Talking about mobile social networking as a new trend is a bit silly, really. Billions of people socially network on their phones already by, er, calling and texting each other.
But the big trend is for online social networking sites to ramp up their mobile features, via dedicated applications or mobile internet sites.
MySpace, Facebook and Bebo have all announced mobile strategies earlier this year, which’ll play out in the next six months. Meanwhile, there’s a host of dedicated mobile social networking startups looking to take them on.
What’s really going to be interesting is seeing how the big web firms approach mobile, and particularly how they work with the mobile operators. As a user, it’s been puzzling to see exclusive deals, such as MySpace’s partnership with Vodafone or Bebo’s planned tie-up with Orange. Why, if you’re a big online social network, you’d want to restrict your mobile service to users of a particular network is beyond me.
Facebook, which has launched a standalone WAP site accessible whichever operator you’re on, seems to have a more sensible strategy (although the conspiracy theorist in me wonders why Vodafone’s recent ‘mobile internet’ launch has seemingly broken the Facebook site).
The next six months will see these strategies shift according to user demand – and will hopefully see MySpace and Bebo available more widely for mobile handsets. Meanwhile, they’ll face competition from startups like iPling, FunkySexyCool, Cerkle and a dozen other companies all touting themselves as ‘the mobile MySpace’. How much of a future these firms have when the real MySpace gets its mobile act together is anyone’s guess.
The other big question that may start to be answered in the latter half of 2007 is how you make money out of mobile social networking. Do people pay to use it? MySpace is charging Vodafone users to access it, for example, in another baffling decision. Or does the revenue come from advertising, in which case, how does that work without alienating people who just want to check their profiles and send a few messages?
But ultimately, the reason mobile social networking will continue to be big news in the next six months is because the social networks know it could be huge for them. As a speaker at the recent NMK conference pointed out, online these services are dominated by white, middle class blokes – but mobile could broaden this demographic.
That said, the elephant in any room where mobile social networking is a topic of conversation is user demand – do people want to do this stuff on their phones? Some surveys have already cast doubt on the idea, which will give the industry a few sleepless nights rolling into 2008.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Will mobile social networking be just about viewing stuff – profiles, messages and photos – or will it be as much about uploading content (photos and videos from your cameraphone would seem an obvious one)
2. How is mobile social networking best – through a mobile internet browser (MySpace and Facebook’s current approach) or through applications downloaded onto the handsets of users?
3. How big a factor will location and presence be, as more people get GPS-enabled phones? Do you want your social networking friends to see where you are, and if so, what can services do with that kind of information?
THE FULL TECH TRENDS LIST
1: Telly 2.0
2: Green Gadgets
3: Blu-ray and HD DVD convergence
4: Virtual Reality
6: Mobile social networking
8: Bluetooth music
9: DRM-free music
10: Wi-Fi personal media players