Mobile Goes Social

Is networking mobile's diamond in the rough?

Social networking embodies Web 2.0 and a multitude of networking sites are proliferating on the Web. At the same time, the mobile Web has been predicted as the next driving force of the Internet for years. With the former, we see a fulfillment of available technologies and a user base defining a new era of the Internet. The latter is a long trail of broken promises and unrealized potential. But both have advertisers salivating at the prospect of a ubiquitous Web complete with an audience who is active and available around-the-clock.

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Mobile devices were traditionally built to communicate and are now more and more about connecting to the Web. Social networks are all about communicating and connecting to other people - through the Web. So why not marry the two?

MySpace, the king (for now) of all social networks recently launched a free, advertising-supported mobile version of the site. Users can send and receive messages and friend requests, make comments, post bulletins, blog and find new friends. Hot on MySpace's heels, Facebook recently became available to BlackBerry smartphones. But it hardly stops there.

The second half of 2007 has seen a mobile social networking uprising. Bluepulse launched in beta in December of 2006 and now claims to be approaching 100 million monthly page views. They recently secured $6 million in a first round of venture capital funding. TruTap, seen as a competitor of Bluepulse, will have messaging, chat, photo sharing and blogging and plans to enter partnerships with the major social networks and mobile carriers. They are said to have nearly $8 million to work with. And don't forget one of the truest applications of social networking: MeetMoi is a start-up focused on location based dating. They raised $1.5 million in June, 2007.

With MeetMoi, users get profiles of singles in their area sent to them. This works, according to CEO Andrew Weinreich, because unlike at a desktop, mobile users don't want to spend time searching. "You have to think about the user. Look at the medium and see what's the best user experience," said Weinreich.

Finally, let's consider all-powerful Google. They recently acquired mobile social network Zingku and plan to use a combination of text messaging, email and Web-based browsing and instant messaging to connect users. Being Web-based means there is nothing to install, making the service usable with just about any Web-enabled mobile device.

Still, one of the biggest concerns of mobile social networking is invasion of privacy. U.S. mobile users consider their devices a part of their personal space. Ben Keighran, CEO of Bluepulse understands the dilemma. "It's going to be very important for mobile. Some sort of leader will have to emerge and be a trusted network.

So, is social and mobile a match made in heaven? Can social networking be the catalyst that the mobile Web has been waiting for?

"It's quite possibly the killer application that opens up the mobile Internet," says Keighran. He believes that new services need to be built for the mobile Internet and whoever takes charge will reap the rewards. And he feels that the door is open for just about anyone. "There's going to be a Yahoo or Google for mobile but it won't be Yahoo or Google.