Thursday, October 2, 2008

Enablers for Mobile Social Networks (MSN's)

LONDON-As one of the key themes that was discussed at the Mobile Web Europe Conference last week in London was Mobile Social Networks (MSN's), User Generated Content (UGC) vs branded content and Location enablers, I feel prompted to delve into this subject area to share some current thoughts.

Firstly, when we think about MSNs we often witness the attempt by some operator or another to launch their own network (whether based around music or some other catalyst)...these attempts have met with mixed success, though it is probably to early to draw a line below them. Nontheless, in research presented by Priya Prakash of Flirtomatic, over 70% of social network users would refuse to join a(nother) social network created by an operator. On the other hand, off-portal attempts by start-ups (notably have met with success.

In general, the feel I get is that operators are losing traction at a faster pace than anticipated and off-portal startups have proved that it is possible to build a sustainable and profitable business without the operator.

Social objects (or the reason two people are talking to each other) can be either UGC or branded/syndicated from mainstream sources...with the saturation in the MSN playing field, it seems that at the very least a mix of the two is required to ensure that community members remain stimulated (and check in daily or hourly on the MSN).

An interesting play on this is by Buongiorno's blinko MSN (currently in closed beta) which has VIP channels that allow users to follow their favourite celebrity (be it Paris Hilton or Beyonce' Knowles).What is interesting is also the breadth of VIP channels available, which relates to a point made by Adrian Velthuis of Milennial Media. He stated that advertisers and community hosts alike should develop niche audiences to allow a differentiation in their offering compared to the plethora of competing MSNs or other mobile content.

As far as location is concerned, my belief is that this will be one of the key enablers of MSNs in the future -and that while technological limitations mean that it is still not mainstream, developments are expected in leaps and bounds. Sam Critchley from Gypsii talked about 'ambient awareness' as being the background awareness of what one's social network is doing...definitely something that reinforces location as a key enabler (where am I?) to achieve that contextual holy grail (what am I and my friends doing?).