Five-minute interview: Richard Titus, BBC
Guilty pleasures, great tips and cutting-edge mobile sites and apps from the BBC's new head of mobile.
Update: Richard Titus is now CEO of Associated Northcliffe Digital
The mobiThinking five-minute [not-very-strictly-enforced] interview: Richard Titus, Future Media Controller, Audio & Music and Mobile Media, BBC
Formally the head of User Experience and Design, Richard Titus, was promoted in November 2008 taking control of Mobile at the BBC. The British national broadcaster has already made its mark on the mobile Internet. But with Titus’ digital entrepreneurial background – he co-founded companies including Tag Media (bought by Razorfish 1998) and Schematic (acquired by WPP in 2007) in the US – and boundless enthusiasm for the medium, we’re eager to see what’s next at BBC mobile.
Q1: What is your favorite mobile website (apart from the BBC)?
My favorite mobile application is (guiltily) Facebook. I have it on my iPhone and on my BlackBerry. Since I'm a yank living in the UK, it’s a great way to keep up with my friends.
My favorite mobile website is Ping.fm. I’ve been experimenting with micro-blogging lately from conferences. As I have Ping.fm linked to status on all my social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, etc., I can micro-blog to them all in a daisy chain. Ping.fm works on a broadcast model and works flawlessly.
Q2: What can the rest of us learn from Facebook?
The first – and fundamental – reason Facebook is great is that it just works. It’s simple to do all the core functions: upload photos, chat, send messages and update status. Second, they have revamped the user experience and interface for the small screen: so it’s easy to read – a truly graceful decomposition. The only thing I wish for is background syncing like you can do on the Palm Treo.
Q3: Who is the new kid on the block - the mobile site to watch for the future?
Searchme. I saw it on my last trip to Silicon Valley (see my blog). It’s pretty compelling on my iPhone (I change handsets monthly by the way, I’m debating between a X1 or a G1 next). I think search is significantly harder on a mobile device for a couple of reasons: first, you want to prioritize mobile content so it’s easiest to view – which isn’t always easily identified in the metadata for a site, second, typing and reading is much harder on mobile so a more visual medium is better. On the iPhone, you can use the Searchme app as the default search on the phone for things like the address book as well, which is really useful. The visual display is easy and attractive – and it has that wow factor as well.
The new Google Mobile App for iPhone is also really cool – it makes search results relevant to where you are, geographically, and lets you search by talking into the phone (though apparently it doesn’t work so well with a British accent, according to some reports).
Travel: this makes sense, of course. While local travel has been enhanced with the massive expansion of location-based services, such as Vicinity and Around me, long distance is being revolutionized by hard-core travel apps and sites like Orbitz or kayak.com (which recently saved me when my flight was cancelled). I’m really excited to see what’s coming up in the near future, when more of these services start to mash-up public and private feeds to create real value for the user aggregating public-service content into new propositions. Clearly there’s a real opportunity for the BBC here with our news, sport and weather.
Q5: What can the rest of us learn from travel?
The most important lesson from successful travel-based sites is that it’s the perfect-use scenario. When you travel, your phone is in your pocket, you are often in unfamiliar environments and you need some quick and dirty data. First, it tells you what’s happening (news/weather/traffic/info); next it gives you important info on your locale (one of my favourites is the Wikipedia data mashed up into some of the location apps mentioned above – who would have known that such famous people lived on my street previously!); lastly it’s multi-modal [i.e. you can use it in different ways and on different devices]. You want a combination of information, not silos of data. If my phone tells me that its hailing outside, the tube is down and that my flight is delayed, then I have the option to stay at work and postpone my travel till tomorrow – these mixed-use cases really outline how much the future is about the combination and re-use of data in audience-centric way.
Q6: What’s the most exciting/inspirational place in the world for mobile marketing?
Korea is the most exciting place in the world for mobile that I've visited. The Korean society has placed a flag in the ground stating that knowledge and self-improvement are culturally very important. This encourages people to be always connected, learning and questioning. This isn’t just at home where broadband penetration is incredibly high and the average speed is 32 megabits per second, it’s also while out-and-about, as there are wireless networks (3g+) on public transport. Whether phones or computers; the Korean people see technology as a simple extension of themselves.
Q7: What can the rest of us learn from Korea?
When you see so many people watching TV on their phones (quite loudly and, strangely, often American baseball) it shows how much this had just become part of their daily lives. They primarily watch live TV over a Digital Multimedia Broadcasting [DMB] network, which is also available on their subway/tube, but on-demand audio/video content is quite limited. This makes me think an application like BBC iPlayer could be a huge hit in Korea (and a lot of people we met were quite excited to hear about iPlayer and its usage patterns). By combining a fast network with formerly dead time (on the bus, tube, train), you’ve got a great opportunity for broadcasters to build a real and deeper relationship with an audience – often a new audience.
Q8: What’s the most exciting area of mobile marketing?
As I've talked about for location-based services already, the other area that gets me excited has to be messaging – which is much under loved/appreciated. SMS is an excellent medium and short codes provide great potential. The BBC is doing a lot with these at the moment both in News and on our Radio networks. Integrating messaging into our services enables us to promote an item of news, sport or an event such as the Electric Proms and allows our audiences to better engage in conversation with our shows.
Q9: Which mobile-marketing guru would you like to do our five-minute interview next?
With the iPhone’s rocket to the top of the phone world, I’d like to hear from Jonathan Ive!
Which mobi guru would you like see interviewed next? Comment below or email editor (at) mobiThinking.com.
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