Musings on mobile social networks

As we all think about what is next for social networks it is natural that our thoughts turn to mobile.  In fact is such an obvious thought that many many people have had it – both entrepreneurs with new startups and the existing web based players.

So as with mobile advertising it is a space that is looking crowded before it has even really started.

My initial thought was that the players with the existing audience (Facebook, Myspace etc.) were in the commanding position and whilst this is true, some of the startups I’m seeing look like they might have enough about them to mount a serious challenge.

Weglu, Zyb and Eccosphere are three examples.

I’m starting to build a sort of laundry list of things these guys are going to need if they are to win out:

  • Vastly superior functionality – and they are looking strong here – the web players don’t seem to be working hard to leverage the phone’s uniqueness – e.g. address book
  • Easy to implement and use – getting over the java download issue – maybe that problem is disappearing, or they will have to use WAP (my understanding is that Flirtomatic are now pushing their WAP service ahead of the java app)
  • Zero marginal cost distribution – each new user costs virtually nothing to acquire.  Essential when monetisation per user is uncertain.  This is what has made the web players work well and has been difficult so far on mobile.  I think mobile to mobile virality and sign up could be very powerful, although my instinct is text and mobile web rather than bluetooth.
  • Minimal dependence on the operators, in the early days at least.  Once there is scale the operators will rush to get on the bandwagon, but you will almost certainly need to find a way to get to that point without them.
  • A co-existence strategy for the web based social networks

What do you all think?  Have the independent guys got any chance?  Are there any success factors I have missed?

  • cheap data!

    the one place outside of Asia where there’s been a real breakout, mass market social network is South Africa – Mxit.

    no surprise that its dirt cheap there to use GPRS – ~ $0.10 per MB.

  • cheap data!

    the one place outside of Asia where there’s been a real breakout, mass market social network is South Africa – Mxit.

    no surprise that its dirt cheap there to use GPRS – ~ $0.10 per MB.

  • This may sound a bit stupid, but one of the things they might need is a reason to exist ! I use jaiku and plazes, and have been contributing to both for over a year. I access via my mobile to “broadcast” where I am, and what I might be thinking about. But is there any real benefit to being mobile, or location aware (at the moment?). In the “early user echo chamber” there is some value in knowing things quickly, thus the amount of journos on the sites. Facebook on mobile (blackberry) does roughly the same thing by broadcasting my “status update”.

  • This may sound a bit stupid, but one of the things they might need is a reason to exist ! I use jaiku and plazes, and have been contributing to both for over a year. I access via my mobile to “broadcast” where I am, and what I might be thinking about. But is there any real benefit to being mobile, or location aware (at the moment?). In the “early user echo chamber” there is some value in knowing things quickly, thus the amount of journos on the sites. Facebook on mobile (blackberry) does roughly the same thing by broadcasting my “status update”.

  • Hi – I run Flirtomatic. A couple of comments:
    1. yes we are wap/xhtml NOT java: we ditched that in 2005 before launch
    2. address book cannot be accessed from a browser on any phone that I know of…possibly on the iPhone (we’ll know shortly). The APIs are there for java apps but I’d rather eat my hat than launch a java app.
    3. zero marginal cost distribution: yes very web 2.0 but this is not the web and the two key elements of viral are not in place viz a) free messaging (email is free, sms not) and b) access to the address book (see above). Expect businesses to grow through clever marketing but viral mobile is ley to be cracked
    4. spot on re the independence from operators: it is the right philosophy BUT their portals still control the majority of mobile internet traffic
    Get it right….and the users are out there…we had 51,000 unique mobile users in December consuming 118m pages…..

  • Hi – I run Flirtomatic. A couple of comments:
    1. yes we are wap/xhtml NOT java: we ditched that in 2005 before launch
    2. address book cannot be accessed from a browser on any phone that I know of…possibly on the iPhone (we’ll know shortly). The APIs are there for java apps but I’d rather eat my hat than launch a java app.
    3. zero marginal cost distribution: yes very web 2.0 but this is not the web and the two key elements of viral are not in place viz a) free messaging (email is free, sms not) and b) access to the address book (see above). Expect businesses to grow through clever marketing but viral mobile is ley to be cracked
    4. spot on re the independence from operators: it is the right philosophy BUT their portals still control the majority of mobile internet traffic
    Get it right….and the users are out there…we had 51,000 unique mobile users in December consuming 118m pages…..

  • nic

    Thanks guys.

    Paul – the point of mobile social networking is to stay in touch with people better – just like online socnets – but with a mobile twist. Status updates are part of that – but being able to quickly share media as you see/capture it is another example.

    Mark – interesting comment and great to see you getting so much traffic. Java apps are attractive because of what they offer, including address book integration, but they are painful too. I think cracking that zero marginal cost of distribution problem is going to be the key here.

  • nic

    Thanks guys.

    Paul – the point of mobile social networking is to stay in touch with people better – just like online socnets – but with a mobile twist. Status updates are part of that – but being able to quickly share media as you see/capture it is another example.

    Mark – interesting comment and great to see you getting so much traffic. Java apps are attractive because of what they offer, including address book integration, but they are painful too. I think cracking that zero marginal cost of distribution problem is going to be the key here.

  • Ronan HIggins

    Bringing “vastly superior functionality” to the 160×120 pixel phone screen with WAP pages is no easy task. Web-based sites get to enjoy usability features such as ajax that can’t be done with WAP.

    The “independent guys” (exclusively mobile social networks) have to bring something to the table that simply can’t be done or is less important on the web.

    Top of the list would be location. But not just “here’s where I am” pinpointing.

    Location tied into the very essence of what makes social graphs compelling environments to participate and invest time in.

    In contrast to Flirtomatic’s WAP strategy we’ve decided to invest the resources in J2ME apps to bring some of the Web 2.0 ajax user experience to the phone. It is expensive and consumers have been averse to installing applications on phones to-date, but Google seems to be paving the way for a change with Google Maps for Mobile.

  • Ronan HIggins

    Bringing “vastly superior functionality” to the 160×120 pixel phone screen with WAP pages is no easy task. Web-based sites get to enjoy usability features such as ajax that can’t be done with WAP.

    The “independent guys” (exclusively mobile social networks) have to bring something to the table that simply can’t be done or is less important on the web.

    Top of the list would be location. But not just “here’s where I am” pinpointing.

    Location tied into the very essence of what makes social graphs compelling environments to participate and invest time in.

    In contrast to Flirtomatic’s WAP strategy we’ve decided to invest the resources in J2ME apps to bring some of the Web 2.0 ajax user experience to the phone. It is expensive and consumers have been averse to installing applications on phones to-date, but Google seems to be paving the way for a change with Google Maps for Mobile.