FEATURE5 August 2010

Will Thumbspeak become a hotspot for wireless access to consumers?

Features News

Dean Wiltse is looking to play mobile matchmaker between companies and consumers with his new company Thumbspeak. We take the service for a test drive.


The survey tool referred to is Thumbspeak’s iPhone application of the same name (BlackBerry and Android versions coming soon). As of the end of July the app had been downloaded 20,000 times. 60% of users are male, 60% have never married. 32% are students and 24% of them have never read a newspaper.

Thumbspeak knows all this because each user has to register basic demographic information before they start taking surveys. It only asks nine questions – not a lot – but enough to form the basis of a profile that Wiltse says “will build up over time” as the user takes more and more surveys.

Which brings us to the targeting. Now, when a Thumbspeak user launches the app they are presented with a fairly large number of surveys (booting up our own copy of the app presents us with 22 surveys at the time of writing). For the time being, these are the same surveys seen by everyone – but once the company has clients in tow, the intention is to start serving sets of questions to users based on their age, sex, location, interests, purchase habits, etc.

“We want people to be able to come to Thumbspeak.com and specify the type of person they went to ask questions of,” said Wiltse. A DIY interface will allow clients to craft their own surveys, specify the target audience, set an incentive and a sample size – and then hit send.

During the interview, Wiltse walked us through these steps, crafting a survey specifically for Research that sought user feedback on the Thumbspeak app. Creating the survey took all of 10 minutes, and within 10 minutes of launch we had 41 responses back. A little over 12 hours later the quota of 1,000 had been hit, and by the time Wiltse delivered the results 24 hours later, the survey had amassed 2,412 responses.

All of which is fairly impressive given that currently Thumbspeak has no way to alert people that surveys are available for them to take. An upcoming release will add this functionality, but for now Thumbspeak relies on its users to regularly check the app. And it seems they do.

We asked: “How often do you check the Thumbspeak app to look for questions?” They answered:

  • Hourly – 221
  • Every couple of hours – 573
  • Daily – 1,350
  • Weekly – 268

Keeping them coming back, though, will be key to the firm’s success. Chris Hubble, vice president of brand strategy for DB5, says: “Dean and his team are aware that their biggest issue right now is having surveys on the app so people stay engaged.” Hubble and his clients have been helping to do so, running “a dozen or so pilots” via the platform.

These pilots include a project for a search provider, asking about the use of search though mobile phones, and a study of people’s attitudes towards privacy policies in social media. Perhaps most interesting for Research readers, though, is a set of questions DB5 fielded for its own purposes. Asking Thumbspeak users about their participation in research more generally, the survey found 80% of respondents saying they were not members of online panels.

Hubble’s overall view so far is positive. Response rate “has been fantastic”, he says, and the actual survey interface is “a big step forward” from other mobile interviewing tools the company has used. He also seems pleased with the richness of open-ended responses. “Not as rich as face-to-face,” he says, “but as good as online.”

On the down-side, Hubble says the logic in the surveys is “fairly simple” – a fact Wiltse himself addressed. “There’s no logic,” he said. “We’re not doing branching or piping yet.” Thumbspeak will be looking to partner with survey tool providers, using APIs so customers can use those tools to create more technically-advanced surveys for the Thumbspeak audience. “We do not want to be a survey tool,” says Wiltse. “We are all about targeting.”

If Thumbspeak is looking to play mobile matchmaker between companies and consumers it is half way there. But to go the distance, it needs paying clients and quick. 60% of the respondents to our survey said their primary reason for answering Thumbspeak’s questions was the promise of rewards – and the lack of rewards can lead to frustration. In a recent note to Thumbspeak users, Wiltse acknowledge a number of negative comments had been posted in the iPhone app store about this very problem.

“We are in a difficult period and need your help to get through it,” he said. “In the end, we hope to have built a new way for you to tell companies what you think and be rewarded for your honest, fast response and closer-to-the-moment truth.”


13 years ago

It will be interesting to see if the Thumbspeak community maintains this level of engagement over time. When the internet was shiny and new in the 1990s, web surveys drew the same level of response. Now we're competing with the rest of the net for respondents' attention, hence the debates about quality and engagement. Will this eventually just be another mode to an access panel?

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13 years ago

Interesting project, I think mobile surveys with the proper interface to use them will become a very important source, IF the surveys fit the medium. (And until we no longer speak about "mobile" and "normal" as seperate types of networking.) Indeed I've made a few examples of how mobile could/should work, including some location based approaches. Having said that, I find 24% of those people having never (!) read a newspaper hard to believe. I wonder what te operationalisation of the concept 'never' is here...

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13 years ago

I think for certain types of polls, there is great potential here. "Did you see the commercial for X during Y program?" and other questions that benefit most from extremely fast response time and easy turnaround will be most impacted. I could see location based surveys coming with this in the future also. Instead of calling a number or going online after visiting a store for a CSAT survey, the survey could be pushed to the app and answered on the way out the door. The survey technology for this app has a long way to go right now, but the potential is certainly appealling.

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