Ina Fried

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Onetime Mobile Search Player Medio Aims for Rebirth as Analytics Company

At one time, Medio was a start-up that hoped to be the Google of mobile search. It raised a bunch of money and built its engine.

But, after Google decided that it wanted to be the Google of mobile search, Medio found itself too small to compete on either the algorithmic or ad side.

So the Seattle company hunkered down and plotted a second act. The once-loquacious startup went silent, scaled back from more than 100 employees to around 60 and slowly started building back its business around the recommendation engine that had formed a key part of its search engine.

These days the company is looking to sell access to that engine to phone makers and operators who want to use it to help figure out which services and products to pitch to their customers. The need is particularly acute when it comes to trying to sell mobile apps, of which there are tens of thousands.

“The problem is people don’t know they are there,” Medio co-founder and CTO Brian Lent told Mobilized. “There’s a discovery problem.”

It is a widely recognized problem in the industry, with many companies aiming to attack it from different angles–some by pitching their own app stores, others by pitching advertising options and still others, like Medio, by trying to help understand user interest.

Medio is announcing later on Thursday that its services have been widely adopted by T-Mobile, a longtime customer of Medio’s. Lent said the carrier has actually been using the analytics services for more than a year, but that the company wanted to wait until it could demonstrate results before going public.

Since taking over powering T-Mobile’s Web2Go service in June 2010, Lent said that the company has been able to help T-Mobile triple its number of sessions per user, while offering significantly faster response time as well as reducing the amount of data sent between handset and network by 40 percent.

Medio’s engine can help suggest which apps a user might be interested in based on their past purchases, location and other information. It can also suggest what other items to pitch, such as wallpapers or ringtones, or even a different rate plan. The Medio technology is also designed to make it easy for a phone buyer to have a device customized with their favorite apps, sites and news feeds.

While many are attacking the app discovery issue, Lent comes armed with some serious technical chops, having worked alongside Larry Page and Sergey Brin as well as early Yahoo employees at Stanford’s computing labs in the 1990s. He had the chance to join both companies very early on, but passed.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald