NEW MEDIA: Web Words - A mobile internet must first be built before it can sell

Psst. I know the secret of how to make money from m-commerce in the UK. It's this: stop trying to make money from m-commerce in the UK.

Psst. I know the secret of how to make money from m-commerce in the UK. It's this: stop trying to make money from m-commerce in the UK.

I'm deadly serious. I believe the mobile internet will take its rightful place in the hands of UK consumers within a few scant years. It will form a sort of glue between our work and home internet experiences. It will enable us to stay informed, in-touch and entertained no matter where we are.

And, yes, we will be able to transact business and buy stuff on the move.

But, as we have learned from watching the good ship WAP founder on the rocks of reality this year, the mobile internet has a way to go before it makes anyone other than Nokia some serious cash.

The mobile internet needs time to grow before it does any of this. WAP has left a bad taste in the mouths of an indifferent public - mostly because the hype was way out of proportion with the services and content available. Even after a year into the supposed revolution, portals like Vizzavi are still barren affairs.

Of the ten most popular European WAP sites, seven are devoted to porn.

BT Cellnet should be put in stocks for the shamelessly misleading advertising campaign that is partly responsible for this mess - surfing on a WAP phone is hopeless and trying to compose a remotely meaningful e-mail with your thumb while hanging online is plain impossible.

But everyone knows that and I'm not going to flog a dead horse. What I will tell you is how to get the real revolution started.

Look back at what drove the initial spread of the internet. It wasn't Amazon selling books, and it wasn't ebay helping punters sell things to each other. It was the thousands, then millions, of individuals who created web sites on every subject under the sun. And it was that communications miracle - e-mail - that turned everyone into compulsive letter writers in an age where the telephone had supposedly ended the epistolary arts.

It was the 'zine-writers posting anarchic points of view and the code writers who created the first browsers - our window through which to view the content explosion.

The web was a vessel built by technologists, but crewed and navigated by its enthusiastic passengers. The cargo was information, all the knowledge of the world embarked two-by-two. And it wasn't until the internet meant something in people's lives that anyone seriously attempted to sell anything over the Web.

And even now, the most important development this year has been the rise of Napster, which, until Bertelsmann kills it by trying to charge for it, is the most distinctly anti-capitalistic tool for utilising the internet ever invented. Why does it work? Because it is true to the roots of the internet - it's something that belongs to the punters, not the suits.

So, if you really want to make money from the mobile internet, stop trying to sell things with it. Instead, give people the tools that will make it meaningful. All the technical issues with WAP are going to be sorted out in the next year: better networks, faster 'always-on' connections and devices that provide a more desktop/TV-like experience.

The m-commerce revolution will take place, but only after consumers have decided they're ready for it. They will not be force fed. But they will show us what they want and when they want it. Marketers need to get out among new mobile users and learn from them. Marketers need to become pioneers of the new networked world. And when they're ready to be sold to, then they will be ready to sell.

Drew Leavy is a consultant at Decipher.


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