Sunday, January 4, 2009

Looking over 2008

What’s new with communities on mobile is the convergence (arguably in 2008) of three conditions.

I am always distilling what I read and learn. In my mind, the changes in 2008 can be boiled down. The triumvirate is composed of (1) ease-of-use for much richer services, (2) business models and (3) critical mass/the network effect.

For the ordinary user of mobile data--the “early majority” of people using mobile who inhabit a space to the right of the technophiles and geeks on the bell shape curve of technology adoption—the barriers to entry into virtual community services while on-the-go are lower than anytime in the past and still falling. Today anyone who is comfortable using a browser can access the services in a matter of seconds using a PC or a mobile. But that’s only part of the first key. The second component is that the return on this little investment to get “into” and engage with a community is greater than it was a year or even six months ago.

Condition two: companies recognize that engagement on mobile is more easily translated to revenues than engagement on PC connected to the broadband, flat-rate Internet. Whenever a message is sent/received and people “connect” in their communities via mobile, the cash register is making its familiar noise. In addition, the premium services business models are expanding rapidly (a good topic to explore here in the future). To sum up this condition, unlike the case with PC-based users, people on mobile platforms are aware that there is a billing relationship so the mobile community twist carries this very important “added advantage” that permit businesses to cover more of their operating costs as well as to (at some point) make a profit.

The third important condition which emerged in 2008 is that of critical mass. By any metric one chooses to use (and there are many to be studied), 2008 was a pivotal year for social networking at large. It was an explosive year for mobile. I estimate that there are nearly 100 Million registrations (fewer people) now using community services on mobile.

This, when I boil it all down, is what I believe really happened in 2008 in the mobile community sector. These three conditions—metaphorical keys to a kingdom—are now being used to rapidly unlock the well-recognized community potential on mobile platforms and, with these conditions met, the industry will be able to tackle remaining missing elements.

Looking way back

Communities are as old as humanity. There’s nothing particularly brilliant about recognizing that the human animal, with some exceptions, seeks the company of others like it.

Although I can’t seem to put my finger on one now (when I want to re-read an article written by someone else on the topic), it seems that many headlines in 2008’s final days reminded readers that Virtual Communities grew and might, in retrospect, be “the next killer app.”

Can anyone recall or find such an article I can read and to which I might point? Please post in comments.

To give these bright people (whom I seem to have imagined) the benefit of the doubt, I’ll refine the comment I believe these writers and thinkers were making into a simple declarative statement with the minimum of buzzwords: virtual communities are hot attractions. The digital broadcast channel has evolved into millions of conversations.

Some may have forgotten or not been aware that the virtual community phenomenon was detected as an emerging trend on the Internet at least 15 years ago. Barry Wellman published many academic and popular works on the topic for nearly two decades. Howard Rheingold’s 1993 book Virtual Community documented it and, some say he coined the term. Writers for technology audiences have been aware of this for a long time as well. In mid-2000 WirelessWeek ran a short article with the headline “Community-the Killer App?” Five years ago, in 2003, Rheingold wrote an update about and expanded upon the topic in Smart Mobs. Around the same time, Tomi Ahonen and Alan Moore took the concept much further and examined how communities would change the way companies communicate with their customers in their book Communities Dominate Brands.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

$2.5 Trillion attributable to Mobile Social Networking?

There's a new forecast for Mobile Social Networking to beat all the previous ones.

iSuppli Corporation, a market research firm, has done a study of Mobile Social Networking and forecasts the impact of this trend in 2020. There's almost no information available on the study except a short article which appears here.

The problem, of course, is in how one defines the market and where one draws the line of impact. In this case, iSuppli seems (in the last paragraph of the article) to include the sales of semiconductors for mobile devices supporting social networking in their forecast.

In the Informa forecast of the Mobile Social Networking market, I did not even include revenues from "bulk" data traffic services generated by Mobile Social Networking. This was because I feel that one cannot directly attribute data plan choices to only one service. It's more likely that people choose their data plans for a bundle of services they think they will need, even though social media and networks may feature very highly in the bundle.

In the forecast, I do include the impact of communications services (such as voice and video calls) initiated from social networking applications and all types of messaging revenues which are linked to those services.

