December 07, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, CEO, BuzzCity
At BuzzCity, we’ve been doing our homework – conducting a systematic survey of myGamma’s users across multiple countries, studying user profiles, interacting with our members on a one-to-one basis, consulting with university academics who research media consumption habits.

And now we’re putting our findings into action. We’re in the final stages of designing myGamma 2.0. Watch for the launch in February.

Let me share with you the thought process that has brought us to this stage.
Mobile Social Networking – Who does it?
When BuzzCity first entered the world of mobile social networking, we figured – like most people – that our users would be well-heeled professionals and trendy youth from affluent societies. These are the consumers who buy the latest phones and gadgets, the people that marketers want to reach, right?

We could not have been more wrong.

Regular readers of this blog know that myGamma’s members are largely individuals who do not have regular access to PCs, people like Liton (a 27 year old airport worker in Bangladesh), Alanleic (a crossing-keeper in the UK) and Sandy (an overseas Filipina caregiver in Israel), all of whom have been featured in previous columns.
Liton, Alanleic and Sandy – like most myGamma users – are not rich. They’re in the lower to middle income groups, what industry observers and academics are now calling the “bottom of the pyramid”. Emerging markets account for more than half the world’s total telecom connections, and according to Gartner, this will rise to 69 percent by 2010. The GSM Association believes that the next billion subscribers will come from the bottom of the pyramid.


Most myGamma members are also over the age of 20. Sixty-five percent are in their twenties. Just ten percent are teenagers. They come from emerging markets or work in blue-collar jobs in industrialised countries. In October, the countries with the highest myGamma usage were India, Indonesia and South Africa. MyGamma now has two million users from 60 countries. Another two countries come online every month.

Why enter a mobile community?
We organised a session of BuzzCity-NUS Digital Media Forum a few weeks ago with presentation by Dr. Rohan Samarajiva, who leads a regional ICT policy group called LIRNEasia. His group had a done a study across five Asian nations – India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand – and asked people the main reason why they use a mobile phone.

The pace and style of life in The Philippines is vastly different from Sri Lanka; India and Thailand have little in common other than a taste for spicy foods. Yet across these five countries, the number one reason why people use a mobile phone is the same: to stay connected with friends and family. “Staying connected” ranks consistently ahead of doing business or delivering messages.

myGamma's users express similar sentiments. People join our mobile communities to connect and share experiences with new friends. Like other communities – both real and virtual – myGamma provides members with a sense of belonging, acceptance and appreciation. Features like testimonials, the Hall of Fame and virtual marriage enhance these feelings.

Dignity and Choice
Why do some ventures that target the lower middle class fail? Often it’s because the items for sale are too cheap or the project appears like charity. Nobody wants to be treated like a charity-case. The poor want dignity. They want to move up the social and economic ladder.

Muhammad Yunus (“Banker to the Poor”) and Krishna Rao Prahalad ( “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” ) have written extensively about how the lower income groups should not be treated as victims but instead should be seen as creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers.

To many at the bottom of the pyramid, the mobile internet is a great equaliser. It’s proof that they are moving up the social ladder. myGamma is empowering and improving people’s lives.

Mobile Networking 2.0
The next generation myGamma platform has new communities – like sports, health and entertainment – that enable and encourage our users to better interact with each other. BuzzCity editors will showcase a different community each month and the featured topics will resonate with our members’ interests and lifestyles.

The tools are already there, but in myGamma 2.0 each new community will have its own blogs, groups and original content. By visiting these new communities, myGamma’s users will meet people with similar interests and connect with like-minded individuals.

myGamma 2.0 is a place to make and connect with friends, an environment where you can share day-to-day experiences at work, at home and at play.

We’re also opening up the gates. We’ve decided to eliminate subscription fees and day/week pass charges. Membership is going to be free. Users will still purchase Gamma dollars if they want to buy virtual items, vote for each other or download premium content provided by our partners. But we expect the bulk of myGamma’s revenue to come from advertising.

By delivering value to consumers – providing our users with a sense of community and belonging as well as access to information that they can use to improve their lives – myGamma’s population will continue to grow, which in turn enables us to provide value to advertisers. Welcome to myGamma 2.0, where the mobile-centric internet meets the needs of the “unwired”.

November 24, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Five billion. It’s a large number. Five followed by nine zeros.

5,000,000,000. Five billion is

* our sun’s supply of hydrogen, as measured in years.
* the number of text messages sent in Britain each month.
* the number of people worldwide without access to the internet.

It’s also the number of advertising pageviews delivered by BuzzCity since the start of the year.

Not bad for a company that only started selling ads towards the end of 2006. Since then, we’ve delivered 125 million clicks and worked on over 3000 advertising campaigns. Take a look at the graph and you can see the growth. In the fourth quarter of last year, the bars barely registered on the chart. In the third quarter of 2007, we served 2 billion ads. One-third of the pageviews were in sub-Saharan Africa. The next biggest region served was South Asia.

Advertisers have increasingly sophisticated demands. Agencies need the ability to optimise campaigns faster and better, so BuzzCity is constantly upgrading our systems and capabilities to meet their needs. Here are three ways we are helping businesses get a better return on every advertising dollar:

1. Device Targeting


Some advertisers only want to target users with a particular type of phone or operating system. Gaming companies, for example, may develop games that only work on Java-based systems. So it doesn't make sense for them to spend money on ads that appear on phones that don't support Java.

