@ MEX: Building Communities Around Identity, Presence And Interaction

[by Jemima Kiss] From the the PMN Mobile User Experience conference in London this week: The session I was really looking forward to. The keynote was by Frederick Ghahramani, director and co-founder of AirG, Vancouver-based mobile social networking specialists. He defined community with four key elements:
– Identity. How the user is represented.
– Presence. Tools like IM and ‘online now’ indicators.
– Interaction. Content sharing, comment functions and so on.
– The user interface and experience fits round any or all of those.
Various sites have been built around some of those elements – Napster around interaction, Blogger around identity, Friendster around presence and identity – but (because you seemingly can’t give a presentation on social networking without mentioning MySpace) MySpace was the first to combine identity, presence and interaction. “Identity gives a reason to interact and presence makes the interactivity real time,” said Ghahramani. Pointing to his own MySpace page, he said: “What I see here is Blogger and Photoshare and then elements of Match.com, only not done as well, Friendster, only not done as well, and Napster – only not done as well. MySpace has become successful by playing a combination game.”
Translating this experience to the mobile space will depend on user interface innovation, he said: “How do you combine identity, presence and interactivity on a 90×50 pixel screen?.” Embed user interfaces that mimic an online experience are promising. “UI is the most important thing when it comes to mobile comunities. Ultimately it’s going to be UI innovation that will drive market success.”
AirG’s own move to a Java-based embed experience in Q4 2005 produced a three-fold increase in session length, a 50 per cent increase in install base in Q1 2006 and pushed user numbers to more than 10 million. Compared to the WAP experience, users find it easier-to-use, faster and say it looks better.
On user-generated content, Gharamani gave the example of Kimbo Slice, a Miami-based illegal ‘Fight Club’ boxer who put video of his fights on YouTube. In four months his videos were downloaded five million times and he became an instant celebrity – although it’s all illegal of course. The popularity of this kind of content is undeniable but the swathe of complications – legal risks, privacy issues, copyright breaches, content management requirements – is an enormous issues for mobile operators because unlike a lot of UGC in the online space, consumers haven’t disassociated the liabilities from the operators: “operators will be the first to get the blame if anything goes wrong”. From the Kimbo Slice example: “Five million downloads x upset parents x calls to customer services = one expensive customer service issue”.
He joked that if MySpace was advertising for a head of mobile, he’d apply…
– Fjord MD Mike Beeston: Given the choice between accessing a service on a PC or mobile, users can prefer the privacy and intimacy of a mobile interface for services like Flirtomatic, for example.
Gunnar Larsen, director EMEA, Real Networks: “Trust is the issue here: people don’t use mobile as an extension of online communities just because they don’t trust the cost.” Larsen also defined ‘casual games’ as more female. Stuff like Tetris – “not the ones where you shoot things and blood splatters everywhere”. Nice.

This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.