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Elgan: Mobile social networking goes mainstream

The tipping point for business social networking via cell phones happened this week. Did you feel it?

September 12, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Two weeks ago, I shared my belief in this space that mobile social networking will become the most important business technology since e-mail.

I spoke about the phenomenon as growing to prominence over the next few years. But so much has happened in this space in just the past week, I'd like to revise my prediction: Mobile social networking for business is going mainstream not in the future, but now.

It's happening on two fronts: This past week has seen a flood of announcements from major companies about new mobile social networking services. The second front is end users. All this industry activity has sparked widespread interest and engagement in mobile social networking. Twitter, Facebook and other social sites have been burning up the wires this week talking about, linking to and getting on mobile social networking services.

Here's what happened since my initial prediction two weeks ago.

Visto

Perpetual start-up Visto announced this week a new offering called Visto Mobile 6, which uses Visto "push" technology to update you on the activities of social networking connections. The initial service will constantly check Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket and other social networks, and notify you when "friends" make changes or updates. Visto has not announced a ship date.

Two features separate Visto from other mobile social networking services. First, the social networking notifications are integrated into the unified view, which also includes e-mail and contacts. Visto promises something it calls a "living address book," which combines contact information with profile information from social networks. Second, it uses Visto's ConstantSync push technology. So instead of actively checking or refreshing Visto, the service can notify you that something new has happened. Presumably, this can be controlled by the user, so you can protect yourself against pointless changes.

AT&T and Verizon

AT&T announced this week a $2.99-per-month service called "My Communities," and Verizon announced a similar service for $1.49 per month called SocialLife that enables customers to stay in touch with social networks. Both are based on a social networking platform called Anthem from Intercasting Corp. Sprint and T-Mobile already offer Anthem-based services.

NewBay

A company called NewBay Software announced this week Version 2.0 of its Lifecache service. Lifecache aggregates feeds from Facebook, Bebo, YouTube and MySpace on a cell phone application. The service is sold not to users, but to carriers, which can offer it to customers using J2ME, Symbian, Windows Mobile, iPhone and Research In Motion phones. U.S. Cellular announced a deal this week with NewBay to use Lifecache.

Yahoo

Yahoo announced this week that its oneConnect contacts service will become usable via an iPhone application. The service enables people to monitor social networks, including Facebook, Friendster and Bebo.

'Native' mobile social networks

Several start-ups are offering location-based cell phone social networking that's more than just downloading the feeds of the original PC- and Web-based social networking sites.

I've been testing the social network Brightkite, which is location-based but doesn't require GPS. It simply asks you to tell where you're located whenever you go somewhere. After that, you can be notified when friends are nearby, or just find out where they are even if they're not close to you. You can take cell phone pictures, and upload them tagged with your location.

Another start-up called Belysio does something similar, telling you when friends are near, and uploading what are essentially geo-tagged photos.

A start-up from Ireland called Wubud, which is quietly working on location-based social networking, gained attention recently by attracting major investment from Bebo co-founder Paul Birch and because of rumors that the company is in talks with MySpace.

These kinds of services are really the killer apps for mobile social networking. As they increasingly integrate with cell phone GPS devices, camera phone software and all social networking sites, most of these activities will become automated, easy and increasingly focused on business benefits.



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