To support these needs, BuzzCity is launching a string of new targeting capabilities in December. These include more phone models, operating systems and telephone features. Our advertisers have already been able to specify ads for Nokia, Sony Ericcson, Motorola, Samsung and Sagem users. Now, add Blackberry and Palm/Handspring to the list.

In addition, they can specify operating systems and telephone features.

Operating Systems : MIDP1.0, MIDP2.0, Symbian v8 and below, Symbian v9, Windows Mobile (Pocket PC), Windows Mobile (Smartphone)

Phone Features: Flash Player (Flashlite), MP3, Full Music Player (MP3, AAC, WMA), Real Player, WCDMA (UMTS, 3G) and xHTML Browser.

2. Carrier Targeting
Sometimes advertisers partner with specific telecom carriers, so they only want their ads to reach those carriers' customers. Other times, carriers want to reach out to their own -- or their competitors' -- subscribers. In the new world of targeted advertising, this is possible. With a simple online form, advertisers can specify which group of cell-phone users should view their ads.

3. XML FeedsThese provide advertisers with up-to-date information about their campaigns, so they can make adjustments as needed to get the best return from every campaign.

The growth in mobile advertising that BuzzCity has experienced this year is part of a larger industry trend. Most people in the mobile space agree that ads -- not fees for downloading ringtones, wallpapers and other services -- will drive the mobile internet. Search and ad companies like Yahoo! and Google are working hard to secure footholds in the mobile space. This month, Yahoo! signed deals with nine Asian telecom carriers -- including (Malaysia), PCCW (Hong Kong) and StarHub (Singapore) -- nearly doubling its mobile reach.

And market analysts are predicting mobile ad revenues will jump up to ten-fold over the next several years. eMarketer is forecasting a US$5 billion mobile ad spend in the US by 2011. ABI Research expects the global market to hit US$19 billion.

The key is relevant and interesting mobile content. As more and more content for the mobile internet rolls out, we'll see further jumps in mobile ads. And BuzzCity is ready.

And the winner is . . .
* BuzzCity has been named a Red Herring Global 100 Finalist. Award winners will be announced on 3 December.

* BuzzCity has been named "Best Mobile Social Networking Service" at the 2007 GSMA Asia Mobile Awards!

* BuzzCity is now serving two more European countries: Denmark and The Netherlands.

October 19, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Over the past year, BuzzCity has received a lot of mail from advertisers – particularly US and European companies – that want to target mobile consumers in the UK. We probably receive at least one new enquiry every week.

And frankly, I’ve been at a loss as to why advertisers were so keen.

You see, there’s a fair amount of mobile internet traffic on the portals of telecom carriers like Vodafone and Orange, but off-portal traffic to third party sites is pretty slim. And without sufficient mobile traffic, it’s difficult for companies like ours to service advertiser requests.

INTERNET BOOMNow, though, after spending a few days with internet marketers at the AdTech conference in London, I get it. There’s tremendous enthusiasm in the UK for online marketing and this is spilling over to the mobile space.

• Britain’s top media brands – BBC, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, The Independent, Playboy, The Sun and The Times – are increasingly investing time, cash and energy to digitalise their offerings.

• More and more interactive ad agencies are specialising in internet search.

• UK businesses are conducting more mobile campaigns, though these are primarily SMS or WAP push.

The biggest piece of news, though, is that last year, for the first time, UK advertisers spent more on the internet than they did in newspapers. In fact, the UK internet ad spend jumped 40 percent from a year earlier to top 2 billion pounds. This year, market analysts expect the ad spend to top 2.7 billion pounds. That’s definitely not a paltry sum.

WHERE’S THE MOBILE MARKET?With such impressive turnover in the fixed line internet market, advertisers expect mobile internet use in the UK to be high as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality yet.

One problem is that it’s still difficult for British mobile phone users to surf outside the portal of their mobile carrier. You need to make a request first and there are a lot of configuration issues. Then, if you do figure out how to access third-party sites, watch out for the high data charges. Furthermore, from an advertiser’s perspective, banner ads have yet to penetrate the UK mobile market.

On the positive side, the British carriers are starting to educate their users about mobile surfing. Vodafone, for example, enables customers to edit MySpace pages from a phone. And Orange is selling widgets for services like instant messaging and mapping.

BuzzCity currently serves more than 5 million ad impressions per month in the UK and this figure is growing at a rate of about 10 percent a month. The UK myGamma community has 13,000 users, with about 500+ joining the ranks every month.

Beyond our own data, there are no readily available figures for the UK mobile ad spend. This might be because the market is too small or perhaps because most of the ad dollars are going to operator portals. There are numbers though for the number of British users who access the web from a mobile device: 15 million per month.

Social networking is huge in the UK and many believe these sites will be the main driver behind mobile internet usage. Nearly 4 in 5 surfers belong to a social networking community. And the average British surfer spends 5.8 hours per month on Facebook, mySpace, Bebo, etc - about double the time spent by surfers in Germany and triple that of French users.

