The end of Mowser


It's been a year since I launched Mowser at April 2007's Mobile Monday, so it's time for a progress report. Sadly, the news isn't good.

Mowser is at the end of its life in its current form. We haven't been able to raise funding, and as a site, growth has been flat or falling for the past couple months because of various search-engine tweaks I've done. We also took out the interstitial ad pages because they were just too user-hostile, which cut ad revenues back down to a just few dollars a day. Again, this is after a year of working on it - so with money and options having run out, it's time to move on. I'm not sure which direction to go just yet, but what's for sure is that active development on Mowser has stopped. We'll keep the site running for the time being, but we're going to encourage others to not rely on the service as it could disappear in the future.

Yes, this means I have to find a real job again. If you're interested, contact me at And if you're interested in buying the adaption code and/or site that'd be great as well.

Now the question you might be asking is why not stick with it a little longer? Get a contract or something and tough it out since it's "only" been a year, and many companies have had to struggle for a lot longer than that before taking off. Beyond the fact that I'm irretrievably in debt, the general answer is that I don't actually believe in the "Mobile Web" anymore, and therefore am less inclined to spend time and effort in a market I think is limited at best, and dying at worst. I'm talking specifically about sites that are geared 100% towards mobile phones and have little to no PC web presence. Two years ago I was convinced that the mobile web would continue to evolve in the West to mimic what was happening in countries like Japan and Korea, but it hasn't happened, and now I'm sure it isn't going to.

In other words, I think anyone currently developing sites using XHTML-MP markup, no Javascript, geared towards cellular connections and two inch screens are simply wasting their time, and I'm tired of wasting my time.

The argument up to now has been simply that there are roughly 3 billion phones out there, and that when these phones get on the Internet, their vast numbers will outweigh PCs and tilt the market towards mobile as the primary web device. The problem is that these billions of users *haven't* gotten on the Internet, and they won't until the experience is better and access to the web is barrier-free - and that means better devices and "full browsers". Let's face it, you really aren't going to spend any real time or effort browsing the web on your mobile phone unless you're using Opera Mini, or have a smart phone with a decent browser - as any other option is a waste of time, effort and money. Users recognize this, and have made it very clear they won't be using the "Mobile Web" as a substitute for better browsers, rather they'll just stay away completely.

The original strategy around Mowser was pretty simple - provide a service which helps websites go mobile, helps mobile sites connect to the regular web, and helps users access the web from any handset. By adapting every website on the planet, theoretically Mowser has an unlimited amount of content to serve up - and though none of that content is directly monetizable, the plan was to capture enough ancillary traffic to make it worth while. (See Wired's recent cover story about "Free" and you get the idea).

But the traffic never showed up, and what did show up was of questionable quality at best. (Easily 80% of Mowser's traffic has been related to porn). Maybe that means that the service sucked or it wasn't sticky and/or viral enough - that may have been part of it, but having used the site myself, and seeing how some users did continually return to use it daily, I think in fact the general market demand just never was there. In fact, if you look at the number of page views of even the most popular mobile-only websites out there, they don't compare to the traffic of popular blogs, let alone major portals or social networks.

Let me say that again clearly, the mobile traffic just isn't there. It's not there now, and it won't be.

What's going to drive that traffic eventually? Better devices and full-browsers. M-Metrics recently spelled it out very clearly - in the US 85% of iPhone owners browsed the web vs. 58% of smartphone users, and only 13% of the overall mobile market. Those numbers *may* be higher in other parts of the world, but it's pretty clear where the trend line is now. (What a difference a year makes.) It would be easy to say that the iPhone "disrupted" the mobile web market, but in fact I think all it did is point out that there never was one to begin with. (And point it out they have, with multiple millions of dollars in marketing showing off how insanely great the iPhone browser is, setting the baseline for what all mobile users should expect.)

All this said, Mowser was always meant to be a short term bet against Moore's law, filling a specific near-term need and building a base of traffic to later expand to other cloud and proxy services. Well, the traffic never arrived naturally to allow the site to grow without funding, and I just wasn't able to sell the opportunity or vision to investors which would have given Mowser time to grow and adjust its model to develop those cool cloud services. Mobility as a concept is still amazing - the potential for developing services that take advantage of such a personal and ubiquitous platform is incredible and I'd love to just start again right now and relaunch Mowser focused on new ideas. But I honestly just don't know how to make it work out money-wise, so they'll just have to wait until I can recharge my financial batteries enough so I can try again some day.

Seriously... A salary will be a good thing to have again. I'm *thousands* of dollars in debt to my family and friends, maxed out on every credit card (all of which are in collections), on my last chance for my apartment (if I bounce one more check...), had my car repossessed *twice*, electricity turned off, cellphones switched off, landline canceled outright, and on more than one occasion (this weekend in particular) eaten little more than buttered macaroni as I waited for an overdue PayPal deposit to arrive (3-4 days? Come on!). Having a steady income will be a welcome mental break, believe me.

Don't get me wrong - I've gotten to set my own hours and my own pace and be proud that I was working on my own ideas, that in and of itself is worth it. But it's definitely time for a change.

Definitely ping me if you know of any opportunities out there for me. Thanks!


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