook and Twitter?  I dunno – a lot?

The mobile usage numbers may all be flawed, but they all do point to mobile’s continuing rapid growth.  So, unfortunately, that means we’ve got to understand what new nouns like “sessionization” and “visitorization” mean.





Mobile app-mania

IPad app tag Is it just too mundane to talk about mobile application metrics when the iPad – touted as the savior of news media – has only been out a day?  Yeah, probably, but before I too get swept up in the frenzy of newness and coolness, I want to go on record noting that the total number of iPhone apps downloaded or purchased doesn’t tell you anything about engaging audiences.  Ditto for iPad apps.

App icon It must be true because I saw a story about how people don’t use smartphone apps in the New York Times.  No, not in David Pogue’s technology blog.  It was in the softy Sunday Styles section, right under a huge article about middle school boys using smelly body washes to get “masculinity in a spray can.”

The key takeaway (of the smartphone story, that is): Most people have more shoes than iPhone apps.  They download a bunch of apps and even pay for some of them, but they don’t actually use a lot of them.

App store “Since Apple launched its App Store in 2008, media, industry observers
and Apple customers have bent over backwards to heap encomium after
encomium on applications,” Mickey Alam Khan, editor-in-chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, wrote last week.  “Yet, for
all the hoopla – 150,000 applications in the Apple App Store, 30,000 in
Google’s Android Market, 50,000 in GetJar – not enough questions are
asked of the efficacy of this mobile channel, either for content,
marketing, retail or entertainment.”

What questions should be asked?  The usual indicators of engagement – number of visits to an application per week or month, visits per unique user and the like.  Khan also wants to know “How many deletions each month and after how many visits?” and “Do users respond to images on applications the way they do on mobile sites?  Do they have the same patience for page load times, application versus mobile Web sites?”

Droid live Unfortunately, Khan notes that the data just isn’t there yet.  “Apple, Google and others of its ilk are asking retailers, publishers
and brands to spend tens of millions of dollars on products created
uniquely for their proprietary application stores.

“The least that
application store owners can do to reward this marketer devotion is to
offer data on an aggregate level….

“With each new mobile device’s launch, more hysteria is created around
the content possibilities.  The Apple iPad’s debut has launched
another round of application development, this time giving hope to
publishers worried over the future of the printed book….

Get jar logo “Applications as the glue that creates
stickiness to mobile device will be the name of the game.

“But is
this simply an Apps Bubble or another viable mobile channel that can
hold its own with the mobile Web? Only time and data will tell.”

The right data, that is.





The number’s good except when it’s not

Based on a Hitwise report, Online Media Daily reported that Twitter’s “torrid growth has cooled since April.”  But the Hitwise number is deeply flawed – it doesn’t include traffic from “mobile and application-driven traffic.”

In other words, Hitwise’s report is based solely on traffic from Twitter’s web site.  It doesn’t include traffic from smartphones and applications like TweetDeck.   Hitwise’s report is just not that useful because it doesn’t include traffic from the devices and software that have made Twitter ubiquitous and easy to use, and which probably have contributed greatly to Twitter’s growth.

I say “probably” because we just don’t know one way or another.  Everyone’s still trying to figure out how to measure mobile web use.  It’s hard because there are multiple carriers and devices.  But just because a number is hard to get doesn’t mean we should use a number whose only virtue is that it’s easy.


The essential categories for “news”

I really like the new simplified structure of The Washington Post’s mobile site, as reported by Online Media Daily.

Mobile’s size really forces publishers to really parse news into the most essential categories, the fewer the better.  For the Post, those categories are:  top stories; politics; business; metro; arts & living; sports; and a going out guide.

More importantly, these categories are simple words.  Unlike  newspaper section names, they are instantly understood.