All the major social networking sites are moving into the mobile space. mySpace has tied up with Vodafone. Bebo has a contract with Orange. Facebook, though, is moving beyond the carriers by launching a mobile site that is accessible to all. One reviewer writes:

"What’s great about the site is the way it focuses on the key bits of information and content that you might want to access on the go – you can tell someone’s thought hard about how and why someone might use Facebook on their phone."

Most industry observers argue that the spillover of social networking sites like Facebook into the mobile space and the introduction of flat rate pricing are the most important changes needed to foster the growth of the mobile internet.

At BuzzCity, though, we don't believe that web brands translate well into WAP. So while we're pleased to see companies like Facebook offering off-portal services, we don't expect these to be a main driver of the industry.
As for flat rate pricing, UK carriers are now offering 1GB or so of bandwidth at fairly reasonable rates. T-mobile's "web and walk" service, for example, costs 7.5 pounds per month. Half a million consumers have signed up.

Now, media providers need to make more and more content available via WAP. Content attracts users and users attract advertisers. The publishers and content providers that we spoke with during the recent AdTech conference in London tell us that they are developing WAP sites. But it will likely be another 9 – 12 months before we really see more WAP activity and a significant up-tick in the UK mobile space.

(Note: The photo of British mobile phone users was taken earlier this year for The Daily Mail.)

September 19, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

In my hometown of Singapore, Africa barely makes the news and when it does the headlines are invariably bad: war, genocide, natural disasters, poverty and AIDS. But this past week, during a visit to Johannesburg, I saw a different Africa – a place of opportunity, an upwardly mobile Africa where cell phones are making a very real positive impact on people’s lives.

September 05, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

This week the mainstream media is abuzz with rumours from the blogosphere that internet search giant Google is about to launch a “G-Phone”.

“Is the Google Phone an Apple iPhone killer?” writes Peter Cohen.

`Most definitely’ replies tech analyst Rob Enderle (as quoted by the LA Times in this article).

Imagine a free ad-driven mobile service on a handset that costs just US$100. Telecom carriers can’t be very pleased with this possibility. But how close are we to an ad-driven mobile internet?

“What’s interesting about the ads in the mobile phone is that they are twice as profitable or more than the non-mobile ads because they’re more personal” Google CEO Eric Schmidt reportedly told a conference in May.

Search engines like Yahoo! and Google have transformed and driven the growth of the fixed line internet.

But mobile search is so far a different story.

First of all, there’s not as much content. Early development has been driven by telecom carriers, many of which implement “walled gardens”. The carriers decide which type of content to release and make it difficult or expensive for consumers to access content outside the carrier’s portal. In addition, aside from ringtones and games, most mobile content has been re-purposed from the web.

Second, it is generally accepted that mobile devices are not research tools in the same way as PCs. Conventional internet searches yield hundreds, if not thousands of results. Computer users are accustomed to spending time to sift through the information, clicking through the first twenty or so links to find the most relevant.

Search results on a phone need to be more immediate and relevant, even to the extent of being personalised. Half a dozen pertinent results to a mobile search is ideal.


Major players began dabbling with mobile search just a couple years ago. A popular strategy was to provide variations of “local search”, basically mimicking the Yellow Pages. This was soon followed by a “send-to-mobile” feature for addresses, maps, phone books, and reverse phone queries. By the end of last year, the US Yellow Pages finally launched their own WAP site to catch up with its imitators.

 Phase II focused on location-based searches, such as “where is the nearest Pizza Hut?” Telcos and handset producers suggest that phones must be GPS enabled for searches like these, ignoring consumer demands for fewer features on their phones. In addition, the results of most location searches unfortunately yield hard-to-read maps with a beeping pointer on a screen.

Consumers want real-world references to locate. Take a lesson from pedestrians who use their phones to locate each other by taking pictures of nearby landmarks. Savvy shoppers are also snapping photos of dresses and shoes they might like to buy, followed by a picture of the store for reference.

The biggest driver of content on the mobile internet have so far been user-generated sites like tagtag and peperonity that enable users to create their own WAP sites for photos, ringtones, games and more. This is reminiscent of the early days of the fixed-line internet. Remember GeoCities?
In the meantime a few mobile players like Google are WAP-enabling web pages. At BuzzCity, we have two WAP-enabled search engines, both of which focus on user generated content: Wikipedia for WAP and the myGamma blog search.

The next flash point for mobile search is going to be speech recognition – still centered around finding places. Contextually relevant searches, like movies and music, are also on the way.

As the industry grows, though, I believe the search-type services that are most likely to succeed are those that best resemble the phone’s original use. A phone is at its core basically a networking tool. Search engines that deliver succinct relevant results, perhaps based on social bookmarking like, digg and stumbleupon, will be the most popular.

Google meanwhile is said to be using OpenMoko's (open source) platform for its G-Phone. This is good news because open source will spawn more niche applications and content for mobiles. There are other groups producing open source mobile innovations as well, like the TuxPhone, but if the rumours about the Google Phone are true, and I hope they are, the pace of change is about to quicken.

