Summary:

Today, we got the latest in what is quickly becoming a long list of apps that promise to make accessing one’s various social networks and co…

Today, we got the latest in what is quickly becoming a long list of apps that promise to make accessing one’s various social networks and contact lists into a seamless mobile experience…

Orange launched its own version, On, at Mobile World Congress, HTC upgraded its Sense UI and, yesterday, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) incorporated social network aggregation into its Windows 7 Series’ address book…

But how well are these services – pioneered by the likes of Zyb – working, and how much are they actually getting used? There is takeup, but it looks slow so far…

Vodafone launched its own social media aggregation platform, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) People, as part of its 360 initiative. Yesterday it announced it has sold more than 300,000 signature 360 devices (there are two models – the Samsung H1 and M1) since launching in November 2009. But compare that to Vodafone’s iPhone sales, which reached 100,000 in the UK after only being in the stores for a week in January.

– Vodafone has not said how many owners of those 300,000 handsets have actually become active users of the aggregation service. But Pieter Knook, internet services director at Vodafone, points out in the release that “Registrations to the 360 service are increasing, running at a rate of four thousand a day in January.” That’s not many. Vodafone now is aiming to grow that user base by offering 360 as an app – first stop: Android devices. It projects that, by March 2010, it will have shipped over two million devices, covering 50 different handsets, capable of accessing the Vodafone 360 service.

Operators like Orange and Vodafone are trying hard to play outside their walled gardens. Both Vodafone People and On are free to download by anyone who wants to use them, regardless of what network they’re on. And they are adding more social networks into the services all the time. (Orange already has SMS, MMS, voicemail, Twitter, and Facebook and is soon adding Messenger, for example.) But the services may need to open further, taking a leaf out of Twitter and Facebook’s API playbooks, if they want to become truly mass-market.

And how will they make money from this? Offering the service to their own user bases makes sense — for handset makers, it becomes another service to attract users; and for the operators, it will encourage more data usage, and therefore more revenue.

But, for off-net users, the revenue opportunity is less immediate. It is understood that Orange is looking into using the base for mobile advertising opportunities longer term. This would fit in with its wider ambitions in mobile ads, which has seen it snap up the agency Unanimis and roll out a pan-European SMS/MMS ad service using the ad-serving platform originally developed by Blyk.

Given that these services are free for now, the advertising route looks like it might be the most obvious way for the others to make money, too.

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