Why mobile could reinvent social computing

Many innovative start-ups have pioneered mobile social networking in the last few years: BuzzCity, Peperoni, Fring, Nimbuzz, eBuddy, Zyb, Plazes, Loopt, Foursquare and many others demonstrated the potential of the market.

 

In the last few months, a bunch of announcements clearly showed that the convergence between mobile and social computing is gaining traction and attracting the largest stakeholders:

 

·         In September 2009, Facebook announced it had passed the 65,000,000 mobile users' monthly mobile audience mark (which represents more than 20% of a global online audience of 300M users). Bebo, Friendster, MySpace, Orkut also are among the top mobile Web destinations in countries where they have significant online audiences. Twitter partnered with Vodafone and O2 in the UK while offering a mobile VoIP offering with Jajah.

·         Operators such as Vodafone with its “360” initiative and to a lesser extent Orange with “Social Life” are going one step further than just offering access to social networking sites.

·         Handset manufacturers are trying to integrate online social experiences in their devices: INQ gained lot of attention with its INQ 1 (see below a pic from a recent trip in Italy) by winning the “handset of the year” award at MWC, while Nokia recently announced a deeper integration of Facebook in the N97, not to mention the Motoblur product.

 

Figure 7 Now Your Social Life Doesn't Need To End When You Turn Off Your PC

In the UK, 40% of 16/25 years old are either accessing (17%) or interested in accessing social networking (23%) via their mobile phones. Of course, mobile social computing is primarily a youth activity today. However, it has a strong potential to unlock.   

 

Most of the digital revolution has taken place on the PC so far, with the emergence of email, instant messaging, blogs, photo- and video-sharing sites, and social networks. The ubiquitous nature of mobile phones has changed the way we live and communicate. Letters, diaries, address books, and memories have gone digital, while communication with friends, relatives, and colleagues has never involved such a mix of our personal and professional lives. However, mobile phones are not only communication tools. Mobile phones have unique characteristics that will enhance and modify existing PC-based Social Web experiences.

 

Indeed, mobile social activity is more than just accessing social networking sites while on the go. Mobile phones have the potential to become the hub of Social Computing activities and to be more than just a complement to the PC experience. Mobile phones will increasingly become the glue that holds the social graph together, offering creative tools and immediacy, presence, location, and context when interacting with the real world. The “always on” mobile connected handset frees the Social Web from the chains of the PC and thrusts it into the real world.

 

As Social Computing is still primarily about social communication, traditional telecom and online players will start fighting to tap into consumers’ social address books. It is too early to say who will win the race: stakeholders have different assets, and uncertainties around business models still exist. In fact, stakeholders have no other choice but to collaborate, as no single player can really own a person’s social graph. They need to balance business opportunities with the need to respect consumers’ privacy concerns by providing them with the tools to manage their digital identities.

 

Despite massive communication audiences, traditional online giants have failed so far to turn their communication audiences into social audiences — a lesson that traditional telecom stakeholders should bear in mind! Moving away from personal information management (PIM) to fun, exciting social experiences is not an easy game.

 

If you want to know more about this topic, Forrester Research just published a new report: “Why mobile could reinvent social computing”. Clients can access it here.

 

I had some interesting discussions with my colleagues serving Interactive Marketers and there are still lots of unknown and open issues around the convergence between mobile and social computing. I’d be curious to know your thoughts on this nascent and exciting topic. If you want to share your ideas, feel free to comment below.