Social Networks

How Twitter Could Become 'Mobile Social DA'

Quite some time ago we wrote about Mosio, which leverages a distributed based of users to answer queries of all sorts. It's one of a number of "mobile answers" services, which include ChaCha, Texperts in the UK and AskMeNow (although this has moved away from the human-powered model).

Twitter is a service that I do not use, but others love it. However, Twitter (or Twitter plus Summize) could become a very useful mobile search engine (for recommendations) or real-time "mobile social DA." What I mean by social DA, as in directory assistance, is a distributed base of users who substitute for the function of directory assistance.

Rather than the self-indulgent string of "tweets" (I'm in the car, I'm now getting out of the car, I'm now opening the front door . . .) one could ask the community for local recommendations. Alternatively, if an engine like Summize could filter out the "noise" among the tweets it might create a very valuable database of content that could be accessed on the go.

Where: The Mobile Platform That Could

uLocate put out a press release showcasing several awards that the company's Where application/platform had won over the past few months. One of a growing list of "platforms" for mobile developers Where has been overshadowed by the iPhone, Android, Yahoo! and others. However, I recently spoke to the folks at uLocate and got a preview of some of the new stuff coming out, which is very interesting and takes the company in some new pretty compelling directions.

Where brings GPS to all its subsidiary applications/widgets and has relationships with two of the four major U.S. carriers, among others. It also owns the Buddy Beacon friend finder, which has both iPhone and Facebook versions, so there are some social networking dimensions to the service as well.

3G iPhone Frenzy Builds

Amid data showing a market share decline for the iPhone, the frenzy over next week's anticipated 3G iPhone announcement is building. The Cult of Mac blog is reporting a subsidized, thinner phone will be released. The subsidy rumor has been around for some time. But it's looking like the new phone will be cheaper -- especially if Apple is to reach its sales targets, which are now being questioned by financial analysts.

According to IDC Q1 estimates, cited by CNET:

RIM's market share went from 35.1 percent in the fourth quarter to 44.5 percent in the first, while Apple's dropped from 26.7 percent in the fourth quarter to 19.2 percent in the first. Palm's Centro lifted that company's market share to 13.4 percent in the first quarter, up from 7.9 percent in the fourth. Samsung and HTC ranked fourth and fifth in the U.S. market with 8.6 percent and 4.1 percent of the market, respectively.

The success of the Palm Centro is all about aggressive pricing. Yet even with the $200 potential subsidy, AT&T exclusivity in the U.S. is a substantial barrier to adoption for a majority of users -- especially as iPhone clones are offered by AT&T competitors.

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Wired speculates about some of the potential new (social) features of the coming iPhone.

Zannel Grabs $10 Million for 'MIMM'

Part Twitter, part YouTube, part ShoZu, Zannel announced that it's gained a $10 million series B round:

The funding will accelerate Zannel's leadership position in expanding the first large-scale, global mobile media communications platform. Zannel attracts millions of visitors per month and has developed over 50 partnerships with leading media and consumer brands including Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, New Line Cinema, Capitol Records, Activision, Konami, Ubisoft, Capcom, RipeTV, Versaly, Mini Cooper, Toyota, Limelife and more. The service is available on all mobile Internet and WAP-enabled handsets and online at zannel.com and is distributed directly on select Verizon and Helio handsets. Recent accolades include a 2008 Webby Award for Best Mobile Social Network and being named by AlwaysOn to OnHollywood's 100 Top Private Companies and as a NAPTE Top 3 Mobile Social Network.

Millions of users and I'll bet you've never heard of the site, which describes itself as "mobile Instant Media Messaging." It's labeled by others as a mobile social network but this term will be drained of meaning before the day is out because sharing and communication tools that are deemed "social" on the desktop are more intrinsic to the mobile experience and will be ubiquitous.

Thus there will be very few mobile apps that aren't social in some way. The play for most of these early companies is to stand out as technology platforms or accelerants for larger players' mobile strategies. You've got three groups of potential buyers: online search and portal providers, traditional media companies moving into mobile and carriers seeking to avoid the "dumb pipe scenario."

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Related: Social network/virtual world SecondLife launches a mobile version (through Vollee).

Mobile Social Networks: Si or No?

Given their popularity on the desktop, it would seem there's an inevitability about social networking on mobile devices. Data aggregator Emarketer opines about the opportunity today in its newsletter promoting a new report:

http://www.emarketer.com/images/chart_gifs/094001-095000/094335.gif

LMS has its own point of view and a forthcoming document as well.

There are three categories of companies in this "mobile social networking" segment: mobile extensions of desktop social networks (e.g., MySpace, Facebook, Bebo), mobile specific networks (e.g., Loopt, Brightkite, BuzzD, Whrrl, etc.) and then a range of mobile offerings and applications that include social elements like sharing or friend finders and so on (Yahoo!'s Go, Where.com, ShoZu, 800-Call-411, etc.).

