By now you've probably seen the reports that six European mobile operators plus AT&T are planning "secret" talks to set up a mobile search engine to rival Google. The Telegraph reported that the secret seven might team up with an existing search engine, or might set up their own shared search engine and advertising sales team.
The idea is for the operators to capture the majority of advertising revenue from mobile web search.
It's possible that the report is false, but the Telegraph had some quotes and details that sound credible. (Besides, if it's not true then there would be nothing for people like me to posture abut online.)
As you'd expect, the report is already attracting a lot of commentary online. I won't bother repeating what everyone else is saying, but I'd like to make a few quick observations:
1. Have any of these high-profile operator consortia ever been successful? It's a sincere question, not rhetorical. I can't think of any of them that lived up to their hype. But maybe I missed one. Please post a comment if I did.
2. I don't think the threat to create their own search engine is credible. The investment in infrastructure is too large at this point. So the real play would be to partner with one of the current search companies and squeeze money out of it. Let's see, who's desperate for search share and has a ton of cash? Hello, Redmond.
3. Who starts secret negotiations by leaking the fact that they're being held? Only someone who's inept, or is posturing to create leverage in their discussions with Google.
4. All of this presupposes that the operators can continue to maintain closed gardens, preventing users from going to whichever search engine they like. That worked soooo well for AOL and MSN, didn't it?
5. Why can't these guys negotiate with Google the traditional way, by threatening to sue them?
6. I hope eventually someone will realize that unless we figure out how to make mobile browsing a lot more useful and compelling, there isn't going to be any pile of riches to divide from mobile search.