Analysts believe that social network sites such as Facebook have paved the way work groups that rely on desktop computers, to collaborate together on ideas and projects while on the move. Mobile social networking makes sense because mobile devices are personal and they are taken everywhere, offering the potential for transmission of quick ideas or images.
For example, a business traveller at a conference in an unfamiliar city could be walking past an appealing restaurant. Using mapping and location technologies, the traveller could almost instantly send a quick note to 10 friends in their work group to 'meet here in 15 minutes for a meal'.
The future of mobile social networks was a major topic at the CTIA trade show, which took place in the US this week. Device manufacturers, network operators and social network providers debated how the services will be paid for and by whom, and what steps must be taken to protect user privacy and safety.
Mobile social networks have not been widely adopted in the US, where between 5 and 10 percent of mobile users are participating, said Karsten Weide, an IDC analyst. But Weide said the number of users could easily double in a year, given the amount of interest in the concept by so many industry players. Adding to the reason for optimism, prominent vendors, including Nokia announced a variety of tools at CTIA to help users aggregate social networks into a single interface.
Still, there are limitations, Weide said, including the difficulty of using a mobile phone or smartphone interface to find friends in a social network, to attach information and to send messages. "Even the iPhone interface, as good as it is, isn't ideal for so much navigating," Weide said.
Perhaps the biggest concern is how social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will raise revenue by making their applications work on all kinds of phones across a variety of networks.
Weide said he had talked to executives at two major social networking companies, which he would not identify, who expressed concerns over how they would raise revenue and how much revenue wireless carriers would want to share. In addition to sharing revenues, social network providers have to figure out how much of a customer's personal information to share with carriers, and vice versa.
Doubt has also been cast on whether mobile social networks can successfully be supported with revenues from advertising seen by end users. If advertising doesn't support the concept, then carriers and social network providers will probably have to rely on subscription fees. Questions still remain over how much a user would be willing to pay for a subscription, since that fee might be on top of the cost of a user's unlimited monthly data plan.
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