Looking out the downtown office window of Michael “Luni” Libes, the founder and CTO of Ground Truth, you can see the future of mobile marketing— and the past.
From one point of view, you can peer over the Seattle street grid toward Pioneer Square, and at the offices of Ground Truth’s predecessor, M:Metrics, a forerunner in the burgeoning, some might say exploding, world of mobile market measurement. Truth be told, the distance between the two companies can be measured more by degree than by city blocks.
In essence, M:Metrics laid the groundwork for benchmarking mobile usage and was acquired by comScore a couple of years ago. Ground Truth built on the shoulders of what M:Metrics began, from the ground up.
For instance, M:Metrics asked the baseline questions like: Do people use the cameras built into their phones? Do they listen to music? Do they text, and if so how much? In contrast, Ground Truth looks at the current dynamics and details of the mobile Internet. Which apps are people using? Which web sites are people visiting? What are they doing when they get there? Who are these people? In effect, Ground Truth is asking the next generation of questions in mobile market research. How apropos that Evan Neufelt, the former chief analyst at M:Metrics, is now the head of marketing at Ground Truth.
Like any data collection, analytics or rating system, be it Nielsen for television, Arbitron for radio, or Compete or Quantcast for the web, the data collection methodology is the gravitas that marks the difference between the proverbial “representative” sampling and actual performance metrics. comScore’s M:Metrics mobile data is based on asking thousands of people hundreds of questions once per month. That survey-based market picture is merely an extrapolation of a small panel projected on the whole population. Ground Truth is different.
“When we started Ground Truth, we were after real numbers,” said Libes. Our methodology is rooted in large scale data mining and what we call TrueView™ is a “census-based methodology” because we are looking at large swaths of the entire customer base, tens of millions of Americans.”
That sounded to us like the basis for an enlightening conversation about the company who was recently named a finalist in the WTIA’s 2010 Industry Achievement Awards for Best Early Stage Company of the Year. Mobile marketers, holster your handsets!
Seattle24x7: Luni, what was Ground Truth’s inspiration for wanting to take the full measure of a marketplace as vast as mobile?
Libes: I was sitting in my last company, Medio Systems, and trying to find out what was going on in mobile. Despite the existence of M:Metrics and another start-up called Telephia which Nielsen bought, and despite all of the research companies, like Forrester Research Yankee, Informa, Ovum and others covering mobile, there wasn’t a lot of reliable data about what was going on.
The industry was fixated on survey data which was odd. We knew multiple operators and people who worked for those operators and understood that the operators had actual usage data. They have logs, for example, that record what people do on their mobile browsers. They understand network traffic. They have all sorts of information about what their subscribers are doing. They have information about who these people are. What they didn’t have was a business model that would allow them to share that information. Our efforts were focused on developing a model that would meet the needs of the operators and allow them to share their data. That model became the basis of our data set.
Seattle24x7: One would think that, like TV and radio networks that compete in terms of audience reach and market share, a carrier’s performance metrics would provide the economic underpinnings for advertising, among other things?
Libes: Yeah, that’s definitely part of the story. Our observation was that there were some fundamental things missing. One of the early hurdles were was creating a list of the Top 1000, 2000, and 10,000 sites people were visiting via mobile.
Seattle24x7: Finding where the fish are?
Libes: If I’m an advertiser and I’m looking for an audience, the size of that audience and the demographic makeup of that audience is first and foremost. And once that’s established in the market, then comes the next hurdle which is a trusted source where an ad seller and an ad buyer can get that number. So, in TV, it’s Nielsen, if I’m selling or buying radio ads I look at the Arbitron numbers. In the online space there are several choices. But no one does it in mobile today. Our goal is to be the currency of mobile.
Seattle24x7: You also look at recency in data?
Libes: We made a conscious decision when we launched the product to produce more timely information. The competition, via surveys, is publishing quarterly and monthly reports. We currently publish weekly reports. And since we collect data on a daily basis, when the market is ready, we’ll provide daily reports.
Our data includes what time people do what they do, so we can report on the use of any site or app in 15 minute increments if needed. In practice, an hourly basis seems to be a pretty good cut, and we published a report with hourly dayparting last year. Comparably speaking, you can’t ask people what they did between the hours of eleven and twelve because in a survey because they won’t remember the many activities or visits at that level. But we have that granularity.
