Social networking and the content shared among their users is coming to the mobile world.
With the proliferation of 3G networks globally, it’s possible now to take a video on your phone and send it to a social networking site like YouTube, Facebook or MySpace. As video-capable phones increase in number and wireless broadband networks expand, analysts believe user-generated content also will expand.
In fact, within the next five years, nearly 1 billion people could be using their mobile phones to send and receive user-generated content to each other and social networking sites on the Internet, according to estimates by Pyramid Research. The analyst firm estimates mobile social networking will start to take off in 2009, and by 2010 will reach 300 million users. By 2012, 18% of all mobile subscribers will be using phones to access a social network, or about 950 million people.
Social networking sites and user-generated content (UGC) are intrinsically tied together, with members of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and their brethren posting blogs, photos, videos and music clips.
“Video is where it’s at,” says Nick Desai, CEO of Juice Wireless, which is launching JuiceCaster 6.0 at the CTIA Wireless 2008 show. JuiceCaster is a mobile social-networking application and service that allows phone users to share videos, images and messages between devices and to online social networking sites. The upgrade allows users to create content like videos on their phones and send it as a status update to their friends.
Desai says people who belong to social networks expect to be able to use their phones to access them. Since the mobile phone is becoming the primary communications device, he says, it only makes sense to use it and take advantage of its real-time, and location, capabilities.
One of the main reasons people sign up for JuiceCaster is because they want to be able to use their phones to capture video or photos and publish them instantly to their social networking site (SNS). “We make that an easy, 1-click process,” he says, because JuiceCaster works within the camera application on the phone.
JuiceCaster is offered through Cricket, Midwest Cellular, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile USA and two Puerto Rican operators. Other deals with Tier 1 operators are expected to be announced soon. Desai says the service has 70,000 users, some of whom have a free WAP version and others who subscribe to be able to use the integrated camera feature.
Juice also has a mobile video search service which allows members to search the JuiceCaster network for videos by subject.
A California company named eMotive Communications also is eyeing the mobile UGC space. It already offers push services including songs, images and video through a deal with Skype, but CEO Anthony Stonefield says it will get into mobile uses soon.
eMotive is developing the ability to provide user-generated content as a kind of ringtone, which could include text that vibrates the phone, animation, video, a song clip or a voice recording. The service is most appropriate for 3G or 4G networks because of the bandwidth needed and because it works in an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) architecture.
“We have more carrier trials requested than we can keep up with,” says Stonefield, because ringtone sales revenue has flattened. Personalized, user-generated content can change that, he says.
User-generated and commercial ringback tones are part of the portfolio of LiveWire Mobile, a division of NMS Communications. LiveWire’s service provides 10,000 songs as part of Virgin Mobile USA’s ringback service, which has 100,000 subscribers.
How to create and upload ringback tones using LiveWire’s service. (Click on image to view larger)
John Orlando, marketing vice president for LiveWire, says the next step for ringback tones will be to make it possible for users to create their own tones. “We have operators asking for it, and we believe that we can deliver it by the end of the year or the first quarter of 2009,” he says.
Yospace, a British company, developed a user-generated content site called SeeMeTv which is available through the carrier 3 U.K. SeeMeTv lets users upload their own video clips and gain revenue when someone downloads it. Orlando says LiveWire is looking at doing much the same thing for user-created ringback tones.
All of the social networking sites have some ability to link to mobile phones. As an example, YouTube launched a mobile interface last June, although only a small portion of the YouTube videos were available on phones. YouTube also has made select videos available through Verizon Wireless’ V CAST service. It recently opened its access even wider and now estimates more than 100 million mobile subscribers can access YouTube. Users also can upload videos from their phones but only through a 3G network.
“People want to participate in the YouTube community in a way that fits their individual lifestyles, so to that end, we’ve built a mobile service that will allow partners to seamlessly integrate YouTube videos into their offerings,” a spokesperson says. “Our goal is to support users being able to access their media from wherever they are. We want to extend the social aspects of YouTube to mobile devices – sharing, rating and interacting with content.”
The YouTube spokesperson says most mobile phones, even those with video capabilities, still don’t provide an optimal experience because of latency issue. Consumers also often don’t realize their phone’s capabilities.
Ryan Burke, an analyst with Compete, says the Holy Grail for most social networking sites is the ability to use location information, so friends can share location-based content in real time. That’s the big attraction that mobile UGC can offer, he says, so he believes mobile social networking and UGC will take off when location is built into the content that is shared.
“User-generated content and social networking are proven models [on the Internet],” he says. “Consumers like to create their own content and share it with their friends. There’s no reason mobile user-generated content won’t take off.”