August 23, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

John Wanamaker, a US merchant in the late 1800s, famously once said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

We are much closer today to solving Wanamaker’s dilemma. Internet metrics and computer algorithms make it possible to target ads to users who are likely to act on them.

Providing the parameters to computers to analyse the data and filter out the white noise has been a passion of mine since grad school. Back then, I wrote a PhD dissertation on “adaptive learning” with the somewhat clunky title “Deformable contours : modeling, extraction, detection and classification”.


For example, I would feed a database of images into a computer and directed it to locate the ones shaped as keys. The first lesson was that you need to start with some assumptions and a model, otherwise it takes too long for the computer to find what you’re looking for. Second, you have to realise that your initial model is not perfect. You need it to adapt based on experience.

The picture above was taken from my thesis. In clockwise direction, it shows the original "noisy" image, the intermediate processing step called the "edge magnitude", the final and initial boundaries.

August 17, 2007

BuzzCity-NUS Digital Media Forum

We'd like to announce the launch of The Digital Media Forum, a collaborative effort between BuzzCity and NUS to advance the conceptualization and development of digital media products. The Digital Media Forum aims to foster creative and entrepreneurial advancement among developers who work in newly emerging media, particularly mobile media.

By providing a platform for the critical review of emerging digital media tools, applications and practices, we aim to increase the visibility and presence of digital media developers in Singapore. The forum is centred around the NUS Entrepreneurship Centre and features budding technopreneurs and the prototypes they’ve developed from research in the area of Digital Media. The forum also provides industry with a first look at emerging media technologies and services.

This bi-monthly interaction between academics, industry players and researchers is a feedback platform that will act as an early proving grounds for soon to be launched services.

Programme for 2007-2008

17 August 07
Connecting the Unwired
Dr Lai Kok Fung, CEO, BuzzCity

19 October 07
More than Voice at the Bottom of Pyramid?
Professor Rohan Samarajiva, Executive Director, LIRNEasia

25 January 08
"It's an Asian Thing": Cosplay and Singaporean Fan Culture
Dr. Thang Leng Leng and Dr. Elizabeth Maclachlan, Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore

11 April 08
Against All Odds
Steven Gan, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Malaysiakini

August 13, 2007

BuzzCity-NUS Digital Media Awards

The BuzzCity-NUS Digital Media Forum will provide support for market validation of prototypes via a series of awards to promising start-ups and research teams.

Finding the right marketing channel and getting market validation are always challenging for start-ups. With a small domestic market, Singapore companies face additional difficulties to market their products internationally. These awards provide companies with a channel to distribute and charge for mobile content products or services internationally. Companies will receive support in the form of technical assistance, marketing knowledge, cash and advertising credits.

Over a period of a year, 8 awards, each valued at $5,000 will be given away. Panelists from academia and industry will select awards for mobile content related products or services, including:

1. Prototypes that are ready for market testing
2. Business models ready for market validation in order to secure more funding (i.e. validated track record)
3. All start up projects, including but not limited to those from NUS or HOTSpots.

The award is not:

1. Funding of research and development of ideas for new products;
2. A funding scheme in exchange for equity stake in start-ups.

Judging criteria
A panel of judges led by BuzzCity will review all applications submitted for the award. After initial evaluation, short-listed projects will be asked to turn up for presentation and interview. Projects that are sound and promising will be given the award. Schedule for Submission of application:

1) 21 Sept 2007

2) 18 Jan 2008

3) 18 Apr 2008

Please email all applications and enquiries to . Download application form here

August 06, 2007


By Clifford Chew, Vice President (Engineering)

Hi. I’m Clifford and I head up BuzzCity’s Engineering team. I’d like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we think about technology and at some of the innovations we’ve implemented, both to optimise the myGamma user experience as well as to make it easier and quicker for us to roll out new services.
Four years ago when we first conceptualised myGamma, we faced major design decisions. Should we use Linux or Microsoft Windows, Open Source or Oracle, Java or some other platform? While there were advantages to working with the big names, we opted for the cost-effective route and began writing code optimised for Linux.

We also prototyped and built myGamma as a Java-based (J2ME) application. There was a lot of hype surrounding Java at the time and most telecom companies would only partner with us if we were Java-based. However we quickly ran into problems. First, there are no standardised specs for mobile phones. Different makes and models have unique screen sizes, processor speeds, memory capabilities and menu options. When we tried to take account of all these variables using Java, our application became heavy and it took too long for users to download.

We then asked ourselves, what in retrospect seems like an obvious question: “What’s more important: technology or user-uptake?”

We had to make the user experience fast and easy if people were going to sign up and use myGamma. So we went back to the drawing board and redesigned the service to make it as simple as possible. It had to work on all phones, regardless of the operating system or other technical specifications, and it had to run quickly. The best way to do this was to programme for the lowest common denominator – and this meant using WAP technology.

The decision to go with WAP was the one of the most important choices made by BuzzCity. It wasn't an easy choice though. At the time, most people believed WAP was inherently less interactive than Java. However, through an innovative use of WAP and server-side features, we have been able to simulate the interactivity and develop the fast simple user interface we desired.

Today myGamma is accessible in more than 50 countries on almost all GSM mobile phones and virtually every PDA. myGamma automatically detects the handset device and formats the pages accordingly. Users enjoy a personalised experience each time they sign in. More recently, we’ve added an HTML interface so PDA users have a more colourful experience.

