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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is the mobile phone really the hub of social connections?

I'm at the Open Mobile Summit, just listening to T-Mobile's head of products talking about their view of the Mobile Internet.

He mentioned that Facebook would kill for the amount of data & web of communications generated by a typical mobile phone's address book. Basically it was another pitch about network-resident address books (provided by operators, naturally).

He also made a comment about customers being "fed up with silo services".

He ducked my question from the floor about whether a T-Mobile address book would lock a customer to a "silo" access provider, or whether it would also be accessible from another mobile operator's network.

It got me thinking about this notion that the handset's "social graph" is a better map of personal communications and relationships than an online equivalent. And I stopped to think - I've probably met about 100 new friends and acquaintances in my social life since the beginning of 2009. I've added about 80 of these to Facebook, maybe 30 via email address.... but about 15 mobile numbers. I now have a significant number of friends I *only* communicate with via Facebook. I also have 3 mobile devices with different operator SIMs, multiple email accounts, fixed line, Skype etc.

The notion that any of my mobile operators has a handle on my social network and communications behaviour is completely false. And would I trust any of them not to try to lock me in to their access network if I uploaded my contacts?

Now to be fair, I'm in a particular demographic - urban, single, socially-active. Most of my communications are with friends, not family. And I recognise that trying to "churn" my social network from Facebook could be tricky.

But while I hope they don't read this, I'd be prepared to pay for Facebook now. It's proven its worth to me, and its accessible from any device, any operator and any network.

I think mobile operators (and handset vendors) are about to face closing window of opportunity for their goal of putting themselves at the centre of personal communications. Some may be able to shoehorn themselves into this role if they're fast. One thing is certain to me though: IMS won't be the right technical architecture if they do.


Matt Millar said...

Surely people are the hub of social connections. Mobile phones, email accounts and facebook profiles are tools that they use to improve their communication.

Mobile phone operators would do well to remember that at their core they provide value to customers by enabling "communication" - facebook is of no value if you don't have:

a. Friends
b. Any way to get information into/out of facebook

So communication is the value - and operator services should be focussed around adding value to customers in helping them communicate. Strangely few of the operator initiatives I'm hearing about can clearly articulate _how_ they enable better communication between people. Strange - as the fast growth areas of the internet today seem to be centred around social networks, which are all about communication.

Gareth said...

Hi Dean,

So I sort of agree but disagree, and respect most of your industry commentry.

Most of us ludites out here acually have 1 phone (and I actually work in the industry, and hate text, just ring someone)..

Contacts and address book is pretty key to most people, especially when on the move, Facebook is very nice, but really a sat at a 'desk' home or at work sort of experience.

While we all marvel at social networking sites and the plethora of IM and presence enabled web capabilities, they still pail into insignificance when you consifder the success of the only commercially viable IM service (I speek of SMS).

I do actually think that an open cross network NAB standard in the mobile device could also be a huge commercial success, maybe that will be GSMA's RCS (I've read your views on this). The key thing it has going for it is an eco system and a huge commercially viable target market, not just a less than transparent commercial model of advertising and click thru's.