On November 11th 2008 a cross-section of mobile and web practitioners assembled to discuss the ascent and future of mobile social networks and media. It was the second mobile-focused event in a row for Chinwag this autumn, but the discussion was completely different – see my previous post.
Unfortunately, someone in the audience repeatedly disrupted it right at the beginning, which threw the panel off slightly, and it took some time for the discussion to find its sweet-spot.
Speaking to jamescoops of mjelly afterwards, I totally agreed with his view that events like this need to begin from some kind of shared framework of understanding, from which they can then progress to a fruitful debate, and in doing so also surface and deal with the blind-spots of the audience, as at Chinwag Live events the diversity of specialism and experience is broad – a state of affairs which (for good reasons) I think should be cherished.
To try and make up for this here, I’ll quote from the event description that was co-written by myself and Julia Eilon:
“The rise and rise of mobile social networking and services is upon us, but is ‘mobile access’ enough or do users seek more?
Spurred on by web leaders like Facebook and MySpace and with lower data charges spreading for mobile web access, mobile social usage has soared. Are location-based services going to be key to its success, or is there more to the future of this most social of devices? How can brands engage in the mobile social space?
Will there be a battle for survival among the current myriad of mobile-only social networks and video / blogging platforms, or can they succeed with focus on novel functionality and user experience? Should online niche social networks also make the move to mobile? Where are the revenue streams and how effective can the ROI be?”
Harry Blunden – Head of Digital, ?WhatIfInnovation!
Justin Davies – Founder, NinetyTen / BuddyPing
Alfie Dennen – Co-founder & CEO, Moblog
Chris Seth – MD Europe, Piczo (unable to attend at last minute)
Roy Shelton – CEO, Next2Friends
CHAIR: Bena Roberts – Mobile Media & Advertising Consultant, Founder & Editor, GoMo News
What follows are some excerpts from my notes. The full-fat podcast will be out soon…
Business models and traction
Roy Shelton – when Next2Friends started they thought they could charge subscription, and then build it up around advertising, but now they’re using it mainly as a white label service to power others’ services.
Alfie Dennen (who has also been busy with some noteworthy personal projects) spoke of the phone as a vector. There’s no chance of traction unless an operator / carrier deck deal is in place. So Moblog has done white label products. Practically speaking, there are quite a lot of ways you can make money from mobile social platforms and services, but it’s still quite guerrilla, he stressed
Justin Davies – the network operators will be key. Think of the power of being able to take a picture and instantly send / share it with my address book.
Jay Cooper from Blyk (in the audience) challenged this, saying Blyk have proved that the ad-funded model can work – it’s not about technology, it’s about having a community. Panel members countered that it was rather about Blyk’s very unique business model
Who, why, what, when and where..?
Next2Friends are working with the UK’s biggest gay social network to enable real-time posting of photos to the web based around voting upon “who do I want to sleep with tonight?”
Alfie – in China there’s an issue with LBS in that you can’t say where a lot of things are. Moblog had to write an algorithm that screwed up the location slightly.
Justin – just to get the location licence you have to jump through a lot of hoops with the operators, but ultimately, in terms of revealing your location on LBS, it’s up to the user. We need more regulation, and to know and think about the boundaries surrounding us and the legalities surrounding that.
Roy – the advice Next2Friends were given in the UK and US was very different, so they went down the self-policing route. UK is also governed by OFTEL (now OFCOM) regulation of content for under 16s.
Courting brand relationships…
Conor McKenna of mobile social search engine Taptu asked: what should brands be doing and what should agencies be putting in front of them?
Harry Blunden of WhatIfInnovation addressed this, flagging up “branded utility” as a hot idea (although not so new – I first heard of it from Simon Andrews in August 2006), and social networks on mobile are in that space. WhatIf have been looking at brands and mini meet-ups – for example beer voucher giveaways driven by social network awareness.
Harry Dewhirst from Ring Ring Media pointed out that simple campaigns like Flirtomatic’s incredibly successful Strongbow offer showed how direct marketing and response will work in this space. More sophisticated targeting is also possible, he added, and it could drive some fantastic campaigns.
Forecasts for (next year, I think) on mobile are a billion for Myspace and 4 million for Facebook. [NB. I didn’t note if this referred to revenues or users, or who said this; I’ll update when podcast is released]
Harry continued that Ring Ring advocate cross-pollination of social nets and off-deck, as well as ads and placement on-deck.
Luis Carranza from Iris Digital observed that the term “mobile advertising” sets up an assumption that it’s just broadcast and online advertising transferring onto the mobile phone, but we need to improve and evolve the marketing approach so that’s is attuned to the medium. Harry Blunden put a different spin on this, stressing that social networks are just an innovation in digital communications.
I can haz mobile web access?
Jez Dutton, a senior planner from Glue, asked about the key drivers from the consumer perspective, and what are the cost issues?
Speaking with his developer hat on, Justin Davies said that 4 or 5 companies will end up controlling access to applications, but you also need to be aware that you can’t develop an app that is similar to one Apple already have.
In terms of countering the billshock that accompanies metered access to the mobile web, Alfie reckoned that bundling Facebook with Orange was a red herring. I’m not quite sure how this follows, but I’m sure he can set me right on this…
Harry Blunden countered this directly – it’s the original online social networks (Facebook, Myspace, etc) that have driven mobile web adoption, and the experience is improving because of the services and usability they have offered on mobile.
Is mobile the leader of the pack?
Another good question came from the audience in the form of this poser: is the social net phenomenon predicting what is already happening to us on our mobile phones (was Facebook the peak?) or [in the words of the song] is this just the beginning?
Harry cited the Accelerometer in the device [it’s in the iPhone, and some N Series, S60 and Sony Ericsson models from my brief scan of the web on this, and of course has been widely toyed with] – as a an omen of coming improvements in usability and user interface. Alfie observed that the iPhone is not the second coming, it’s just a sign. It’s a necessary evil given the Apple lock-in. The question is more “what will Nokia do?”
Channel 4’s mobile work around the Embarrassing Bodies series was more to his liking. They got 55,000 downloads of information on mobile after they offered a text-in service to receive more information. The context of mobile as a personal device was key to uptake, Alfie explained. How many people would want to download content about that topic to their PC, when, for instance, partners or family members might also be able to see or access that information? On mobile, it made sense.
Conor McKenna made the point that a lot of people who are using mobile web aren’t online [ie. on a computer] much or at all, such as taxi drivers and doctors.
Explaining the evolution of Next2Friends, Roy Shelton said firstly it was about early adopters; the second wave was creative types, aspiring film-makers and the like; then the social shopping function emerges with sharing and getting opinions. Conor chipped in that mobile social is big in parts of Eastern Europe, with ItsMy going ballistic in Hungary.
Luis from Iris revealed that they’re launching two social networks on mobile handsets in the next year. With time running out, Luis asked – what is the one thing that you would say to mobile customers? For Alfie it was “be there” (though his voice dropped an octave, he was only half joking); while Justin directed his message at producers: “keep it simple.”
PS: I’ll update this post with the RSS and iTunes links when the podcast is released.
PPS. I’m *still* semi-sulking coz no-one, at the event or elsewhere, has mentioned the Jim Morrison allusion in the event title