Reprinted courtesy of PC Magazine
Social Networks Frantically Go Mobile
by Natali T. Del Conte
How can users be persuaded to access their social networks twenty-four hours a day, without ever stopping, using a mobile device? That was the question at the Mobile Social Networking Conference
in San Francisco Thursday.
So with the assumption that everyone wants to socially network online while, er, socially networking, carriers, manufacturers, and developers met for the two-day conference on Thursday
"In the future, the phone will do everything," said Stephen Johnson, senior manager for the corporate strategy group at Nokia
. "Social networking itself is becoming more mobile friendly but we've got a lot to do to take the Web and make it accessible for mobile."
And what constitutes socially networking on your phone? Does sending a text message count, or accessing a mobile version of MySpace? According the conference agenda, mobile socially networking can include mobile video, audio, SMS, MMS, picture sharing and publishing, and even voice conversations because, if nothing else, your phone started out as a social device.
According to Johnson, users want their mobile phones to replace any and all of their electronics at once, which means that the manufacturers have to make sure the phones are capable, while developers make sure that that their applications are universally accessible.
"The statistics are high that say that people just want to have one device that just does everything," Johnson said.
But unlike Vegas, what happens on the mobile device, shouldn't stay on the mobile device. Users want to take their photos, music, TV programs, social network messages, and have them on their PCs as well. Johnson estimates that 7 percent of all mobile pictures taken are published online, leaving 93 percent to live and die on the phone.
User experiences should be the same
When it comes to the social network, everyone agreed that the mobile experience has to look at feel as close as possible to the PC experience.
has a core value that is independent of the technology that people are using to access it," said Jordy Mont-Reynaud, director of mobile initiatives for social networking site Bebo
. "Right now people are looking at their networks on the Web but they don't really care about the Web. They only care about accessing their networks. When we get mobile ready for them, they'll use their social networks over SMS, MMS, or WAP."
has a featured called Luv where users can send Luv to one friend per day. The mobile version is called called Mo' Luv.
designs for mobile, Mont-Reynaud says that loyalty to one carrier or device does no one any good. Bebo's approach to mobile networking is: "If it doesn't work on a billion phones, don't bother."
Even a representative from Sprint Nextel
admitted that exclusivity deals to certain social networks, in the end do not benefit the company or the user because people want to use their networks with friends and family members who are on other carriers.
"In a mobile social network, applications really are going to grow by word of mouth and by being across carrier," said Nat Russell, from wireless data business development for Sprint Nextel
. "It's going to help everybody by being open across carriers."
Relevance changes on the go
Social networking is evolving from the random to the specific. People don't just socially network with other people because they are there anymore. They find commonality and develop relationships based on place, time, events, and other contacts.
"Its all about connecting people because you're in touch with things that matter to you," said Daniel Graf, chief executive officer of Kyte.tv. "That is exactly what we want to enable and make it all connected live through your mobile phone as well."
Graf demonstrated Kyte.tv channels that let users post video, audio, or photos to their channels and have live message chats about the content on the channel. The activity that happens on that channel from the mobile device posts in real-time to Facebook, MySpace, or any social network that the user might choose.
An interesting way to monetize the social network is for the social network itself to become a mobile carrier. Rate.ee
, which is the largest social network in Estonia, has done that. The company started its own mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. Users who sign up for the service through their profiles can call or message other users for free, while calls outside of the network are competitively priced. This sounds brave but it makes sense since one-third of Estonia's population has a Rate.ee profile.
"Mobile companies don't launch their own mobile networks because they are afraid," said Andrei Korobeinik, chief executive officer for Rate.ee
. "The problem with social networking sites is that when you launch services, users don't know how to use those sites and they're not going to pay you for other services right away. In Europe, operators are interested in promoting the new feature so they are willing to give it for free to the users just to get some kind of addiction to these services."
Given that MVNOs have such a hard time in the U.S., it is hard to imagine that social networks in this country would foray into the carrier world. And while mobile VoIP may seem like an obvious solution, there was little discussion around VoIP at the conference.
The conference, which had an impressively international attendance, was a good reminder that there is more to social networks than just MySpace, which is really only the leader in the space in the U.S. And what makes certain networks appeal to certain countries?
"There really is no way to tell. It's random," said Korobeinik.
The Mobile Social Networking Conference
runs through Friday at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown San Francisco.