We just pulled consumer survey data (survey conducted by Multiplied Media) from the market that shows almost 90% of mobile phone users in North America have not and do not access social networks on their mobile devices. This of course is something of a microcosm of the larger question about mobile Internet access itself. But the two primary reasons that people offered for why they didn't access mobile-social networks were: no interest/need or no mobile data plan.

Mobile social networks or social media applications designed for mobile will grow over time and offer great utility to mobile users -- in fact, sharing and social features will be embedded in most mobile applications. But the monetization opportunity is not special or mysterious; it's primarily about page views (as on the desktop networks). It's basically about CPM or display ad revenue in mobile (for WAP-based sites). So as mobile Internet usage grows and more people get data plans, social networking traffic on mobile devices should grow too.

But the more interesting question is perhaps who will win and who will lose in this already very noisy space. The following is a partial list of companies in the segment presented in an earlier post:

  • Whrrl
  • Loopt
  • Twitter
  • Ribbit
  • Jaiku, Zingku, Dodgeball (Google)
  • Friendstribe
  • JuiceCaster
  • Rabble
  • Moblabber
  • Wadja
  • Treemo
  • Veeker
  • Zemble
  • Socialight
  • Hobnobster
  • Flagr
  • Dada.net
  • Rabble
  • ShoZu
  • Zyb
  • Aka-Aki
  • Imity
  • MeetMoi
  • MobiLuck
  • Mosio

This is only a partial list and doesn't include most of the desktop networks (save Twitter), which have an inherent advantage in mobile because of their installed user bases and greater awareness.

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Related: Here's Nielsen Mobile data on mobile social networking for the U.S. and Europe (% of users accessing "social networks" on mobile phones):

  • United States 1.6%
  • United Kingdom 1.7%
  • Italy 0.6%
  • Spain 0.8%
  • France 0.6%
  • Germany 0.2%

Source: Nielsen Mobile (Q1, 2008)

Survey: Social Networking, Local in Demand on Mobile

U.K.-based consulting firm Webcredible released results of a survey of just over 1000 mobile phone users (I assume they were in the U.K.). The firm asked users what content/types of services they were most interested in "if speed and quality weren't an issue."

What the firm found was demand for access to the following capabilities and categories of information:

  • Email -- 33%
  • Social networks -- 25%
  • Local information -- 20%
  • Travel information -- 13%
  • Online shopping -- 9%

The methodology and demographics of the users weren't disclosed so it's hard to evaluate the survey. Travel and local should be seen as part of the same overall content category. In that context it would be tied with "email" at the level of highest demand.

Nielsen mobile (U.S. adults) also recently found "local listings were the leading search objective in terms of users."

Nokia Touts Local and Social Aspects of Mobile Search

At a mobile search conference in London, Jussi Pekka Partanen, who heads Nokia's mobile search development efforts, told attendees that Google-style search (based on page ranks) would be insufficient for the personal communications needs of mobile subscribers. Nokia is proving to be one of the biggest true believers in context-based search, including content that is stored on the device, itself. The vision also embraces user-generated content and peer-to-peer communications in a big way. That sounds like the formula for social, mobile search.

BuzzD: Part Cityguide, Part Social Network

New mobile "city guide" and social network BuzzD has launched. The text-messaging based system is aimed squarely at a youth audience. It combines elements of local search and social networking.

The site also seems to be offering a technology back end that turns more traditional publishers into local mobile search sites and social networks.

The combination of local search on mobile devices, with one-to-many social networking elements could become a kind of "killer app" for mobile. There will be many companies eventually in this segment, trying to combine community and local search -- for example, Mosio and Whrrl, among others, as well as more traditional desktop companies, such as Yelp.

Here's some additional information from RCR Wireless News.

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With its acquisition of Ingenio, including the Keen part of the business (minus the adult content), there's an interesting opportunity for YellowPages.com to create a new type of mobile Q&A or distributed directory assistance style business along the lines of AQA or Texperts.

Sprint to Link to MySpace Mobile

Mobile social networking will be one step closer or, more accurately, fewer clicks away, when Sprint provides its mobile subscribers direct access to MySpace Mobile when it is generally available next year. When it rolls out, it will not be necessary for subscribers to open their Web browsers and enter the cumbersome URL: http://moible.myspace.com. Instead they will simply click on a link in Sprint's mobile Web portal.

Call it the iPhone effect. It is now an empirically-observed truth that ease of use translates into more frequent use. If past is prologue, MySpace will see stepped up access from mobile devices, and a corresponding increase in relevant - meaning local and immediate - feedback from fellow MySpacers.

For its part Fox Interactive Media (FIM), MySpace's parent company, is aggressively expanding the mobile footprint of its other properties by simplifying access to Sprint subscribers. These include IGN, FOXSports.com on MSN, RottenTomatoes, AskMen, and a network of myFOX sites with content from local TV affiliates.