Mobile social networks, don’t go it alone

The web-based social network boom and the rising use of cell phones for non-voice functions, makes the trendy ‘mobile social network’ phenomenon an obvious area for investment. But the reality is that it’s difficult to base a business off of just turning an unknown brand into a single mobile social network. You need a lot of money to grow the subscriber counts, and mobile users aren’t so enthused about mobile data in most markets around the planet.

Only 4% of U.K. mobile users and 6% of U.S. mobile users have uploaded content to social network sites (including sharing sites or blogs) from their phones, according to Telephia. That’s just uploading mobile content, and doesn’t include any of the other mobile social network features from the mobile web, or an application. And with MySpace mobile leading the way in these small markets, with 32% of U.S. mobile upload traffic and 21% in the U.K, what do you do if you’re a small startup with a little-known mobile social network?

If you’re InterCasting, a startup founded by CEO Shawn Conahan, you try to make friends with your web-based potential competitors. The company has been working on building its mobile social network and chat service Rabble for several years now, but has recently started selling a technology platform service for carriers and web-based social network providers. Basically, social network providers can plug into Intercasting’s gateway via APIs, and the service combines a server software and a handset client.

Conahan, in an email response to GigaOM, said: “I agree that it is difficult to start a mobile social networking business from scratch, AND it is cost-prohibitive for existing social networking sites to build their own mobile applications, and that is why we think enabling the whole opportunity is a better approach.”

The company’s investors must think the strategy shift is a good move, otherwise they wouldn’t have handed over another $12 million in a Series B financing, led by Venrock and including existing backers Avalon Ventures and Masthead Venture Partners. We had mentioned that the company was looking for investment in a recent post.


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