Opus Research (via LocalMobileSearch) has just released (.pdf) the results of a survey around mobile social networking usage. Results, while not surprising, show very low mobile social networking adoption amongst mobile subscribers.
- Roughly three-quarters of mobile phone subscribers are members of social networks
- Yet only 6% have accessed social networks through their wireless phones
- Price of data plans and “bundles” holds up adoption – Today’s subscribers don’t see sufficient value in using valuable minutes to interact with social networking peers.
- Only one-third of the sample expressed interest in mobile social activities – A short list of potential uses (such as learning who’s nearby or getting recommendations about events, etc.) elicited interest from about 30% of sample with 10% showing a keen interest.
- Accessing social network sites from mobile phones seen as a “way to pass the time”
My friend and Montreal entrepreneur Martin Dufort wrote about location-based services (which are very mobile-centric by nature) earlier this week and came to the same realization, but through a different angle:
Seems the physical location problem is an interesting problem but very difficult to get right. And I think it has to do with the dilution of the network. When you launch a location-based service (LBS) on the internet, it is accessible world-wide. You have users (aka internet friends) from every part of the globe. However a LBS real value is proximity of your network, so the service can detect and properly tell you who’s nearby. When you user base is widely located, these functions, although very interesting on paper, do not work. Thus the value of your service is widely diminished and so is it’s stickiness.
To complete this, Joi Ito also had a great post today wondering “Is mobile Internet really such a good thing?” In it, he explains the fundamental differences between the Internet and the Mobile ecosystems:
I don’t think there is anything wrong with mobile or with some of the great new mobile applications and devices, but we have to be careful to remember that most mobile networks that actually work are built on infrastructure that is operated by a small number of mobile operators who use a lot of regulated and closed technology. The reason that we have vibrant startup driven innovation is because the Internet is open by nature. Anyone can participate without asking permission and anyone can compete with anyone else at every layer of the stack. This DNA of open and free competition (except for the occasional semi-monopoly) is what allows startups like Google to come in and displace incumbents. If it weren’t for the Internet, I’m positive that the telcos would have determined that it was the most efficient that THEY design and operate the “online directories”.
I had blogged about those differences in January and had wondered out loud:
One thing concerns me currently in that space: the creation of an even playing field. In 1995, barriers to entry on the World Wide Web were low (even non-existent) and allowed the creation of Yahoo and eBay (current combined market cap: $67B). Still today, the barriers to entry for new Web projects remain very low. It’s not the same in mobile where there are a lot of gatekeepers. Handset manufacturers and Telcos come to mind, but the position of strength major portals and search engines enjoy through their relationships with the aforementioned gatekeepers make their stranglehold very difficult to break. Because of that, I wonder if we will see a real innovation burst in mobile/local in the short term. It will come, I have no doubt about it, but it might not come as quickly as it potentially could be.
What it means: I still think there’s tremendous potential around Mo-Lo-So (mobile local social) but its time hasn’t come yet. It’s still very much bleeding edge and it remains a very risky business until mobile applications get higher usage. Better data plans (fixed-rate), better devices and more utility around applications will need to happen before we get real traction in the space.