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Idea IS the format

The occasional downtime of Daniel W. E. Light

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Thursday, 24 January 2008

Oranjeboom is not the only fruit

PPC's impressively proactive PR firm, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (AKA "The Lorries"), have been back in touch. Turns out they quite liked the last opinion piece I posted for them, so I'm doing another one.

This piece is about 'mobile social networking', whatever that is. It seems to pertain to social networks that are only accessible through mobile devices. That seems a little odd to me. Why would you do that? It would be like only drinking lager out of cans, standing on street corners.

Reading on through the notes they passed on I found a reference to some 'thriving mobile-exclusive social networks'. I'd never really come across such things, which I found odd and slightly alarming, given that my endeavours in international movie marketing have required me to acquaint myself with pretty much all of the world's most popular social networks. A quick trip to Wikipedia yielded the names of two such mobile-exclusive services; Jumbuck and airG.

Cue a trip to the Jumbuck homepage, and the immediate realisation that Jumbuck isn't so much a social network as 'the world's largest provider of mobile community services', offering white label products including Power Chat, TXT Chat and Fast Flirting. I'm thinking I've got their number (and, thanks to a drunken run-in with The Flirt Hotline, that they've got mine). The realisation that I may be one of their 15-million-strong global user base - and that until a few seconds ago I wasn't even aware of it - undermines the suggestion that they are a social network, in any useful sense of the term.

Further examination does yield Chat Del Mundo, a 'dedicated mobile chat and picture community for Spanish speakers in the South and Central America, the USA and Spain, with over 1 million active users', owned and operated by Jumbuck. Reading about Chat Del Mundo I was reminded of a presentation at last week's Media Summit, at which one of the speakers noted that, globally speaking, far more people have internet access through mobile devices than via PCs.

The speaker was Bob Greenberg, Chairman of interactive agency R/GA. Anticipating that 2008 would see the 'third screen' (by which he meant that of a mobile device) well on its way to becoming the first screen, surpassing PCs and television along the way, Greenberg called upon various statistics to illustrate the accelerating proliferation of mobile devices. One stat I do recall is that in the UK there are more mobile devices than people. Greenberg himself professed to carrying three mobiles about his person 'at all times'.

In defining the difference between the three screens Greenberg argued that television was a medium designed for the delivery of narrative, that PCs are best suited to interaction, and that mobiles are defined by context. This was a theme that was later picked up by Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy, who saw mobile media as defined by its location-specificity, 'much like Pernod. Outside a rustic French cafe; heavenly. Inside a small London flat; piss.' Indeed, beyond greater levels of global accessibility, this is where I could see mobile social networks offering something extra to the end user.

Suppose I'm in LA. I'm out and about in Venice Beach on a friday night and I want to settle in at a decent bar. I could try and find something searching listings through WAP, but that's not going to give me any real indication of quality, or whether it would be my kind of place. How about if instead of that I could pose the question to friends of mine - and friends of theirs - using Facebook mobile, even providing them with a map using GPRS to pinpoint my exact location at the time?

If you take my 150 'friends' and, allowing for overlap, reckon that each of them brings a further 50 uniques to the mix, I have the potential to hit 7,500 people, each of whom would know me, or someone who knows me. Filter that down to people living in LA, and you're probably still in triple figures. A few of them are probably going to know somewhere decent to drink in Venice, some of them might even be out in the area and up for meeting up, and, who knows, if I wasn't happily married I might even enjoy a night of consequence-free sexual intercourse with one of them. A long shot, perhaps, but I'd take my chances over The Flirt Hotline.

This is just one scenario in which mobile could add real value to social networking for the end user. And this is the problem I have with the idea of a mobile-exclusive social network. Restricting access to any service to mobile devices can only really benefit the service provider, by enabling them to drive more revenue through reverse billing and micro-payments. Where mobile social networking can succeed is by recognising and monetising the opportunities created by context for yours and my benefit, not at our needless expense.

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posted by Dan Light  # 14:19
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another very thoughtful post...

if you do find yourself in venice on a friday night, i suggest you use the following as a temporary solution:

It's a bit like what you're talking about. A review site by real people that allows users to add friends and send messages.

It also has an iPhone web version (handy for those of us who belong to the cult of mac.)
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