Will and should social networks go mobile? Or will mobile go social?

Fred Stutzman just wrote a good blog article about what will happen in 2007 with social networking. His opinion is that social networks will not have success with going mobile in 2007. That may be true or not, but if they do, what sort of things will they have to consider? Social networks are now very web browser focussed. People long hours on these sites, editing their own profiles and viewing others. It isn’t given that a successful mobile social network would be exactly the same. These are some of the questions we have to ask:

Category A: Will the mobile social networks be just a mobile frontend to the web based service? Fred points out that mobile networks is about browsing. Quite clearly, browsing social communities on a mobile phone isn’t going to be as great as on a PC. There’s plenty of room for adding Mobile IM, SMS and MMS interfaces to the services though, allowing users to add comments to their blog and pictures through the mobile phone. Maybe that’ll be the extent we’ll see in the first phase. Existing social networks adding SMS and MMS. I think this will be successful and will enhance their services (and increase revenues).

Category B: I’m sure we’ll see many service providers launching social network sites that are mainly focussed on mobile. These services will have to focus on the really mobile features and possibilities in the mobile phone. These service providers can use the address book of the phone, location and other mobile technologies to create a good service. And ringtones, backgrounds, ringbacktones etc. But the services need to be really simple to be useable on the mobile, and will they be able to be simple and functional and still interesting when just on a mobile? Any mobile social network service that requires a web frontend for most of the profile creation is really of the previous category (social networks going mobile) and the existing social networks clearly have a huge advantage there as pointed out by Fred.

Which role will the mobile operators have? Will they ‘own’ the service? My opinion is that mobile operators should be doing a lot more to own the mobile IM service that they are offering. The operators in the US have for obvious reasons offered access to existing IM services rather than focussing on creating their own IM communities. European operators are split between creating their own IM service and gatewaying to existing ones. For operators to have success in launching their own IM services, they need to closely link it with SMS (so called SMS continuity) both in marketing/branding and in bridging to legacy SMS users. If they don’t do this, they’re not going to succeed. With social networks however, operators don’t have a service to build on, except perhaps the phone book? Hence my opinion is that mobile operators should be linking up to the existing social networks and reducing barriers for them to mobilize their services. Operators may want to offer some simple own mobile focussed social networks, or at least some blogging functionality. I’m confident that some operators who are dedicated to developing their own service will have success also, if they manage to provide cross-operator interoperability and build on their existing service. But rolling out a social network is much different from installing a standard SMSC or MMSC.

Please let me know if you agree or disagree…

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