InfoSpace and FAST announced a partnership at 3GSM conference that seeks to marry InfoSpace’s carrier relationships and content expertise with FAST’s search technology and PPC platform on mobile devices. The companies will be offering their new “white label” services and platform to wireless carriers in the U.S. and Europe. That makes the combined InfoSpace-FAST effort immediate competition for JumpTap and Medio Systems, which are also offering similar services.
FAST and InfoSpace also have considerable experience in local search, a key content category for mobile.
The private label mobile search market is thus quite crowded given that there are only five mobile carriers in the US — not counting virtual network operates that use the networks of others — and seven when you include Canada. In Europe the field is more open but European carriers are reportedly discussing creating their own search and ad serving technology to compete with Google and Yahoo in mobile.
FAST is a Norwegian company and might be able to use that status to gain favor with European carriers. The argument would go, “Instead of building your own mobile search platform, just use ours.” If time-to-market is an issue – which it is – then InfoSpace-FAST is in a good position to gain adoption from European mobile carriers that want to avoid Google, Yahoo or Microsoft.
In the US, Sprint announced a major partnership with Microsoft in mobile and Google has a strong relationship with Vodafone in the UK. Google and Yahoo have been primarily working with handset makers and have relationships with most of the major manufactures around the world at this point. Yahoo and Microsoft also made several mobile announcements at 3GSM.
In my view, there’s a real question about whether the carriers will be able to build (or even buy) mobile search technology and capabilities that will lure users from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. All three are making large investments in mobile and rolling out new services and capabilities rapidly. Their online brands, especially Google and Yahoo, and existing relationships with users are going to trump what I call “me too” mobile search from the carriers.
In other words, if mobile carriers are going to go head-to-head with the major Internet search engines they’re going to have to offer mobile search that is significantly (and obviously) better than Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s mobile sites and applications. That’s a challenging task but one that perhaps isn’t impossible. I think that involves voice as a search modality and integrated content search. I write more about that here.
However the entry of InfoSpace-FAST into the mobile search race creates another credible and formidable competitor that carriers should take a close look at before sinking money into building a new mobile search platform.
In related news InfoSpace also announced a partnership with InfoGin that improves rendering of Web pages on mobile devices. AOL has had a partnership with InfoGin since mid-2005 in mobile.