Mobile Social Networking – is it the future?

If you read the digital press and Internet related news sites you will notice that the perceived future of social networking is mobile.  Both Myspace and Facebook have mobile sites which are essentially a stripped down version of the web interface.  But is this what constitutes the future of social media on the web?  Or is it something more?

At a recent seminar I attended on mobile marketing the general message portrayed by the speaker was don’t just regurgatate your website for mobile, think about people will want to use the mobile site for and provide that.  Facebook have done this to a certain degree by stripping back their main website and providing a simplified mobile interface where the most prominent feature is the profile update.  This is fine, but I cant help thinking that it doesn’t really play utilise the benefits of mobile  to make it something more.

Social networking plays into the hands of mobile phones and mobile Internet by its very nature.  Social networks are a communication tool, a tool used to connect with friends and like minded people, as are mobile phones.  But there is a huge difference to the PC based world wide web, and mobile web, and so the networks which are going to be successful need to be adapted to suit the world of mobile Internet.

Gigaom are dubious about the possibility of a social network existing purely on mobile alone quoting the example of Rabble who started as a mobile only social network and are now making strides by partnering with existing web based networks and enabling them to go mobile.

Information Week are a little more confident stating mobile social networks as an untapped market ripe for the picking.  they do however raise questions about the most appropriate monetisation model as standard advertising models don’t really suit.

So why should it work?  Here are some of the main arguments why mobile social networking should work:

Communication tools: as mentioned above, both elements are communication tools, so combined they should compliment each other.

Simplicity: the mobile web is tough to get right, but the simplicity of some key elements of social networking can bypass this if done correctly.  For example Facebook status updates are regularly done via mobile and twitter is also a big player in mobile social.

Growth in Mobile Internet:mobile Internet usage is growing as charges come down and handsets advance.  This makes the potential for those that can get it right even greater.

Reach of Mobile: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t own a mobile, that means everyone is a potential user!

And now for the converse; what are the barriers to it being the next big thing?:

Mobile Internet Usage: although growing, this still isn’t great.  For years now mobile Internet and more specifically mobile advertising has been the "next big thing" but but has never really materialised.

Handset Limitations: Linked to the need for simplicity, lets face it, viewing web pages on a handset just isn’t that good.  navigation is difficult and page load is slow, so anything that is going to take off, is going to have to be simple and compatible.

Revenue models:  Mobile advertising to date, doesn’t really work, so CPM based revenue models are out.  Subscription models could work, but you would need ot give people a pretty good reason to sign up.  Without the two obvious options it is going to take some out of the box thinking to monetise any network which does break down the initial barriers.

I’m sure there are more why’s and why not’s which I could come up with given more time.  Do I think mobile social networking is the next big thing…maybe.  I can see it working, but not in its current form, and as for it working as a stand alone network with no web presence, I’m even less sure about that.  Ill have to give it more thought before writing the business plan to take over the mobile social networking world ; )