Archive for May, 2006

BW article on Mobile Social Networking

May 31, 2006

BusinessWeek is the latest to write about mobile social networking here. The article points to the same trends we've all heard about before: everybody has their mobile phone, younger users are earlier adopters of mobile data and carriers are motivated by the potential for higher data revenues.

One interesting tidbit was their comparison of the potential for mobile social networking vs. mobile games. As I wrote here, the opportunity to help people connect with friends (i.e., help them socialize) is what's missing from much of the focus around mobile games and mobile video. Here's the excerpt from the BW article:

"Already, 33.2% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans post photos to Web sites via mobile phones, according to mobile consultancy M:Metrics. By contrast, only 18.7% of these young adults play downloadable mobile games, one of the most successful forms of mobile content to date — and a $600 million market in the U.S. last year, according to consultancy IDC. 'This suggests to me there's absolutely interest in participating in mobile social networks,' says Mark Donovan, an analyst at M:Metrics."

The article also touches very briefly on the real differentiator for mobile social: location. Mobile social will really take off when companies figure out a user-friendly way to incorporate location into mobile social. When that happens, we'll hear less about how mobile social is an add-on to online social networking (ex., getting SMS alerts when somebody does something online) and more about how mobile social is driving social networking.

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SMS is still the best

May 23, 2006

One of the dangers of working in mobile is that it's easy to get caught up in the hype. Throw in 3G, GPS, mobile video, mobile music, 2bn+ mobile subscribers worldwide, etc….and you can quickly see how a lot of smart people and well-run companies get mesmerized by the possibilities.

The danger, of course, is that these visions of the "mobile society" get too far ahead of the way normal, everyday people use their mobile phones. I'm a huge believer in the long-term potential for mobile (otherwise I wouldn't be working in mobile!), but I also think too many ignore some basic facts: voice still drives mobile phone usage / carrier selection and the only "universal" data service is SMS.

Take this recent study published in Newsday (via MobHappy) about US college students' mobile phone usage. A demographic that everybody expects to be among the heaviest users of mobile data – college students – emphasizes voice features as being most important and overwhelmingly uses SMS.

  • 85% of students sent or received a text message in the past month. Avg. number of messages exchanged per month was 115.
  • 60% of students are enrolled in a family plan
  • Three most important factors for selecting mobile carriers are all voice-related: cost of minutes (53%), free long distance (27%), and free mobile-to-mobile (25%).

A recent post by Danah Boyd on mobile social communities also points out the problems of building mobile communities that aren't universally accessible / used within social clusters (i.e., communities built around GPS, mobile clients that only work on specific handsets or only with specific carriers, etc.). As the 85% adoption of SMS by US college students shows, SMS is the only mobile data service that's used and accessible by almost everybody. Not GPS. Not some slick downloadable app. Not mobile video. Plain, old, simple, boring…SMS.

SMS is cheap, it's super easy to use, and it works with practically everybody else's mobile phone (hmm…could that be a reason SMS is so popular?). Even though the influential / early adopter youth crowd mostly have "shit plans" (as Danah Boyd calls them) because they can't afford expensive data plans, most of them can't go without one data service: SMS. Sounds like a winner to me.

The right type of mobile content: think social

May 21, 2006

There's been a lot of talk lately about the "slowdown" in mobile content as user adoption seems to have (temporarily) stalled. M:Metrics came out with a press release attributing the slowdown in mobile gaming adoption to "pricing, choice and lack of interest". MocoNews cited a Forbes article in which Rob Tercek points to the carriers, including their lack of focus on mobile content relative to voice and one-size-fits-all merchandising / marketing.

The NY Times also has an article profiling Trip Hawkins's view on mobile content. His take: mobile content needs to enable social connections,"because it's when you're mobile, you're the most socially needy and vulnerable and insecure, and that's when the one platform you have is the mobile, wireless platform." As the article notes, his company, Digital Chocolate, has created games that "appear decidedly low-tech, the easiest-to-use games possible without fancy graphics or elaborate storytelling;" in other words, their games are tailored to fill people's social need for interaction while mobile – not designed to cram the most visual firepower or complexity into a mobile video game.

I think Digital Chocolate has got it right. What ails mobile content isn't all the carriers' fault (as most people would lead you to believe). What ails mobile content is the wrong focus on why people will want to consume mobile content.

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What services could drive sharing of camera phone pictures?

May 7, 2006

Not surprising to see this NPD report about the missed opportunities in sharing camera phone pictures: 50% of U.S. subscribers have camera phones, but only 20% of consumers with camera phones actually share them wirelessly. 80% of the time people just leave their camera phone pictures on their handsets. That's a lot of potential dollars being left on the table.

Others have talked about ways to improve the adoption of MMS, which usually come down to making it easier and cheaper to share. It seems so obvious, but a couple of years into MMS and we're still pointing to the same inhibitors.

An equally important question: besides moblogs, what are some other potential services that could drive camera phone picture sharing? An overlooked potential application is using camera phone pictures as a valuable indicator of presence information. If the goal of sharing presence information is to communicate one's "present state" (where are you, what are you doing, what is your availability to interact), then camera phone pictures could be ideal presence indicators because (a) people can share presence info using their camera phones anytime, anywhere and (b) people can often communicate richer presence information by sharing a picture than they could by sending text ("a picture is worth a thousand words").

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More feedback on kid locator services

May 5, 2006

Sprint Family Locator (image from USA Today)USA Today reviewed Sprint's Family Locator service that I wrote about previously. As you might guess from the title – Sprint Family Locator needs to work on accuracy – it's not a glowing review of the service.

Even if you got over the privacy issues of "always-on" location tracking and assumed kids would dutifully use the service (to avoid being tracked, kids could simply turn their phones off), you still have an issue with GPS location as USA Today writes: "GPS doesn't do as well in congested areas with tall buildings, including midtown Manhattan, one spot where a Samsung MM-A920 was tracked. Accuracy measurements came within 442 yards, 718 yards and 997 yards, several city blocks from the phone's actual position in an office much of the time."