Social Networking Moving To Mobile, With Teething Troubles

Social networking, becoming even more immediate and ubiquitous, is jumping onto mobile phones where it becomes even more immediate — but there are issues that have to be sorted out. The New York Times has a piece on the phenomenon, covering just a couple of the companies in the space, both of which raise issues that don’t apply to computers. Kyte.TV allows people to update an online “channel” with video from their cameraphone, and get instant feedback on the posts. The example given in the story is “Mr. Zai, a 37-year-old Swiss engineer, used his mobile phone to send out constant updates and images from his safari for an online audience”, and the article finishes with: “Of course, there is such a thing as being too in touch. Mr. Zai was disconcerted by the instant feedback to his safari photos that popped up on his phone…”Getting all kinds of communication in such a remote place is a bit confusing,” he said. “I kept responding, ‘I don’t really have the time to talk to you now. I have to make photos of these elephants’.” There was no mention made of what measures he had taken to avoid being bankrupted by roaming charges — there are ways, such as getting a local SIM, which doesn’t work if your handset is locked.

The article also talks about the latest “Next Big Thing”, Twitter, which lets users update what they’re doing instantly and send SMS alerts based on that to others who have signed up. The Mobile Weblog has a post on Twitter suspending its SMS service in Australia citing high operating costs, in what we are assured is a “short term solution”. The issue is that in Australia (indeed, in many countries) the sender of an SMS pays the entire amount — so offering free SMS at that level of communication is infeasible.

The problem is converting a service design for the PC web to mobiles. While the internet is mostly commoditized — if you connect to it that’s pretty much all you have to worry about, except for some speed issues in some places — each “mobile net” is still run by an individual operator, with vastly different technological capabilities and attitudes towards things like pricing and access. Mobile-focused social networks have the advantage in that they’re designed so their users don’t have those problems — but by necessity their users are restricted to customers of a particular carrier.