Home Surveying the App Economy with Foursquare’s CEO, Yahoo’s CTO and NBA Digital’s GM

Surveying the App Economy with Foursquare’s CEO, Yahoo’s CTO and NBA Digital’s GM

At last week’s Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco, mobile industry leaders including Yahoo! CTO Raymie Stata, SVP and GM at NBA Digital Bryan Perez, and C?EO of Foursquare Dennis Crowley, talked about the changing dynamics of the mobile Internet value chain and what opportunities there are outside of the iTunes App Store.

The panel was moderated by Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of All Things Digital.

On Changing User Behavior

Swisher began by asking Crowley about his recent experience “checking in” while running the NYC marathon. Crowley explained he used two applications – Mayor Maker (iTunes link) an automatic check-in app and RunKeeper, which integrates with Foursquare and rewards people for exercising.

These types of “persistent user experiences,” such as the check-in, still require users to adopt new technology, though, said Swisher. She asked Yahoo’s Stata how you get user behavior to change.

“It’s fairly complex with you have 600 million users,” Stata said referring to Yahoo’s large customer base. You have to pull, you have to push, you have to track the changing user behavior, iterate, test and deploy new investments, he said. NBA Digital’s Perez responded that his company has a tremendous amount of pull, because people want information about sports. But push comes into play when users want to customize their experience and get specific types of notifications.

As far as check-ins, NBA is combining both “inside” and “outside the arena” check-ins. Even if you’re 3000 miles away, you can check in to a game from your couch, Perez explained. What the NBA is still trying to figure out is how to best incorporate everybody – there are a lot of reward-type applications you can do with these check-ins, both physical and virtual, he said.

Is the App Marketplace Sustainable?

Swisher then asked the panelists if the app marketplace was sustainable, considering the large number of applications now available. Crowley said that the iTunes App Store has actually enabled the app movement and the discoverability of mobile applications.  His company isn’t too concerned with moving up and down in the app store rankings anymore, though – people are finding out about Foursquare through recommendations from friends. Plus, there’s a secondary market of services that help recommend great apps. He mentioned a company called Firstand20 which showcases the “app playlists” from well-known individuals and celebrities, as an example. [Editor’s note: we have a fairly comprehensive list of recommendation services in this post, 4th paragraph.]

Yahoo’s Stata explained how the number of apps doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are different kinds of apps – there are “evergreen” apps that are always in use, but there are also some apps are only played with for a little while, then cleaned up off the phone. He talked about how Yahoo missed an opportunity by not having a World Cup app, as an example of the temporary apps that could become hugely popular for a set period of time. Next time Yahoo will have a World Cup app, Stata said.

On Developing for All the Different Platforms

Perez said that keeping up with all the different formats is difficult, but admitted, “that’s the business we’re in.” At first, the NBA was developing for iPhone, Android and RIM (Blackberry), and now that’s beginning to expand. He also mentioned that the company is selling more Android apps that iPhone ones these days. And it plans to reuse its mobile codebase to build tablet apps, too. However, the challenge for his company isn’t all the platforms it has to work on, but the challenges in building for an international market.

Crowley agreed, and added that the problem is not rolling out apps for different platforms – it’s maintaining them. He said Foursquare really wants to build an iPad app, but doesn’t have the resources to maintain it. He hopes by having an API, third-party developers will help grow the app ecosystem.

Stata said getting Yahoo is focused more on getting a consistent user experience across devices. In terms of scale, using standard Web technologies is better than native apps, he believes.

Monetization Strategies

In terms of monetization, Crowley said Foursquare is thinking more about how it can offer users “better coupons,” and better ad products in general to enable businesses to better reach their customers. Swisher asked if he would ever start selling products to users who check-in, but Crowley said no.

According to Perez, the NBA has moved to more of a freemium model. You can pay for ad-free experience, live video, on-demand, that sort of thing, he said.

In terms of advertising, Yahoo’s Stata responded to a question about iAd and how it compares with what Google’s doing and where Yahoo fits in. “Let’s put it this way, Apple probably has some lessons to learn about how to be an effective partner with advertisers,” he said. Meanwhile, “Google’s volume is good, but it’s kind of a detached experience.”

Yahoo, said Stata, recognizes the “art in advertising” and its creative side, and can scale that with its advertising products.

Perez said that although NBA doesn’t participate in iAd currently, he loves the innovation it delivers. However, he’s unsure if it can scale like an ad network can. Plus, “throwing another gatekeeper in that process…will slow it down,” he said referring to Apple’s level of involvement with the platform.

Foursquare said his company is more focused on trying to invent “new forms of advertising” through brand and media partnerships. Badges are like an ad that never existed before, said Crowley. However, Foursquare doesn’t want to get involved with “virtual” check-ins, where users check in to a TV show they’re watching, for example. That was somewhat of an odd statement, considering that Foursquare’s partnership with RunKeeper involves users “checking in” to their runs. It even detailed the news in a blog post titled “Unlock badges without checking in.” Apparently, the RunKeeper partnership was a one-off, not representative of Foursquare’s general direction? That remains unclear.

Are Tablets Mobile?

Swisher then brought up Facebook CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that tablets are not mobile, and asked what the panelists thought about that.

Yahoo said that some people have a narrow definition of mobile, but actually there are a lot of “connected devices.” The question is what context are these devices used in and where are they being used? That’s how you can determine what devices should be considered computers vs. connected devices vs. mobile devices.

Crowley agreed, saying that you can also look at whether the device is being used for content creation or content consumption.

What’s Being Overhyped?

At the panel’s conclusion, Swisher asked about what technologies are being overhyped and underhyped right now. Stata said the general trend involving the shift to mobile is key, but he doesn’t really think in terms of “hype.” Perez said that location-based services are actually under-hyped – there’s so much opportunity there, it should actually be getting more attention. Crowley agreed on location-based services (of course!), and when pushed by Swisher to name something else he said “presence.”

“That’s location!” Swisher chided. “Yes but I said something else,” Crowley ?teased back.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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