HomeMobile EuropeA year in mobile: social networks - The key application?

    A year in mobile: social networks – The key application?


    Has the mobile industry stumbled on the killer app that it had just agreed to agree doesn't exist? Certainly, from Shozu to Ovi, it was the hot topic of 2008

    Right back in February, when Yahoo! announced the second of its One range of mobile services – this time a presence enabled messaging service that put your SMS, email, IM and social network conversations all in one place, categorized by user, not by "Service" –  things seemed to be pointing to social networking as a key driver for the year.

    February: Marco Boerries, head of Yahoo!'s Connected Life programme, demonstrating the service, showed how users can view their contacts by name, by activity, by accessibility and by proximity.Boerries said that although users can download the client direct to the handset, or access the service through their web browser on the handset, Yahoo! remains committed to working with operators, and is not seeking to bypass the operator.

    "We are a company with a proven record of long term partner relationships," he said. "When we partner with a company we benefit in terms of discovery and navigation, and the whole market grows for everyone." He also said that although Yahoo! has to give back a share of ad revenues to operators when it partners with them, it still remains in Yahoo!'s interest to seek out partnerships.
    A second major announcement in this area was one of Nokia's first under its OVI brand, beyond its already announced music service.

    February: "Share on Ovi" is a Flickr meets YouTube meets social networking file storage and sharing application, under which users can build a personal homepage, either using Share itself or dropping in other services, such as Flickr. Over 100 file types are supported, and the service is available from any web browser. But Nokia has also developed a client specially for N Series devices that will give an enhanced ‘Share' experience. This looks like a bit of a tie-in then to sell more devices attached to the service, but as Nokia is at pains to say that the service was all about being open, this is perhaps a slightly mixed message.

    As for that old canard, Nokia's relationship with operators, Kallusvuo said that Nokia and mobile operators, sharing a common mobile background, make obvious partners, and he thinks they are still natural partners. The cake's plenty big enough for everyone to have a slice or two, he said.
    Niklas Savander, vp software and services, said that Nokia has decided that it will go to market quickly with OVI, and that inevitably there will be some holes in the service, but he thought the priority was just to get the service up and running, and then perfect them later.

    Despite the big names entering the field, there were other players who werelooking to tie the most important information on our phones, our contacts and addres book, into other social contexts.?
    March: "Zyb is a company that has conducted research that suggests we keep the contact information on the people most important to us – our closest friends, family and close business colleagues – on our mobile phones.  With that  in mind, the Zyb Social Phonebook provides "new ways of staying in touch with the people you really care about".  This includes letting users see availability information on a contact they are about to call – so they may hold off on that late night call to avoid waking the other person up, for example.  More interestingly, perhaps, and mirroring Yahoo!'s approach, is the ability for those users who want to stay in even closer touch with their friends, to be able to receive aggregated activity streams from other online services as well as getting direct access to their profiles on these services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and LastFM)".

    The likes of Colibria and NeuStar, predominantl messaging companies but with a grasp of the SIP client and the messaging interface, realised quickly which way this was headed.
    December: "Colibria, a provider of messaging and social networking solutions, has today announced the availability of a new Social Network Gateway, to support the growing consumer demand to be constantly connected to their social networks whilst on the move.

    The new solution is said to provide a simple enhancement to an existing mobile IM client that enables the user to access the plethora of social networks from within a single application on their mobile handset.

    The Social Network Gateway will also integrate with a mobile phone's contact list to provide the user with complete visibility of the ‘social communication' of each individual within their contact list. The solution also allows mobile users to control how and when they are updated on the activity within their social network."

    Yet despite these advances, and the hope that social networks plus presence on mobile could equal a real earner, we heard that it's possible that operators everywhere are missing the point about social networks.

    November: "Norman Lewis, of Wireless Grids, points out that operators have traditionally misunderstood the motivations of their customers.

    "Why do people make phone calls? When I worked at Orange, I asked this question, and nobody knew. Operators need to start looking to the social meaning of communication interaction, and not their function. The business models for telephony need to extend from what happens during a call, to what happens before and after call."

    Lewis' point is that by thinking of social networks as some markedly different or "other" type of communication, operators risk misunderstanding their customers, and hence risk missing the chance to profit from the services their users are using.

    For Lewis, users of social networks are really just defining themselves in the same way that youth, especially, have always done. They are forming groups of like-minded users, expressing and forming their identities in ways they have always done. It's just that the platform for doing so has changed.
    "When I presented this to the Orange board, the question was, "Should we launch a teen portal?" And I just lost the will to live."

    Lewis says that operators need to make their users not the recipients of advertising, but the originators, and recommenders, of it. Grinding down the road of trying to make money from a model that is already proven to lose money is not the way."