“Social Networking” is the nature of human since the dawn of civilization. We have moved from the civilization of nomadic tribes to Internet age, but the basic nature of socialization has remained unchanged. Passing through subtle process of exchange via stone-written message, pigeon post, postal letter, and email- now we are in the age of mobile social networking. Today, we can call, send message, email, and interact with friends with little powerful device called as, Mobile Phone.
Mobile phone has brought revolution in the world of communication. Popularity of social networking and increasing usability of mobile phones with evolving technologies has paved way to Mobile Social Networking. The full fledged integration of Java in phone has made Internet accessible from the mobile phone, and has given impetus to mobile social networking, worldwide.
The trend of mobile social networking is exceptionally popular among the Gen-Y. However, all generations are now accessing social websites through phones as it is easier to log on to phone than turning on a bulky PC or laptop just to check the updates. Also, mobile phone gives greater flexibility to access favorite sites at any point of time. According ABI research, 550 million people are globally accessing social networks through phone and it is projected the number will cross 1.7 billion by 2016. It may be surprising that out of 550 million, 50 million mobile web users are from India. This clearly indicates high penetration of mobile social networking in India.
Initially, high-end phones and smartphones were capable of accessing social networking sites. But considering the obsession of middle class people or students, who don’t want to spend much but always get hooked to social networking site, mobile phone manufacturers are producing low end Internet enabled phone with SNS apps integrated.
- Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo, Flickr, Friendster, hi5, Ibibo, LinkedIn, and Orkut are all mobile compatible. These sites have dedicated mobile version for enabling smooth navigation through pages. However, Facebook and Twitter are major players in mobile social networking world.
- Dedicated mobile social networking clients have been created by developers. Foursquare, Gowalla, and JuiceCaster are the most popular among them.
- Mobile phone manufacturers have partnered with the social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to meet the aspirations of mobile users. Some of the mobile phones are coming with dedicated buttons for easy access to social networking platform. HTC ChaCha and HTC Salsa have dedicated hard buttons for Facebook access.
- The partnership of social networking sites with mobile OS providers is another drive. Google’s social networking app Google+ is being integrated with Android OS and Twitter is being built natively into Apple iOS 5.
Apart from these, the mobile OEMs (Original Equipment manufacturers) have come up with convenient communication UI. Samsung’s Social Hub, Motorola’s MotoBlur, and Sony Ericsson’s Timescape promise to integrate e-mail, text messages, calendars, and social networking feeds into a steady stream of communication at a place. Similarly, HTC’s Friend Stream & HTC peep and RIM’s Social Feeds are dedicated to integrate social networking feeds.
Free mobile application platforms are also lined up to satiate the social networking hunger. Snaptu and Nimbuzz are popular free applications for social networking.
Hurdles to Overcome
The trend of mobile social networking is still concentrated to urban areas. Due to infrastructure limitations, signals are still poor in remote areas and villages. Internet connectivity through GPRS is not smooth, which is limiting the access to social networking websites through mobile phones.
Majority of Indian population is dwelling life under the poverty line and they cannot afford GPRS enabled phone.
Internet illiteracy is also a problem.
Unavailability of social networking websites in different Indian regional languages and lack of support for these language in the mobile devices has also restricted the penetration of mobile social networking in non-English population.
A Ray of Hope
Facebook has already launched Hindi services in five different Indian languages – Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, Telugu, and Bengali. Twitter is all set to launch Hindi services in India to penetrate into Hindi linguistic population.
Noida-based startup Luna Egronomics launched Panini virtual keypad for regional Indian languages as a paid application for Java based Nokia phones and other phones with multi-tap keys. Luna Egronomics has also signed up agreement with Micromax and Spice. LG and Samsung have started providing support for multiple Indian languages.
Android, the king of mobile OS will soon be including Panini keypad app for regional languages which helps people type in Hindi and other Indian regional languages such as Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi, and Assamese. The keypad will be usable across all applications, making it possible for it to be the default keypad of the phone.
Availability of social networking sites in regional language and support for the regional languages in GPRS enabled phone can assure the deep penetration of mobile social networking among Indian population.