I will be working on the model in the next few weeks and plan to have the 2020 scenario as an exercise during the IIR Mobile Social Networking pre-conference workshop.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Virtual Communities need a "home"

Since last fall when I was deep into the research for the Informa report, I detected a need for a safe place, a forum, where the virtual communities' challenges could (at least) be flagged and examined more closely.

In February, at the MWC, I stopped by the W3C booth and met Dominique Hazael-Massieux, the Mobile Web Initiative Activity Lead. In March, and for the past week, Dominique and I have be hatching a proposal. The W3C has the appropriate structure for this work to begin and continue, but it lacks the appropriate staff to drive the initiative.

A proposal is now being reviewed by over 20 mobile community operators and Network Equipment Providers, some of whom have a lot invested in the virtual community space, to solicit their sponsorship for this W3C fellow post. The post would need to be created, but there is no point in creating something for which there is no financial support.

I look forward to seeing how this is received at the W3C Advisory Committee meeting next week.

Mobile Social Networking and UGC Summit in July

The process of educating the market about mobile communities is only beginning. Even those of us who spend every day and night working on this topic need to hear how others see and experience the market. There remain many companies who are interested in learning more but have not really invested in a good report!

An alternative to a market research report is a delegate seat at a summit such as that which will be held July 2-4 2008 in Amsterdam. I love the city of Amsterdam and welcome the opportunity to be going back there. In addition to excellent location, the opportunity to collaborate with the conference organizer in the development of the agenda was valuable to me.

Mobile Social Networking and UGC: From Foundations to Advanced Strategic Planning is the title of the pre-conference workshop which I am conducting. As the title suggests, I will layout out the foundations as I see them and will take this through to the future and how to plan for it. I'm particularly excited about the afternoon which I'm planning to focus on the model of the industry. I am going to invite some financial and industry analysts to that session and really get serious with some What If scenarios.

Summit speakers include some of the most outspoken independent community operators (Gofresh, Flirtomatic) and several mobile operators. I anticipate that IIR will be able to bring in a good group of operators.

Today I'm going to issue an invitation to some of my lists to register early for the Summit and Workshop.

How quickly?

Yes, once again, it's about how quickly time passes...

The question I've been asking the companies with whom I've had telephone briefings this week is how fast their services are evolving: much their services have changed, in terms of features, since December 2007 when the tables were presumably correct.

I'm selectively sending out the individual profiles Informa published in the Companion Volume to see if there is a need to prepare an update. An update of the Companion Volume would also include approximately 30 more (new) profiles of services which were either (a) available in 2007 but I did not have sufficient contact with to prepare a profile, or (b) new services that have been introduced/released since January 1, 2008. A new Companion Volume will definitely be necessary in 2008 but I am not sure when. I hope to have feedback on this by later this month. I don't have a good handle from other people who publish material of this type on the frequency of releases. In the future, of course, the entire resource would be available on a web site which could be updated any time.

Time has also permitted me to invest more cycles into the Mobile Social Networking model which I prepared with Gareth Sims for the report. The model is getting a few minor repairs. I'm also increasing the annotations and instructions. Finally, I'm beginning to work out how to develop the bottom up estimates for the AIGPU (Average Income Generated Per User) in different community segments. These will be in pretty good shape by the time of the IIR Workshop.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Signs of progress-mobile communities in the spotlight

It's been far too long (again) since my last post but I'm prepared to resume. It has been a very hectic three weeks. The most important event during the interval was the final hard copy and electronic publication of the report (January 30).

The second milestone was meeting with over 45 companies in Barcelona Feb 11-14 and generally taking the pulse of the industry over those four days. The topic of mobile applications in general (and mobile communities in particular) was more important in 2008 than in past years. There were several important announcements made (by Microsoft, Nokia, Yahoo! and dozens of small companies) and a new category of "global award" was born (the Best Mobile Social Networking Service was awarded to myGamma).

Press coverage of mobile social networking has been good. The report, in particular, will be mentioned in an article in the Washington Post about mobile communities later this week and there was one a few weeks ago published by Reuters and syndicated to dozens of newspapers around the world : there are dozens of smaller articles in local/regional publications every day!