The constant challenge is to make the technology transparent to the end user. So before every new product or feature release, we spend a lot of time testing ways of presenting information and choices. Remember that many of our users have never used a PC before. They’re not familiar with Windows and probably wouldn’t have given myGamma a second look if we had given them a Windows-like interface.

After implementing the basics – refining how users can send and receive messages and exchange rich media, such as photos – we turned our attention to other services.

For example, in some of our partner pages, you can click on a link and it triggers a standard mobile phone call to the retail outlet of a store. Once the call is over, the user is returned to the WAP page.
We’ve also recently introduced a mobile version of the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. It’s quite a challenge to take so much information – written for display on a computer screen – and adapt it for easy access and viewing on mobile phones.

myGamma members can easily sell products and services or advertise online.
Depending on the country, users can be billed through their mobile phone provider (ie the charge will show up on their next phone bill), via SMS or credit card. We're likely the first company in Asia to integrate multiple payment platforms like these into our mobile system.

One of our most important innovations has been a behind-the-scenes initiative to make it easier for engineers to test and roll out new applications. Often, when an engineer has a great idea, he gets bogged down in the setup and programming. The application needs to work on a range of platforms and phones with different screen sizes and device limitations, so the coding becomes a bottleneck. To overcome this, we created a development platform called Gamma 2.0. Our engineers can now quickly express their ideas within this coding skeleton. It takes fewer lines of programming to create a new application and we can test the user experience within just a few days.

Furthermore, since the user and payment features are already online, it takes less than a day to receive feedback as to whether a new service is popular or profitable. In addition, the Gamma 2.0 platform links the new program to all our other applications, so users can enjoy a consistent personalised experience.

At BuzzCity, we know that INNOVATION is key. We need to constantly seek and produce new and better services for our members, which is why our team members are encouraged to dream in our 20 Percent Projects. Our engineers can spend twenty percent of their time – one day a week – working on ideas and new projects of their choice. We provide our engineers with the resources to foster their own creativity and experiment with new ideas. We realise that most 20-Percent Projects will not make it online. But that's fine. Every month we identify promising prototypes that add value to the myGamma experience.

BuzzCity is also partnering with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to advance the conceptualisation and development of digital media products. Kok Fung will kick off the Digital Media Forum on 17 August and over the next year, we will give away eight S$5000 awards to innovators with new mobile ideas.

I enjoy my job. It’s creative, it’s exciting and most of all I know that the programmes and applications we develop are transforming the way people communicate and connect to information around the globe.

July 20, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

Take a look at the mobile internet today: the vast majority of content – say 80% - is fee-based (ring tones, games, even sports scores), the remaining 20% is available to users for free and is supported by advertising. By 2010 and possibly even as early at 2008, I expect this ratio will flip. Why?

Right now the main thing that’s stopping people from using the mobile internet is price. Data costs are artificially high because telecom carriers – who invested massive amounts of money to purchase 3G spectrums – are targeting the upper end of the market – yuppies with blackberries.

But now it is starting to become cheaper for consumers to get online using a mobile phone:

July 05, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Nearly one out of every two people on this planet will own a mobile phone by the end of the year, according to UK-based market data company “The Mobile World”.

“The Mobile World” estimates that this month, mobile phone subscriptions will pass the 3 billion mark and by December some 3.25 billion consumers will own a mobile phone. These figures are after correcting for individuals who own multiple phones. Sixty-five percent of all handsets made this year will be sold in emerging markets.

I find these numbers to be staggering. Think about it. At the beginning of the millennium, broad segments of people across the world had no access to a phone, much less the internet. A friend of mine who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa in the early ‘90s used to travel half a day – longer if his bush taxi broke down – just to make an international call. No more.
Our data at BuzzCity confirms the trend. We track advertising impressions and user traffic, both of which directly correspond to mobile internet usage. During the second quarter of the year, we delivered more than 1.2 billion advertising impressions. This is a three-fold increase from the first quarter.

At the same time, page views by Indonesian and Filipino users are up 9 – 10 times; user traffic in the US doubled quarter-on-quarter. We are seeing consistently high traffic in Africa, where BuzzCity delivered 500 million ad impressions in three key markets: Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. Advertisers come from a variety of industries, including mobile entertainment companies and financial institutions.

Niche marketing agencies have adopted mobile advertising whole-heartedly, but traditional agencies are still holding back. They seem unsure of how to enter the mobile marketing arena.

A piece of news this past week out of San Francisco should have ad buyers on their feet, though. Nielsen – the company synonymous with TV ratings – has purchased a well-respected mobile data company called Telephia, which tracks all aspects of consumer phone usage.

“We follow content wherever it goes across all platforms,” a Nielsen executive was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

The Telephia acquisition may help standardise matrix and measurements. It’s also a recognition that mobile advertising is coming of age.

Like internet publishers, we are able to offer advertisers detailed click logs and analytics, including a demographic breakdown (gender, age, ethnicity, geography, phone model and software) of users who click on a banner. Coming soon, we’ll add targeting by hour-of-day and mobile operator.

