Let the Madness Begin: Four New Questions About Mobile’s Future

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attach them to specific locations. Then others can find the notes when they visit those locations, subject to the privacy settings you’ve selected—you can share notes with just yourself, just your friends, or everyone. “A note can be a story, advice, jokes, diatribes, information, memories, facts, advertisements, love letters, grocery lists and manifestoes,” Pinwheel says in its FAQ. The possibilities are “limited only by your imagination.” Other startups have tried using location as the fundamental dimension for organizing and exploring information, and the idea makes a ton of sense, given that we all live in a three-dimensional world. But no one has ever really nailed the magic combination of features that would make it compelling and viral. I think Fake has the savvy and experience to turn it into a real business.

4. Big data—How much value is waiting to be unlocked? At what cost?

Smart mobile app developers these days are instrumenting absolutely every aspect of their apps, and building a comprehensive picture of how, where, and when consumers tap each feature and function. Did you look at that snowboarding photo your friend posted on Path? Then Path knows it, and has told your friend. Did you walk into a Best Buy with Shopkick running on your smartphone? Then that fact has been recorded in a database somewhere, and is probably being used to craft a customized reward or offer.

It’s an article of faith right now that “big data,” especially the exabytes of intelligence being collected on the behavior of Web and mobile consumers, can be mined and analyzed in near-real time to form insights that will help companies acquire and retain customers. But it’s hard to come by specific evidence that big data is improving the bottom line. A few examples, such as TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadivé’s anecdotes about Indian wireless carrier Reliance and how it reduces churn by offering free SMS messaging to customers who have experienced dropped calls, tend to be repeated over and over.

So one question is how many companies, especially small ones, are truly equipped to find the patterns in the data they’re logging, and whether they can translate those findings into offers that customers want. Another question is whether consumers and regulators will ultimately decide they’re not so comfortable about the rise of a de facto surveillance state (the difference being that it’s the big data geeks, not Big Brother, who are watching us).

There’s a lot of soul-searching going on right now in Silicon Valley as the result of revelations about data-gathering practices by mobile and Web companies. (A developer discovered that Path was uploading users’ entire address books to its servers as a way to facilitate friend-making, but it soon emerged that Twitter and other companies were doing the same thing.) Now the White House is stepping in with a proposal for a “privacy bill of rights” that would include provisions strengthening consumer’s ability to opt out of behavior-based Web and mobile marketing altogether. If mobile entrepreneurs hope to squeeze more benefits from big data, they’re probably going to get a lot more careful about how they collect it.

At Mobile Madness, we’ll bring you a whole session on big data in mobile with Chris Lynch of HP’s Vertica subsidiary and Antonio Rodriguez from Matrix Partners. And that’s just the beginning—you can check out our full Mobile Madness agenda here. My colleague Greg Huang has done an amazing job of corralling New England’s leading mobile innovators for this year’s forum, making it a true can’t-miss event. Luckily, I don’t plan to miss it.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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