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 ; )

Strongbow utilises mobile marketing

Strongbow are launching a mobile marketing campaign involving promoting a shortcode for users to text in to in order to receive a promotional text entitling them to a free pint in their local.  The offer will be promoting “Bowtime” which will run from 5pm-7pm on Tuesdays for a four week period.  This is imaginative use of mobile and I applaud strongbow for this.  Too many companies discount mobile as not fitting their industry or product but in coming up with this plan Strongbow have found a way of overcoming this.  They are obviously also attempting to try and generate a social/viral element by coming up with Bowtime in the hope people adopt this moving forward.  Also the chances of one pint becoming two, three, four are pretty high (I know from experience!) so they will still make their money on the resulting session.  The Strongbow statement claimed they were “seeking to engage with Strongbow customers in a relevant and long term way”.  I doubt this is the actual aim, I am guessing it is in response to the boom in the last two years of other cider brands (magners and bulmers in particular) as a way of reclaiming some ground.  I can also imagine the people texting in the shortcode will then be the target of further offers to keep promoting Bowtime and continue its impact beyond the four week period.  Ill certainly be tempted by a swift pint if I can get hold of the shortcode but am a little unconvinced Bowtime will become  a regular in my weekly calendar.  Full article here

What is driving mobile porn?

In a discussion a few days ago regarding mobile search marketing the stats were presented to me again about the top search phrases in mobile Internet I have mentioned in a previous post (when will mobile Internet take off?).  This obviously wasn’t news to me and I have documented my thoughts on it in the past but it did get me thinking, what is driving such a surge in people searching for porn on the mobile Internet?  What is motivating these people to search out explicit content on their 2”x3” mobile screen and are they liking what they find?

Is it simply that the mobile allows an element of privacy not necessarily afforded by the home PC? Are people using their mobiles to bypass any firewalls or tracking software which could uncover their dirty little secrets? I can’t imagine (and obviously wouldn’t know!) that the mobile device, no matter how advanced, is the best for digesting this content.  Is it just people experimenting to see whether the content is available on mobiles or are these people actually consuming large amounts of content via their mobile phones?

One thing which could be linked to the volumes of searches for adult content is the trend in mobile Internet usage by time of day.  Some of the busiest times in the week are Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings, post pub/night out.  It would be interesting to see if the searches for “sex” and “porn” which appear at the top of the most searched keywords list coincide with the activity at these times.  Intoxicated people either succumbing to their primal instincts or merry males having a joke whilst sat in the pub.  The digging I have done on this topic hasn’t managed to bring up any usage or sign up stats from the porn industry but it would be very interesting to see if these searches are resulting in business for the industry.

Universal Search goes Mobile

Yahoo! are taking Universal Search mobile through their beta application Yahoo! One Search.  The mobile search application which must be downloaded to a compatible handset “practically reads your mind!” according to the pages on the Yahoo! mobile site.  Providing results from all Yahoo! properties including, answers, Yahoo Finance, Flickr along with Wikipedia and various news sources the application brings Universal Search to your mobile for the first time.  The categories are grouped and presented in a manageable format to make them easy to use.  I cant help but think that maybe they should concentrate on getting Universal Search right on the mainstream Internet before attempting it with mobile but I suppose maybe the simpler platform makes it easier to pull off and also the less sophisticated search terms being used means that the technology deciding what should be displayed also needs to be less intelligent.  in its present form with the need for download its usage will be limited, but I suppose it is still in beta anyway.  The main take up will come as Yahoo! starts to do deals with the networks to provide handsets with the application already built in which I’m sure will be their plan once it is out of beta and they are confident of its stability.

yahoo one search

Mobile search developments

There were a couple of developments yesterday in the world of mobile marketing which could be seen as pretty significant. Firstly came the use that T-mobile had awarded its mobile search contract to Yahoo! following their heavy investment in mobile technology. This further adds to Yahoo!s weight in the mobile sector as they already power the search for 3 and have mobile advertising available through the Vodafone live network. Yahoo! have obviously bought in heavily to mobile marketing and are pushing hard to make it work. They possibly see it as one area where they can get one up on Google away from the search arena. 2008 could be a big year for mobile and as always, the early bird will catch the worm and if Yahoo! can become the front runner in this field they could reap the rewards.

On the same day it was announced that five of the big mobile operators are joining forces to create a measurement system for mobile advertising. Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange and 3 have formed a working group aimed at “helping ensure that mobile advertising realises its potential for the benefit of all the players involved”. What exactly this means I am not sure but Im guessing they are plannign at setting some industry standards for advertising models and options but more importantly the technology behind it. Obviously each will have their way of implementing the models and will keep some of their ideas and technologies to themselves but from an advertisers point of view it can only be a good thing as it should speed up the developments in mobile and help it actually become the viable advertising channel it has been threatening to become for the last couple of years.