Monday, March 3, 2008

Holding on to the Handheld Graph...Mobile Social Networking

Thanks to those that emailed. Peeking through the clouds... (it's hard to stay away from writing)

I’ve been reading a lot of releases about the mobile phase of social networking. Pyramid Research just recently released a study indicating that by 2012, there will be 950 million users accessing social networking sites via their mobile devices.

This data suggests that the mobile operators should prepare for increasing data usage. While I believe that the ability to access social networking sites will undoubtedly create a push in traffic, I’m not sure I see its long-term appeal.

From a Canadian standpoint where data usage is hugely expensive, it occurs to me that the handheld is in itself, a standalone social networking platform. It contains the applications chosen by the user, an intimate address book with contacts that may or may not be suitable to publicize and all the bells and whistles offered up by the social networks today including the ability to send photos, videos, blog posts (most blog platforms allow mobile blogging which is then automatically distributed through RSS and some social networking sites as an option) and instant messaging. Do users need the extra layer of a formalized social network on top of their devices?

At a time when we are seeing users dialing back on their overall usage of the social networks (at least the early adopters are), it’s hard to visualize those adopters downloading the platforms on to their sacred handhelds only to create an always-on switch to their apparent networking fatigue.

The next act of this play will inevitably lead to ad-supported content, which will drive the same wedge between the users and the social networks only on a different platform.

I believe there’s place for social networking on the go. Networks like Twitter and Utterz seem to have addressed the need for users to publicize their thoughts and actions as they happen. But the beauty of these platforms is in their simplicity. As these simple platforms plug into existing social graphs, I wonder if the duplicity will catch up and thwart the need to have several platforms accessed from the devices.

As handhelds become more accommodating to richer applications, it seems that users will be “accessing” everything from them (not just social networks). The question is whether the value proposition will be attractive enough to engage meaningful, daily interactions. Will the interactions be worth the ads that will follow?

It could be that SNS sites have determined that to stay alive, they need to be mobile but this does not guarantee increased usage and it certainly does not equal new acquisitions. Asking new users to dump their web based email accounts into a social graph to connect with others is one thing, but asking them to dump their handheld contacts into the social abyss may "pushing it". Time will tell…

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