Will the rise of mobile social networking be the catalyst to drive location based services?
(ps notice a pattern here – no .mobi extension for these major sites – does this point to the fact that consumers will decree dot m is the winner)
..it got me thinking about the link between the PC version of a site and the mobile equivalent, and the desire for those people using social networking sites to take the experience with them when they are mobile. Perhaps the link between web based and mobile applications will drive new location service revenues and applications in 2008?
Even Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone is now talking about Facebook and GPS in the same sentence – quoting a recent article in the NZ Herald
“The next big step in mobile technology is adding location-based service – like GPS – to phones so you can network with friends and get alerts whenever they are nearby”, Sarin says.
…but Sarin – perhaps offering a clue to why he’s made it to the top – keeps it all beautifully simple. “GPS on your Facebook account so you can know where your mates are around you. It’s tremendously important to know – so you can go have a beer with them.”
Looking at the increasing number of location enabled Facebook applications available such as Find me, Sniff, The Grid, Whereboutz, and Loki they all rely on either GPS (or in the case of Loki, WiFi) to pinpoint your position. Given that the number of GPS and WiFi phones are in the minority in Europe, it begs the question as to when and who will launch a mass market, cellular based location service (apart from Google who have already built a closed system that works with Google Mobile Maps). Yahoo’s Fire Eagle is a good first step, and they also promise Facebook integration “soon” – read my previous post on Fire Eagle.
A couple of weeks ago I was speaking with a well known mobile operator who admitted to me that their location platform was just not suitable for mass market location services (that’s why they were talking to me). As has been long known, most LBS network based cell-ID platforms around the world are only provisioned to handle single digit queries per second, as the location platform vendors charge the licence fees as a function of throughput, and most LBS services are yet to make any money. In contrast, SMS services have to handle 100s and even 1000s of messages a second. Also, as each location request consumes similar resources to that of SMS (network, SS7, airtime), most LBS services have to charge an SMS type tariff for each lookup.
So while it seems that location enabled social networking applications are a no brainer, the reality is that we are still a way off from enabling 100% of mobile social network users to be located and feed this information back onto the web to update their profile (assuming they wanted to do this).
This is really all about presence, and feeds rather nicely into social networking applications such as Facebook, MySpace etc. Mobile social networking is the natural extension from the web based versions of these major sites to the mobile. It is the mobile’s ability to provide real-time location, and in turn presence (“I’m seeing a movie in London“) that will provide a real boost to the mobile versions of these sites. I think it is unlikely that a mobile social networker will want to publish a map of exactly where they are for all to see – but they may wish to promote where they are relative to their profile, community or local area.
So finally, instead of just being a cut-down version of the main site, the mobile version will add real time value with presence from location services.
What is encouraging is that social network users are wanting to take their “web 2.0” experience with them in a mobile web 2.0 way – and this is good news for the mobile industry as the social networking boom experiences another surge via the mobile channel.