Mobile ads are normally sold on a pay-per-click basis. But in response to some agency requests, BuzzCity has also started offering CPM (cost per thousand) packages. CPM enables media agents to buy in bulk and re-sell ad banners in the same way that they sell other media.

Online mobile business models were at first predominantly based on the sale of content by publishers. Since the end of last year, though, we've all noticed a decline in paid features and the rise of ad-supported content. Consumers, for example, expect to access information about the weather for free. Even a lot of games and pictures can now be downloaded at no charge. The rising number of mobile eyeballs makes it viable for advertisers to foot the bill.
These consumers will also demand a diverse range of content – a premise that drives social networking platforms, because from the executives hanging around the corporate water cooler to rural women lining up to draw water from a well, people have always congregated to talk, share stories and trade information. Now, in the 21st century, individuals across the globe are increasingly congregating via their mobiles.

More on this subject and the challenges & choices in "Monetizing Traffic" from Kok Fung at Mobile South Asia, 10th - 11th July 2007, Dhaka, Bangladesh

June 07, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO
Life doesn't progress like a spreadsheet.

I think that's one of the biggest lessons I've learned over the past eight years, since leaving a secure job at Kent Ridge Digital Labs in 1999 to launch an internet startup with three colleagues. Today, that startup – BuzzCity – is a vibrant mobile service provider delivering content to consumers in over fifty countries. By the end of the year (2007), we expect to add another 8 markets in eastern and central Europe. We currently serve more than 1 billion mobile advertising impressions every 3 months, have multiple revenue streams and are not overly dependent on any one market.


But it hasn't always been like this. In fact there have been moments when we wondered how to carry on. This week, I'd like to share with you a bit of our company's history and the lessons we've learned along the way.

Before forming BuzzCity, I was a researcher specialising in pattern recognition. We worked with barcodes and taught computers to recognize faces. Some of the technology was adopted by government agencies and Singaporean government-linked companies. However after a few years, I was tired of simply publishing papers and I really didn’t like the idea of our technology servicing only a select group of people. I remember a particular moment when I was at an underground station, watching commuters enter and exit the trains, and I thought “What a pity. My work has nothing to do with them.”

May 02, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

I stood on the banks of the River Ganges – one of the holiest sites for the Hindu religion – watching people throw cremated ashes of loved ones into the river’s holy waters. Religious pilgrims voyage to the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to bathe in the river, drink its water and visit one or more of the 1500 temples located here in the town of Varanasi.
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and devotees believe that someone who dies by the river will be freed from the endless cycles of reincarnation.

After a few busy days in Mumbai where we hosted the Mobile Monday, I traveled to Varanasi for some reflections. I’ve always wanted to see the Ganges for myself. It is the city of the Lord Shiva, and the Lord Buddha is said to have preached his first sermon at a nearby town. Over the centuries, the city has produced prominent Indian philosophers, poets and musicians like the sitar player Ravi Shankar, who had such a huge influence on the Beatles. And for anyone who has benefited from an Ayurvedic massage – yes you can thank the people of Varanasi for that as well.

April 16, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

I just got back from Mobile Monday Mumbai, where an enthusiastic audience of industry players, ad agencies, bankers and even a dentist were keen to explore the uptake of mobile ads. There are some 150 million mobile phone subscribers in India today and the number of cellphone users there is expected to triple within the next four years. Ignore this market base at your own peril!

The big topic of discussion at Mobile Monday was about how the value chain starts with content (yes, content is still king), integrates across media, requires effective campaign management and in the end must resonate with a company’s customers. (Thanks to Gopala Krishnan of mobile2win, Swaminathan of iContract and our own Lai Kok Fung for some excellent presentations.)

I’d like to share with you now three incredibly creative and successful mobile ad campaigns and then take a look at what’s required for a business to effectively use this new medium. All three examples below are being recognized at this week’s Venice Festival of Media (and I owe the festival’s website an acknowledgement for some of the background details cited below).


At any one time, nearly 20 million students take public exams in India. The results – anxiously awaited and vital for a pupil’s future – can now be accessed earlier than ever before, thanks to a mobile campaign implemented by Cadbury India, in collaboration with Reliance Infocom and Madison Media.

Instead of waiting for results to be posted on a college notice board or published in a newspaper, exam takers can now log onto a WAP platform, select the name of their exam and enter an identification number to find out their results.

If they’ve passed, they receive a message saying “Jab Pappu pass ho jaya,” which roughly translates to “Pappu has passed!” The mobile message links to a very successful TV ad campaign – which practically every student has seen – featuring a sympathetic 40 year old man named Pappu who finally passes his exams. Incidentally, Pappu also likes to give away Cadbury chocolates to his younger classmates.

More than 30 state exam boards have taken part in the campaign and Reliance says it has received 50 million hits.

In the run up to the World Cup, Agency W wanted to increase traffic to the +10 mobile site. (If you followed the Cup, you were bound to have seen one of the +10 TVCs.)

The ad agency built on a Japanese concept – mobile barcodes. When photographed by a phone, these black and white images direct users to a mobile site. In Korea, Agency W decided to up the ante. They created colourful circles placed in a seemingly random arrangement on a black background. These color codes were featured in outdoor ads, in print, on hangers in stores and even as part of the Adidas clothing label itself.

