FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW, I have used mobile phones to connect with social networks. And while spending thousands of euro to feed my mobile communications habit, I have realised that many of my friends couldn't be bothered with using their phones for more than phone calls or text messaging. Yet there is so much value from setting up a mobile phone to hook into your online social networks. There's great value in being able to record where you are with a quick photo uploaded to Flickr, a short recording shared on a social network or some location data pushed across an application to tell friends that you're in town. Paul Walsh has asked what people want from their mobile social networks. I have a few ideas in mind.
The answer to the question of mobile social network varies based on experience level and expectation. I say that because my friends in Ireland use their mobile phones differently than my colleagues in the States. Even though my Irish friends talk a lot, they demand more than voice from their phones. They often demand a mobile that can connect to favourite social networks when underway.
A mobile social network is where you encamp.
For the past 18 months, I have used Jaiku on my Series 60 Nokia mobile phones because Jaiku’s free add-on program shows some of the best ways of interacting with a mobile community through microblogging. The fast-loading mobile Jaiku client knows the name of the townland where you are connected to your mobile network and it knows whether you are actively using your phone or whether you are inactive. This has proven handy for me when visiting different international cities, because many of my friends also have N-series or E-series Nokia phones and they use Jaiku. I can get more out of attending a day-long conference or when trying to create an ad hoc meet-up with colleagues in venues, train stations, airports and restaurants.
Critics rightly point out that Jaiku’s community is much smaller than Twitter, another microblogging platform. By using either Jaiku or Twitter, you can listen to a stream of information from friends. If lazy, you can ask questions and follow the advice of those you trust. On some days, I listen to a stream of text messages sent free from Jaiku via SMS. My Nokia E90 converts those texts into speech. With 500 friends, it can mean a lot of noise. So it’s good to know Jaiku shuts off noise or makes me invisible with one simple click.
A mobile social network should save you money.
I get big cost savings with VoIP services through my mobile phone. Without changing to a MaxRoam SIM, I can use Fring on my mobile phone and connect via wifi to people in my phone’s address book via Skype, Skype-out, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk and several other free phone systems. The people I contact do not know I am away from my desk. And on top of that added productivity, Fring has helped me cut my mobile phone call charges by more than EUR 45 monthly.
My mobile phone network—the provider O2 in Ireland—also helped provide me a better rate table for my daily mobile use. But the big savings happens on account of where I buy coffee and eat lunch now. I now eat and drink where I can get a free and open wifi connection. Those wifi hotspots give me free Fring phone calls.
A mobile social network should stay ahead of you.
My phone shares my location. My phone gives me text alerts. FreeNews on my phone serves me news faster than Google Reader. Zenark intelligent alerts send me text messages with exceptions noted on web crawls. So I can stay abreast things without facing a huge backlog of reading when I return to base.
Thanks to the on-board social network running in my pocket, I can also meet up with people in ad hoc tea breaks. Some of my friends have noticed I am inside large conferences by monitoring photos and videos that I shoot when at important meetings. My Nokia E90 takes very good photographs with its on-board 3.2 megapixel camera. I generally upload an image every three hours while away from my desk. The E90 knows the exact GPS location of the photo and when I use Zonetag to upload the photo, Flickr gets enough information to name the city and to place the photo onto a Yahoo! Map. The Flickr photos automatically go into my personal newsfeed and that means more than 700 people see the photo within an hour of it being taken. This has resulted in me getting direct texts from friends who did not know I was attending the same event.
A mobile social network should help document expenses.
I use my E90 to lifestream over to a blog, to Flickr, and to Ovi. I’m also making short videos. Nearly every day, I make short two-minute videos with Qik, a streaming service that works with Series 60 Nokia phones. I’m streaming 10 minutes of video every month over O2-Ireland’s masts, paying EUR 15 monthly for the service. I film comments by conference attendees while pointing the camera at brochures, magazine photos, or large words scrawled onto record cards. The live streams mean people watching the videos can text questions and comments back to my camera, allowing me to comment while filming. I get the highest level of engagement while showing different plates of curry or while chatting about events while filming a pint of Guinness being depleted.
Mobile social networks should increase quality collaboration.
All these pocket-sized technologies add a new layer of meaningful engagement to industry events. Few conference organisers realise the significant back channels now emerging in their audiences. They may see people with their laptops writing blog articles during presentations but they might not know the events are being upstreamed directly as images or live audio.
These shared items can enhance collaboration. But the Scobleization of meeting space can startle and set back dialogue. Specifically, I believe there are serious privacy issues with the sousveillance power now in the pockets and purses of many people. Fortunately, people realise a red dot on a recording devices means it might be time to turn away.
For as much as I value social networking, I also value the presence I have on those networks. I believe individuals need to decide whether they want to be connected, directly or as background noise, to a recording device. I also believe people want to be able to throttle back the size of the conversation they follow and I put a premium on features that permit polite pruning of the babble that invariably grows as the numbers increase.
Trustworthy mobile social networks should help you plan.
Who goes to a large city without knowing where to get the best food, the best value for hospitality, or the hidden local gems? I set up alerts for all large cities and read these alerts as they arrive on my phone. I have made hotel reservations based on the travelogues written by people I trust and have finalised room bookings by using Flickr photos as my basis for comparison. I have noticed some smart developers have already figured out how to make their websites more friendly for mobile phone screens, leading to sites such as m.dopplr.com, one of my favourite travel sites. I count on the Dopplr community--people I trust--to recommend sushi bars, special diners, and best coffee for the cities I visit.
All things considered, I’m using features of websites and services of developers who I have learned to trust. If you’re building a mobile social network, it really doesn’t matter whether you create the features I like. What really matters is whether you can attract hundreds more people and then let them create a hive of activity that will give the social dimension to the network.