Mobile’s not the next big thing…just a path to it

This comment came from Jeff Jarvis when he issued The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge next theme: mobile.
When the new CEO of BBC, Mark Thompson, was announced, it was said, “Our future is on to video, to social, to mobile.”
Saying that mobile is what comes next means that we’re going to take what we do in media — making content, selling audiences — and figure out how to keep doing it on video, in social, and in mobile.
But that’s not what media really does.

Is Google just doing mobile next? Google has a mobile operating system. It has a Google-branded phone and tablet. It bought a phone manufacturer. It made apps for all its services for mobile but Google is not becoming a mobile company. For Google, mobile is a tool, a path to improve its real business.

And that “real business” is the same as media’s business should be: Relationships — knowing people and serving them better because of what it knows about them.

It has been argued that newspaper companies should abandon page views as a metric because it has been a corrupting influence that carried on the old-media myth that the more “audience” you have the more you can charge advertisers. The pursuit of page views has led news organisations to draw traffic — people — they cannot monetize (because they come from outside the market). And the insistence that they remain in the content business has led news organisations to believe they must still sell that content; thus, pay walls.

Google views content — our content — as a tool that generates signals about their users, building relationships, data, and value. Google views mobile as a tool that also generates signals and provides opportunities to target content and services to the individual, where she is, and what she’s doing now (thus Android’s Google Now).

Jarvis argues that news and media should bring those strands together to knit a mobile strategy around learning about people and serving them better as a result — not just serving content on smaller screens. Mobile=local=me now. They should build a strategy on people over content, on relationships.

That’s what mobile means: a path to get us to the real value in our business.


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