Seventeen thousand items of Color Code clothing were distributed throughout South Korea. The campaign increased traffic to the mobile site by 10 percent or 25,000 users.

British authorities created a unique public service announcement aimed at teenagers by recruiting members of the target audience – teens – to film a 30” ad on their mobile phones. The spot shows a group of friends hanging out by the side of the road, when one teen walks into traffic without looking first. He’s hit by a vehicle. The ad was distributed online, via mobiles, in cinemas and youth clubs. Within five days, nearly 30 percent of the targeted audience had seen the clip. And ninety percent of viewers said they would be more careful.

I don’t know about you, but I am struck by both the creativity of these campaigns as well as their impact. How can you join the list and like Pappu make the grade? What’s needed to implement a successful mobile marketing campaign? I think there are four pre-requisites:

1. Define Marketing Goals
Just like traditional campaigns, it will be easier to determine what mobile tactics work best—as well as what measurement criteria can be used to evaluate success – once you have clearly defined your goals. Are you trying to

* Increase brand awareness;
* Generate a customer opt-in database
* Drive visits to WAP sites
* Increase downloads or sales

2. Select the Right Marketing Partner – you have three choices:
(a) Interactive Agencies
If you want a full-service provider or don’t want the hassle of developing your own WAP site, this is the way to go. Most traditional ad agencies now have digital divisions. Other providers like Buongiorno and mobile2win can also host and develop your sites too.

(b) SMS Aggregators
These companies will help you obtain the short codes needed for SMS ad campaigns. Providers in Singapore include iPOP and mblogs. mobile2win can also help here.

(c) Mobile Advertising Networks
This is where companies like BuzzCity and services like myGamma come into play, by aggregating traffic from multiple sources and making campaign management easier.

You may choose to go with just one of these marketing providers or all of the above, depending on your needs.

3. Strategize. Determine the Right Marketing Tactics
As Cadbury, Adidas and the British authorities have demonstrated, we’re not just talking banners or SMS campaigns anymore. Options include functions to click and call (these are great for call centres / delivery services like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s), contests, coupons and landing page information. Be creative.

Each of these will deliver a different value and experience to your target consumer. Work with your mobile marketing partner to determine what’s best for you to achieve your specific goals and objectives. When choosing tactics, keep the following in mind:

* Will you need a WAP site?
* Define the promotions flow
* Provide Customer Support
* Campaign Reporting & Analysis

4. Look Beyond Operator Portals
There are only a limited number of telecom operator portals in each market – and users don’t stay on just one portal - so you need to look off-portal to extend the reach of a campaign. myGamma delivers a million ad impressions a day in India alone. It’s difficult to make a precise comparison as operators don’t release their figures, but we estimate our network reaches 30 percent of each operator’s traffic.

OK, so that’s my list. What do you think?

(Note: photo of Indian model holding a mobile phone is from Tribune India.)

March 15, 2007


By Andrew Lim, Vice President (Business Development)

Mobile advertising is becoming an increasingly important revenue stream for service providers – companies whose business plans have traditionally relied on content downloads. And as Hisham pointed out in his column last week, mobile ads are a great tool for extending a company’s reach far beyond traditional media markets, particularly in developing countries where such a large part of the population lives outside major urban centres.

So you’d think that China – where mobile penetration is linking huge numbers of people to the internet like never before – would be the perfect market for mobile ads.

Well, it would be, if not for actions taken recently by the country’s largest telecom operators.

Late last year, China Mobile blocked access to all free WAP services other than their own and created extra “road blocks” to discourage users from surfing outside the company’s own flagship portal, Monternet. Sophisticated users can reset the proxy on their phones to surf WAP sites outside the telco garden, but they now have to pay a high fee to surf these outside sites. And each time a user is detected to be outside CM Monternet, she is directed to a holding page and “reminded” of the risk of surfing outside sites as well as of the higher tariffs that will be incurred.

To further determine what a user can see and from whom, China Mobile has announced that several services -- including mobile instant messaging and music -- will come directly under the periphery of China Mobile.


Take the case of instant messaging. The most popular IM platform in China, by far, was a service called QQ, run by Hong Kong-listed Tencent. China Mobile “invited” QQ to collaborate with Fetion, China Mobile’s own IM service. QQ was paid a sum of money and given six months to transfer its entire database to Fetion. By mid-2007, the process should be complete.

China Mobile’s intention is clear. It no longer wants to be just a telecom operator. It is now a service-provider as well. We thought about trying to collaborate, but there are already thousands of local companies trying to get China Mobile’s attention. Only those at the top of the buddy list can get in the door.

China Mobile and its list of “white sites” are eyeing ad revenues. But we think their actions actually threaten the development of wireless advertising. Restricting consumer choice will dampen the number of users and thus the size of the advertising audience.

China’s Minstry of Information Industry meanwhile issued a statement condemning monopolies, but regulators have taken no action against China Mobile’s anti-competitive actions.

Meanwhile, China Unicom, China’s 2nd biggest mobile operator, has recently announced plans to impose new rules and restrictions on her list of Service Providers. This is likely to lead to a further tightening of her “walled garden” as well.

