Mobspot takes a social approach to solve app discoverability

10 Apr

Apple’s App Store has over 185,000 apps today. Google’s Android Market added over 9,000 apps in March or more than 300 apps every day. With so many apps out there (and a huge majority of them being what I call cr-apps) finding an app can be a painstaking affair, much like, if I may use a cliche, finding a needle in a haystack.

This is by no means a new problem and different people have come up with different solutions. Companies like Apple and Google have featured apps and most popular apps, but to be frank, I have found less than 10 per cent of apps I use through them. Even user ratings and brief reviews are rarely useful, if ever.

Then there have been third part apps, which crowdsource reviews and recommendations and I have been more successful in finding apps there. But only till the time they are not popular and are not spammed with ‘motivated’ recommendations – developers recommending their own apps… Discovering new apps that you might actually want to use is a time consuming affair and more often than not, I see what apps my friends have on their phones and they do the same.

Mobspot, a startup co-founded by Benjamin Jacobsen, an ex-Opera Software Global Consumer Marketing head, tries to solve this problem using the very same approach that I believe most of us use informally to discover apps – app recommendations by people you know and trust. Mobspot supports all smartphone platforms and links a user’s Facebook and Twitter account to tell them what apps their friends use and recommend. The service went public about two weeks ago and I believe that this could be the answer to my app finding woes.

However, it is too early to pass a verdict and Jacobsen’s team is still fine-tuning the show. I caught up with Jacobsen online for a candid conversation about Mobspot and its approach to help users discover apps that they would like to use. Some edited excerpts from our chat.

Rajat Agrawal: How and when did the idea come along?

Benjamin Jacobsen: I left Opera Software about a year ago. I was heading up global consumer marketing at the time. After I left, I saw the opportunity to distribute mobile apps on a massive scale, while keeping focused on a great user experience, and discovery of apps through your friends. I found a co-founder I’ve worked with in the past, and we were able to get a great dev team to build the first iteration of Mobspot.

RA: How long has it been since you went public with the service? And which platforms do you support at the moment?

BJ: We’ve only been live for about 2 weeks. We were selected as a South by Southwest’s Accelerator Finalist company. We support all platforms. Everyone should be able to discover apps. We’re making big additions to our app catalog every day.

RA: App discoverability is a big problem on certain app stores. Will social network integration really solve the problem?

BJ: We think discovery of apps through your friends is the best approach. You turn to your friends for most recommendations (food, bar, movie, music, etc)…why not apps? Especially with the mobile phone being such a personal device, you want trusted recommendations. With the iPhone, who is “Bob1568” that says “This app is awesome”…what is the relevance to me? There is zero. Mobspot wants to help filter the glut of mobile apps, through your friends. Regardless of what type of phone you choose to have.

RA: But it means that my friends also have to be signed up to Mobspot. What are the chances?

BJ: In the early days, the chances are obviously low as with any new social service. We’re iterating on the product every single day though to tie-in Facebook, Twitter, etc more closely to Mobspot. However, as you invite your friends onto Mobspot, you’ll quickly see the value it provides. You’ll have relevance when looking at apps to download. And you’ll also find like-minded people that have great reviews, questions and answers about apps. So we realize there’s a hurdle, but we also realize that once people see the value Mobspot provides, users will begin to connect with their friends more and more on Mobspot.

RA: You are not just supporting iPhone apps but other major platforms too. That’s a big task. The iPhone has over 185,000 apps and android added some 9,000 apps in March alone. Are you prepared for the long haul?

BJ: Absolutely and to be honest we couldn’t be more excited. We’ve built the platform to be super-scalable. After all, there are 4 billion mobile phone users out there. Mobspot thrives on filtering massive amounts of apps through your friends so that the app discovery experience for you is fun. One thing to note is that we realize all people don’t have the same taste in a phone. I have a Droid. Our VP Engineering has an iPhone, one person has a Blackberry, and another a Palm Pre. We want to be able to see which apps we share in common.

RA: I can’t agree more with you with multiple platforms, same apps. I’m juggling between three smartphones all on different OS. But what percentage of apps are we talking about here?

BJ: Currently we’re talking about a small percentage. But we think that’s going to quickly change. Talented app developers are going to realize there are many platforms for success, and they’ll make their apps available on those platforms. It’s inevitable.

RA: We are talking about pretty massive investments in terms of resources – servers, people and money…

BJ: Not necessarily. We’ve built Mobspot from the ground up to use resources wisely. Amazon EC2 and AWS are great for startups. We’ve got a dedicated team that is committed for the long haul. We’re very confident. We’re also building Mobspot so that the community can police itself. Bad reviews won’t have credibility, etc.

RA: What about funding? How do you tie that end? Is it self-funded at the moment?

BJ: We’re completely self-funded. We have had great discussions with many well-heeled investors (both VCs and Angels). Mobspot is at a unique intersection of an incredibly fast growing industry, experienced and proven team with mobile experts, and plenty of resources to boot.

RA: To be honest, the concept looks like an app version of GDGT to me. In a good way, of course.

BJ: That’s an interesting comparison I haven’t heard of before…but the GDGT guys are doing cool things. We’re taking a bit less of a “listed approach” where you list things you want and have…we’re taking more of an approach of “here’s what apps I have, let’s see what apps my friends might enjoy.” Regardless, gdgt is a very cool site too, and I’m a user! I hope Ryan and Peter will become Mobspot users too.

RA: I admire Ryan and Peter for what they have done and accomplished.

BJ: I do too – and they’re both humble, smart guys. They’re doing it right.

RA: But eventually, Mobspot is about making people talk about apps. Isn’t it? And i would assume that it will be much bigger than just an app recommendation tool…

BJ: Possibly. We have no immediate plans to focus on anything else but app discovery. It’s a huge market, and a big problem. I think Mobspot is taking the right approach.

RA: What does mobspot get from it? What’s your revenue model?

BJ: Affiliate revenue from apps and advertising (eventually).

RA: In simpler terms tie-ups with app developers? Pay per click/download, featured apps?

BJ: Eventually we’ll build that in but for now, affiliate revenue through Apple and others, along with advertising is where we’re mainly focused.

RA: How have the discussions with major stake holders in the apps game been so far?

BJ: We’re getting a lot of support. App developers currently have little way to affect downloads of their apps. Unless they’re touched by the hand of Apple, or get lucky somehow, there’s little way to get noticed.

RA: What about Mobspot getting noticed? How do you achieve that?

BJ: Aside from solving a real problem and users inviting their friends, we’ve got big plans around that. Stay tuned…

RA: Do you have any plan to come up with a mobile app for Mobspot?

BJ: Yes, it’s on our roadmap. We’ll have an app, and a optimized website so that all phones can use Mobspot. But yes… it is coming soon.

No Responses to “Mobspot takes a social approach to solve app discoverability”

  1. Benjamin Jacobsen April 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Rajat – it was a pleasure chatting with you. Look forward to keeping touch.

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