Cutting through push spam

Cutting through push spam

Summary: It's happened to everybody; the phone vibrates or emits a sound notification, you feel instantly popular and in demand, and proudly whip out your phone to see who has contacted you, only to realise that it was just another annoying update from an unused app.

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It's happened to everybody; the phone vibrates or emits a sound notification, you feel instantly popular and in demand, and proudly whip out your phone to see who has contacted you, only to realise that it was just another annoying update from an unused app.

Like email in its early days, push notifications on your mobile phone are evolving from being a valuable source of information to saturating your phone with annoying '"push spam".

However, push notifications obviously aren't going away, so there will be significant opportunities for start-ups to try and solve the problem of ensuring that only the most relevant notifications reach the user.

One company has come at it from the perspective of the app publishers and developed an application to measure the effectiveness of push notifications.

OtherLevels is based on the same idea that underpins email subscription, to help measure open and discard rates.

The founders are Alan Jones and Brendan O'Kane, who have both previously started and exited companies, and are also mentors in the Startmate accelerator program.

They cited a recent Apple announcement that over 100 billion notifications were pushed from all its apps, and it had sent more than 100 million notifications for the release of iOS 5. The OtherLevels team added that over a billion notifications are sent every month by Urban Airship, which manages the service on behalf of app publishers.

The pair believe that a part of this rapidly growing volume is spam, which is probably a fair assumption for anyone that has ever waded through notifications to find a relevant message or email.

Their aim is to capitalise on this "push spam" by measuring the engagement of push notifications to help publishers, including open and discard rates. Once this has been established, they suggest a range of techniques for the publisher to improve hit rates by, for example, writing more engaging headlines.

"The difference between push spam and a useful push, is that a useful push is targeted, knows what your interests are, who you are friends with, the time of day it is," Jones said.

"We're trying to turn push spam into something that's useful."

The six-man start-up is based in Brisbane and generates revenue to work on a campaign that is based on a specific notification.

Their aim is to grab a slice of the marketing budget of all app publishers, and have a goal to sign up 500 customers in a year's time and increase their open rates by 10 per cent.

SWOT

Strength

It's got a strong founder team. It takes an existing solution in email subscription and applying it in the mobile sphere.

Weaknesses

The value proposition is a bit confusing because there are a couple of elements: measurement and higher engagement. Also, it would be a difficult sell into the large app publishers, who in all likelihood manage this themselves (eg, ninemsn, Facebook, Twitter).

Opportunities

There appears to be a need to manage push notifications and there's no clear market leader yet.

Threats

It will be difficult to compete with other digital marketing companies, who could develop their own technology and provide this to other developers.

Conclusion

It's a good idea and there is a need, but I would see a greater opportunity in helping consumers manage their own notifications. I also believe that this market will become quickly saturated, making it difficult to compete.

Verdict: BUST

Topics: Apple, Apps, Mobility, Start-Ups

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Talkback

2 comments
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  • Thanks for profiling OtherLevels Mahesh, it was great to get the opportunity to meet you. I just wanted to respond with some further detail and correct some misunderstandings I may have created when we met.

    Urban Airship is actually the industry's *least* likely source of push notification spam. We used Urban Airship's rapid growth (they've just reported sending more than 14 billion push messages since the company was founded three years ago) as an illustration of just how rapidly push messaging is growing as an industry.

    Far from being a source of push spam, Urban Airship has been at the forefront of helping the industry do a better job of targeting and delivering push messages from day one. UA's delivery platform includes comprehensive analytics. In fact, they just announced a new 'opt-in reporting' feature for app publishers using their platform (showing whether users are opting-in or opting-out from receiving push messages from your app).

    Urban Airship provides push analytics for app publishers using their delivery platform; OtherLevels provides push analytics for app publishers across any delivery platform, whether it be Urban Airship, one of UA's competitors, or an internally-developed platform.

    For the moment, most unwanted push messages are sent by app publishers who don't use a third-party like Urban Airship; instead developing their own push message delivery for their apps. Generally tracking and reporting are forgotten in the rush to get push message capability added. Since they often have other priorities as publishers, tracking what happens to the pushes their apps send is often forgotten. So they have no idea they're sending push messages that go unread, deleted and unacted-upon. It's these messages we're referring to when we talk about "push spam".

    I think you might have been a little hasty, judging our product as "busted" when we're the very first company to offer platform-independent push message analytics, and even we're still in beta. It's too soon to be deciding who's won or lost in a market that's still mostly nascent. No hard feelings, we look forward to proving you wrong! :-)

    Finally, though I'm a member of the team, I'm not a founder of OtherLevels — that title belongs to Tim Marks, OtherLevels' CTO, who co-founded OtherLevels with CEO Brendan O'Kane while both were at another successful Australian mobile startup, Messmo.
    alanotherlevels
  • Thanks Alan, it was great meeting you, and chatting about startups and the local ecosystem.

    I think you misread my comments about Urban Airship. I didn't say that it was a source of pushspam, and simply cited the figures as a way to establish the size of the market.

    "The pair believe that a part of this rapidly growing volume is spam, which is probably a fair assumption for anyone that has ever waded through notifications to find a relevant message or email."

    Also, I always love to be proven wrong :) Like I said, I think there are too many macro factors that will make it difficult to say for certain that this will be a success.

    Apologies for confusing the roles about the founders in the team.
    Mahesh.sharma