It’s worth making one final note here. Telecom providers like Verizon in the US and Vodafone in Europe also restrict consumer choice. The story in the media about these companies is that they are opening up. Verizon is offering YouTube videos. Vodafone is starting a mySpace service. But offering access to a select list of popular providers is not the same as equal access for all – the model which has been the cornerstone of internet growth.

There are so many services that users would like to be able to access from their mobile phones and the list of new content and services is only going to grow. However, if access to these services is dependent on operators being able to secure an arrangement with each service provider, it's not going to work. Keeping up with the pace of innovation is a hard enough task. Telecom operators should focus on building systems that deliver services and content that users want, regardless of who creates them – not blocking them.

March 08, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Content downloads – the bulk of many a mobile industry business plan – are stagnating. In some cases, they’re even declining. The take home percentage for a mobile service provider isn’t very exciting either. Take the case of a ringtone sale in The Philippines. Retail price is PHP 30 (US$ 0.6). Market rate for revenue share is 30 percent. So that’s just PHP 9 (US$ 0.18) per transaction before royalties and marketing costs. In some countries, the percentage drops to just over 20 percent.
So what’s a mobile service provider to do?

Well, at BuzzCity, we have three revenue streams: membership fees, merchant commissions and advertising. The area where I see the most growth and opportunity is the third item on the list. And I’m not alone in this view:

"The full value of mobile marketing lies in the ability . . . to create more relevant customer experiences among more receptive target audiences," writes IDC vice president Scott Ellison in a report released last week entitled “The Potential Actually Exceeds the Hype”.

IDC predicts that the mobile advertising market will grow more than 25-fold from US$160 million last year to more than US$4 billion in 2011.

“Mobile marketing can reach billions of mobile users in the developing world on an individual basis for the very first time,” the report continues “and thereby create new markets and customer relationships for brands.”

At BuzzCity, though, we’re already running over a hundred ad campaigns. Eighty percent of o
ur advertisers are repeat customers. Ads appear both on myGamma and on 1500 partner sites. Here are some examples:

* Mobile agency Mobiclicks is running ten campaigns for clients targeting users across South Africa.

* Malaysia-based mobile I.T. expert mTouche are running a regional campaign across southeast Asia. They chose to advertise on a mobile platform because of the rising cost of traditional print ads.

* US-based Cellufun is advertising across our network.

BuzzCity’s story is not typical of the industry at the moment – advertising already accounts for 15 percent of our total revenue and should rise to 40% in 2007 – but we believe we are at the forefront of the mobile marketing wave.

The next wave of content is likely to be specialised information (bus schedules, cricket scores, weather reports) with huge public appeal, and this is likely to
attract the most ads.

You’ll notice that the first adapters are companies also working in the mobile space. Brick and mortar firms have been slow to adapt, mainly I think because media agencies are still overlooking the mobile sector. This will soon change though. Here’s why:

1. Mobile phones are the best platform for reaching people outside major urban centres, particularly in developing countries. This is a big driver in places like India. Mobile phone networks extend beyond the big cities into areas with poor TV reception and limited newspaper or magazine distribution. Mobile networkers also have a very different demographic than internet users (see Kok Fung’s article).


2. It’s cost-effective. We auction our ad space – similar to Google. The higher a company bids, the more likely its ad will be shown. The average cost per click is 2 US cents for a campaign on myGamma, so a one-month mobile media buy for a regional southeast Asian campaign costs US$10-15k. Compare this with (a) internet ads or (b) print campaigns. Google ads cost at least 5-6 cents a click (popular keywords cost more!) A print campaign in a single country, Malaysia, is US$42k. That will buy you regional exposure for 3 months on a mobile platform.

3. Mobile marketing offers a unique one-on-one experience. With traditional media, the net cast is really wide. Plus TV viewers can take a break during commercials to go to the kitchen or toilet. Mobile networkers, on the other hand, keep their eyes on the screen. It’s easier to target content to them based on their preferences and usage patterns.

The biggest obstacle that service providers like BuzzCity face in this area though comes from telecom operators. In the PRC, for example, China Mobile is making it increasingly difficult (and expensive) for mobile phone users to surf outside of a pre-approved network. But more about this in the next blog entry from our China expert, Andrew Lim.Hisham Isa

For more about mobile adverstising, join us at Mobile Content World Asia 2007, where Kok Fung will be speaking about global trends.

February 09, 2007


By Lai Kok Fung, BuzzCity CEO

The time between the western and lunar new years is a good period for reflection and at BuzzCity, we’ve decided to take a fresh look at how we communicate with people interested in mobile communities, like the ones being created everyday on myGamma. We strive to not only create the world’s best platform for mobile-generated user content, we also want to be thought leaders – taking a look at trends both within the industry and inside our own business. So starting today, we promise to update this blog regularly (we did a poor job of that in the past). Look for a new entry once a fortnight. Sometimes I’ll be the primary author; other members of our executive team – like Hisham and Yuszela– will also contribute. In every case, though, the entries will reflect collaboration. Not every word written will be mine – or Hisham’s or Yuszela’s for that matter – our communications team will play a role putting our conversations into print.