No Limits Mobile Video

I passed an unmistakable milestone on the road to irrelevance the other day. One of my son’s friends’s paused as he passed our three-foot shelf of record albums and asked, “What are those?”

“Those are vinyl records,” I explained helpfully. “It’s how we listened to music when I was young.”

“Oh!” the sixteen year-old said, as if he had just penetrated the secrets of the Jurassic Age.

It underscored for me how the YouTube generation has a fundamentally different notion about how entertainment works.

When I was young, we played “records” on a “record player” located in someone’s house. For my son and his friends, entertainment comes to you on any device you happen to be using at the moment.

And the new frontier in mobile entertainment at the moment is video.

Now, there’s no shortage of players elbowing their way to the front of the line to deliver the entertainment-on-the-go that they’re sure you want. But just as the YouTube generation makes their own decisions about what they listen to and watch on the Internet, they’re unlikely to let Viacom or Sprint decide what video content they’re going to be watching on the phone.

That’s the thinking at mywaves of Sunnyvale, CA, which launched its free-form mobile video service last December. The company has brought together a diverse set of talents, including Naptser’s chief architect. Relying primarily on viral marketing for its growth, the company claims to be adding about 40,000 users a week around the world.

“What we are doing is becoming the mobile video company,” explains mywaves founder and CEO Rajeev Raman. “Anything that’s on the Web we want to make it possible to get it on your phone.”

The video industry is at a crossroads, according to Raman. “Record labels and studios are looking for ways to go direct to users. The new technology companies like Apple and Napster say, ’users will come to us.’ Content sellers will want to do something themselves. Kids are consuming a new genre of videos: content that they create.”

Raman sees the opportunity in being the place where these paths converge on your mobile phone.

“The crowd that’s watching on the Web is the mobile crowd,” says Raman. “If they could get this content on the mobile phone, they would.”

The mywaves experience starts on the website where you create a profile and subscribe to the channels you want — there are about 20,000 currently. You can also use the “autochannels” search feature and let mywaves find content based on your interests and store it in your own custom channel. The service also lets you share your channels or keep them private.

You can choose from Web videos, RSS video podcast feeds, personal videos, popular viral clips, and content from more conventional outlets like Comedy Central, CNN and MTV.

When there’s new content in the channels you’re interested in, mywaves sends a text message to your phone. Click on the embedded URL and mywaves downloads the content and you watch it when you want to.

Unlike some other services, mywaves is carrier agnostic. The company’s “secret sauce” is the server that optimizes the content on the fly for your phone. “We offer businesses a way to reach users on the phone without having the carriers involved or building a technology infrastructure and expertise,” explains Raman.

The service is free. But you need a data service on your phone and you’re going to be charged for those text messages.

Since I have a member of the YouTube generation living in my house, I thought I would have him earn his electronic keep by evaluating mywaves. I’m sorry to tell the folks over there at mywaves headquarters that he wasn’t much excited.

He checked out the skateboarding content. “I’ve pretty much seen all of those videos,” was his judgment, although he perked up at the idea of having them on his phone.

Which brings us to another problem: minor but annoying usability glitches. The mechanism for sending the videos to your phone isn’t immediately evident. It took us a while to figure out that “take it on the go” means “send this to my phone.”

The other problem that ultimately stymied our evaluation was that my son couldn’t figure out what version Motorola Razr phone he had. We tried all the possibilities, but kept seeing error messages rather than skateboarding clips. After exhausting my son’s attention span, we left mywaves for another day.

Okay, maybe we’re slow. But this isn’t, after all, something targeting a technical audience.

However, I’m not going to knock it too hard because mywaves has only been out there a few months. And I can see some interesting business applications.

Employees can watch the company’s video “newsletter” while standing in lines. Technicians can have video instructions in front of them while they’re at customer calls and salesman can review the newest product updates when they’re sitting in an airport.

The mywaves model opens up a whole world of video ‘snacking’ whether to amuse or inform yourself while you’re waiting at the dentist’s office. For example, one of mywave’s offerings is the CNN news roundup channel that provides a five-minute daily digest of world events. Far preferable to those year-old copies of Time.

So what’s Rajeev Raman’s favorite channel? “Hands down, my daughter’s channel, Nikki’s channel.”