Applications on the handset: Mobile Instant Messaging and social networking

Applications on the handset: Will Mobile Instant Messaging compliment the success of social networking sites?

Matt Hooper is Executive Vice President at Colibria.
Matt Hooper is Executive Vice President at Colibria.

With mobile subscriptions reaching market saturation in Western Europe, and voice and SMS prices continuing to decline, retailers are likely to be sharing many of the same concerns that are currently troubling mobile operators. To protect margins as the market matures operators are beginning to introduce enhanced communication services such as mobile instant messaging. Matt Hooper believes mobile IM will change the mobile experience dramatically and reinvigorate consumer demand …

The traditional perception of mobile instant messaging (MIM) is a mobile version of PC-based instant messaging, but in some ways this is a red herring in terms of what MIM can actually do for mobile users.

Consumers are increasingly looking for new ways to stay connected, share

experiences or interests immediately, and develop their identities regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. Until now we’ve lacked an easy-to-use messaging medium that supports the inherently impulsive, spontaneous and contextual nature of community style communications. By providing the foundations for a new community-based multimedia mobile experience, MIM could rapidly mirror and compliment the success of online social networking.

Operators are in a very strong position to win the battle for mobile social networking revenues. For starters, they already know the location of their customers; a critical factor for the success of mobile social networking. Crafted correctly, a location-aware mobile service could not only tell you which of your friends are nearby, but also inform you of the nearest place where you could grab a quick drink (and one that comes recommended by your friends) as well as introduce highly targeted advertising opportunities.

Key to this potential is presence – a status indicator that shows the availability or willingness, and potentially the location, of an individual or a group. Enabling presence within MIM means portal-based services and community services, such as chat, games and even voice, will remove barriers to communication while also providing users with new reasons to communicate and new ways for mobile users to express themselves.

MIM combined with presence isn’t just another form of communication but an enabling technology. It is easy to see how it will create a step change in the services delivered to consumers. Mobile social networking is an obvious application, but other revenue streams, such as chat and dating, also lend themselves perfectly to MIM. If you consider that 60% of our day to day communication is conversation based in small groups, it makes perfect sense that MIM technology can create compelling new services, as well as enhance existing services and portal based offerings.

By increasing the usability of mobile data services and creating tighter social groups, we predict a major surge in the demand for, and creation of, mobile content.

This technology also has the potential to create a more user-centric mobile experience. Traditionally subscribers had very little control over the way they are contacted – aside from having their mobile switched on or off. Presence now puts power back into the hands of the user by allowing them to manage how, when and in what context they are contactable by the creation of different identities. For example, imagine being able to control your mobile identity so that you become unavailable to your friends when at work or unavailable to your colleagues at home.

Communication shouldn’t be all or nothing – it should be flexible according to the context you’re in and your ability to communicate.

While MIM is still in its early stages, innovative services are now being launched. These began with the integration of PC-based services such as Windows Live Messenger, but it is the new operatorowned/ branded services that are set to fulfil the true potential of mobile instant messaging and presence.

In the near future, we are likely to see interoperability between devices so that, for example, users can see their address books across a plethora of devices from their mobile phone to their television and chat with any available friends. As convergence drives forward and applications or services get sliced and diced, it seems that our imagination is likely to be the only boundary to what services could be offered.

As these new services proliferate it provides additional opportunities for up-sell to retailers that embrace and understand MIM. Users will be looking to their retailers for advice and information. Those taking the time to understand new mobile services such as MIM and mobile social networking will have the chance to once again differentiate themselves from rivals and will be able to provide a valuable insight into these exciting developments. Informed answers will allow retailers to guide customers through a range of options and provide opportunities for additional revenue from phones and related product bundles.