CIL 2008: Mobile Search

Megan Fox and Gary Price
Slides and more will be available at

Mobile Market

3.3 billion mobile phones. 46 million wireless subscribers used mobile search (mostly through text, not web browsers, on the phone).
iPhone users responsible for 50 times the traffic in mobile search. 85% of iPhone users accessed news and information on their phone (compared to 58% of other wireless users). Most searches are simple, single words (hard to enter text on a mobile device). Gary thinks that next year voice search will be the new thing — you say your query, you get results by text or email.
Some search tools are carrier-specific; some are phone-specific.
People who search from mobile devices are generally looking for “ready reference” information (facts, figures, stock prices, weather etc.). Rarely in-depth research. Search engines have mobile search interfaces, aimed at handheld devices. THey assume that mobile user wants facts, information. And that users don’t want to type much. Searches are aggregated across silos otherwise provided to web users (so news, images, sites, etc., are listed on one page, not on several). This trend — “one search” for Yahoo, “universal search” for Google — is on the rise in web searching, too.
How to delivery high-bandwidth content to mobile devices with different capabilities, and with providers that allow different traffic, is a challenge.
Yahoo’s mobile search has ‘snippets’ — stripped down ‘widgets’ — that give you a preview of web content you frequently access.
Google indicates pages tailored for mobile devices with a tiny green icon. There are sites that transcode — convert for mobile use — regular web pages to mobile pages. They work differently, though; some handle different kinds of content better than others.
Live Search — Live Mobile. Makes assumptions about your future searches based on past use. Also uses personal search histories; things you’ve searched before are remembered and influence future searches.
4info — lets you search by text.
Alerts — services will watch news (sports, etc.) for certain thresholds, and will send you a text or email alert when something happens (a score is close in the 7th inning, etc.)
Medio — Working on a “predictionary” — predicts the words you are going to finish typing, based on words you’ve typed in the past. Does on the mobile device what your browser does in remembering past search queries.
Lots of mobile meta-search/federated search tools. MCN,, upsnap are up-and-coming players in this market.
Using your phone’s camera to take a picture of something, send it to omoby, mobot, or snapnow, it sends back a search response based on the photo. Also new 2D barcodes — take a picture, it prompts your phone to pull down a URL, send a text message, etc. These are much more common in Europe/Asia.
chacha — call 1-800-2chacha or text “chacha”, say your question, get an answer by text. Humans do the answering. They provide an answer and a source URL. Not clear who is doing research (probably not librarians!)
Location based search — based on where your phone says it is, gives you localized search results.
Location based search — actually, more like a directory. you say where you are, it offers you categories that you can look through. The return of Gopher!
Clusty, a search clustering engine, works well in mobile environment. Brings back results by kind (a search for “apple” offers company, fruit, etc., categories as a filter.
Behavioral targeting on mobile devices is coming. Real estate is small, importance of what gets sent there is critical. Making sure that the right content gets to the mobile device is important.
Spinvox — Listens to your phone calls, sends you information on topics you discuss. Can also update your blog from dictation.
Searchme uses a presentation of search results like “cover-view” in iTunes or iPhone. Results pages are presented in thumbnail view that you can flip through one at a time.
A directory of hundreds of search tools (available for the next two weeks, go to and log in with rubble888 and cil2008.