Seattle24x7: What are some of the differences you see at various times of the day?
Libes: The patterns are interesting. You typically see a social networking peak at lunch and after work. Sports has a peak at the end of the day. It’s one of the few categories where traffic peaks at 9 or 10 at night when people are checking on their favorite teams for the day before they go to sleep. Shopping has a different pattern altogether. Each individual site has it’s own particular pattern.
Seattle24x7: As you rate the most popular mobile media properties, how many of them are exclusively mobile vs. mobile versions of traditional Websites?
Libes: About half of the popular sites that we see on mobile phones are “mobile-centric” sites. Whatever lists you look at — Top 100, Top 1000, or Top 10,000, these mobile centric sites are representing nearly half. The other half of the top ranked sites are nearly all mobile optimized versions of online sites.
Libes: I was surprised by the percentages as well. For example, we know social is huge and nobody is beating Facebook. But a Top 10 web site in mobile right now is Mocospace which is a mobile social community. And there are other mobile social sites like AirG, Crush or Flush, Cellufun, MBuzzy, and a huge pile of very popular sites that are not really designed to be PC sites.
Seattle24x7: We read that Mocospace may be interested in bidding to take over MySpace. Clearly, mobile sites are more than holding their own.
Libes: If we look at the online space historically, back in the mid 90’s, the traditional media companies like Time Warner, The New York Times, and CNN assumed the Web was basically a print medium on a computer screen. Time Warner created Pathfinder and spent huge amounts of money creating that.
But instead of Time and The New York Times and CNN leading the online market we have Facebook and Google, and Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo, and Microsoft, a long list of companies, almost none of which existed before the web. It’s almost the same thing with mobile. A PC doesn’t run mobile apps. It doesn’t have this bite-size, two-minute session consumption like mobile does. And so up pops new companies to take advantage of the new ways people use the new media.
When Facebook says we’ll just dominate mobile because we dominate everything else, they’re missing something. Web sites in most sectors are missing the mobile use cases.
Seattle24x7: Is it better to have a dedicated mobile domain compared to a mobile version of a site through browser detection?
Libes: We published some numbers on this subject last summer. We looked at every single URL that was visited in our data set, something on the order of a million different domains. We looked at the popularity of m.domain versus .mobi, www as s a prefix vs. /mobile and mobile dot. We found, first and foremost, that no prefix whatsoever was the most popular in terms of page counts.
One reason is the popularity of Facebook. Facebook doesn’t have a prefix. So if you want the mobile version of Facebook, you go to facebook.com. The second most popular site, overall, is Google. If you want a mobile version of Google you go to google.com. It keeps going that way down through nearly all of the Top 100. So a mobile version of CNN is cnn.com. That seems to be the most common, and seems best for both service and consumer.
Libes: In addition to our web analytics services, late last year we launched Ground Truth Application Analytics in connection with some of our carrier partners. The novelty of that product is that it can profile the audience of a developers’ apps. To get those demographics, we’ve partnered with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint to correlate the ID’s off of the phones, aggregate those demographics, and report those back to the app developers.
Developers can find out how many people are using their app, how often they come back, and they can look at events inside an app. Plus they can compare males versus females, age ranges, education level, household income, and geographics (zip codes) of the users. That latter set of reports has never been done in mobile before.
Seattle24x7: That’s impressive. And you are covering the sweep of the broadband and smartphone market?
Libes: We announced distribution of this product with the three biggest carriers. And this system supports the three biggest smartphone platforms: so iPhone and iOS, Android and Blackberry.
Seattle24x7: Now that the battle lines have been drawn between smartphone handsets and platforms, can you impart any competitive intelligence on mobile usage?
Libes: (laughing) Hmm, well, I can give you a tidbit. What we do see, which is pretty intuitive but has never before been proved out in real data, is that the faster the network, the more people consume. So, no matter what tier device we’re looking at — be it a low end phone, mid range phone, high end feature phone, touch phone, smartphone, whatever— the faster the network, the more pages are viewed, the more megabytes are consumed, the more people are engaged! [24×7]
Visit Ground Truth at http://www.groundtruth.com