MocoSpace’s Winning Formula for Feature-Phone Social Networking
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invest multiples of six figures for the next level up, and worry about adding more disk space and having it become a big potential point of failure. So moving to the cloud makes sense both from an internal-resources perspective and a financial perspective. We had some trepidation at first, but we’ve found that [S3] has been excellent in terms of performance and uptime.
X: You mentioned that thousands of people are uploading photos to MocoSpace every day. What kinds of community standards do you try to maintain for those photos, and how do you enforce them? We’ve written about a locally-based photo sharing service called SnapMyLife that crowdsources photo moderation using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system.
JS: The main standards are no nudity, no violence, no hate speech, and no drugs. We have a full-time staff that’s working 24/7/365 to pre-screen every photo and video that goes live on MocoSpace. We don’t use Mechanical Turk, because at our volumes, it is not cost effective. Even paying a penny a photo would not be cost effective for us. So in addition to our community management team here in Boston of four people who deal with general customer support, content issues, harassment issues, legal issues, and all of those fun things, we have a full-time team [doing photo and video moderation] in Vietnam.
X: How big a part does mobile gaming play in the MocoSpace experience?
JH: Gaming is not one of the core experiences on MocoSpace, but over time we have evolved that area. Our most recent game is a multiplayer poker game. In general, people find Internet-based games on feature phones less engaging than downloadable games or games like those in the iPhone app store. But still, we find people who will engage with them, and we think it holds a lot of potential for encouraging social interaction. We’re most interested in things that have a multiplayer aspect. But we’ve done very little to date—we have maybe seven or eight games. We will probably be doing more in the future.
X: Advertising is your main revenue stream, but one of the most frequent complaints you hear from developers and publishers in the mobile world is that the advertising market is not very mature yet on the mobile side. Where do you get your ads, and how are sales going?
JS: We work with all of the mobile advertising networks today. We plug them into a platform that allows us to pick and choose and match our inventory to the different ad networks as we see fit. We are considering hiring a direct sales force, and we will probably hire at least one person, and see if we can sell a bit of our inventory directly. The reality is—and this is being written about a lot—that the ad networks are in a race to the bottom in terms of CPMs [the price advertisers will pay per thousand impressions]. Not to be melodramatic, but it’s almost a death spiral. When an advertiser knows that they can buy traffic for 10 cents per click on Google, why would they ever pay a $30 CPM to be on your home page? And once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s very hard to get it back in.
X: Do you try to filter out the ads that go for really low CPMs?
JS: In theory, we try to do that, but the reality is that we’re so big and the ad market is so small that we suck down every bit of inventory. By the end of the day, we’ve worked through all the good inventory and the less good and we get to the bottom of the barrel. Unlike the Web, where there is a very robust marketplace, the number of advertisers on mobile is still relatively small.
X: Do you have enough information about your users to help your advertisers to any behavioral targeting?
JH: That is happening a little bit on mobile, but there is more talk than action. If you don’t have advertisers then it’s'kind of a hypothetical scenario. When 25 or 30 percent of the ad dollars are coming from ringtone providers, what do they care about targeting? Are you going to sell a different ringtone ad to a male or a female?
X: But I imagine you do have good data on your users—is that something that could benefit you in your direct advertising sales efforts?
JS: We do, more so than almost anybody in mobile. Ninety percent of our users supply very specific data about themselves. That will be one very clear approach that we take—that if you want access to this targeting data, you’ve got to buy directly from us. Ultimately, we think that’s how you get the genie back in the bottle.
X: How many of your users are paying for data by the megabyte, and how many are on flat-rate or prepaid data plans? Can you use that data to target ads?
JS: We can’t measure that, but we can back the data out from the carriers, because some carriers only offer pre-paid data plans, and others offer only unlimited.
JH: Everyone on the iPhone has an unlimited plan, for example. And we do see those people over-index, in terms of their mobile Web consumption.
JS: Advertisers are doing that kind of targeting on their own, to some extent. The iPhone is viewed as a high-brow, white-collar device. That will change—it will become a more ubiquitous device—but right now, the odds are that if you have a $400 phone and a $50 a month data plan, you are more economically interesting than if you are using a prepaid device.
X: So many companies are building iPhone apps these days. It would be a break from your browser-based model to do that for MocoSpace, but is it something you would consider?
JH: That’s an obvious discussion to have. Eventually we’ll do it. We don’t view it as an incredibly high priority, but it is a reasonably interesting opportunity. iPhone users are very active, but they are still a very small percentage of the mobile marketplace. Still, I would imagine that by the end of this year we’ll have an iPhone app.