8/26/2009 3:18:00 PM
Mobile can glue together existing social networks, not build its own
This has slipped under the radar somewhat – but it was discovered this week that Vodafone is taking on the likes of 3, Orange and Nokia by bringing out a new social network integration service, called Vodafone People.
Voda hasn’t announced anything on this yet – but news of the development was leaked onto the UKTechcrunch website.
It’s interesting to see that Vodafone is the latest operator found to be heading down this road. 3 has been pushing social networking integration with the Inq handset range, while Orange last week announced ‘social life’ , which will allow users to receive Facebook, MySpace and Bebo messages all in one thread.
However Vodafone’s plans appear to be loftier than these 3/Orange offerings – and more closely resemble the direction Nokia is trying to take with Ovi. Because, as well as the ‘integration of social networks’ aspect, Vodafone People appears to have the grand design of becoming a kind of social network in its own right, much like the Nokia Ovi store.
It’s obviously something Vodafone has thought out pretty thoroughly. Don’t forget it purchased social networking site Zyb last year for £31.5m, a move taken to acquire a ready made social network infrastructure.
So Nokia and Vodafone’s plans to host their own social networks is becoming increasingly clear, which begs the question: Is it realistic for mobile networks / manufacturers to build thriving communities?
For me, there is a fundamental flaw.
The most basic thing that people want from social networking is the ability to do so with all their friends. People don’t want a social network that can only be used by their friends who happen to be on Vodafone. Or who happen to own a Nokia phone.
The reason Google and Microsoft have put their eggs in the online community basket is because their business models suit social networking’s basic principles. Anyone can open a Google/Mircosoft account for free. Even FlickR has the ‘inclusive to all’ facet going for it.
However Vodafone and Nokia, by the nature of what they do, are far more restrictive in who they can include in their communities; they can’t look beyond their own paying customers.
The role mobile operators and manufacturers can play successfully with social networking – as we’re seeing the likes of Orange and Inq doing - is to make using existing sites as fluid as possible. It’s difficult to see mobile’s role in social networking stretching any further beyond that.