People Panel

Chair: Josie Fraser, Independent Consultant
Graham Brown, MobileYouth
Brian Fuchs, Internet Centre, ICL
Paul May, Bluehoo
Luke Brynley-Jones, Trutap
Steve Lawson, Musician/Consultant

JF: What is social media? How is "mobile social" being used? Where are we going with social media? What are people going to be using this stuff?
SL: In the music industry, the broadcast model is dying. Social media liberates us from this. Mobile liberates musicians from "being location tied". Getting my audience to understand there's content on their mobile is difficult. I'm using mobile as a substitute for my laptop: for its immediacy. If you're expecting your audience to be excited about phones you're screwed - it's what's coming through the gadget that's important.

LBJ: (talks about Trutap) Lots of our users are in India/Indonesia. We were focusing on Facebook, but none of the users we interviewed in Mumbai had FB accounts. We spent a lot of time talking to them: 20-30yo, slight male bias, well-educated, happy to pay data charges, wanting chat with their friends, discovering the opposite sex. Location was important to them; in Mumbai specifically, there were transport problems: when you can't see your friends easily, you use your mobile to chat to them.

PM: I'm a has-been mobile guru, wrote Mobile Commerce in 2001, did well in China. 3G didn't all the things I'd written about and disappointed me. I returned to mobile much later when I realised not having access to my email was a problem. Now, no meeting happens when it's scheduled and people contact you every which way. Now we want mobile not to shrink distance, but enrich proximity. Bluehoo is a way of finding people in the room.

BF: I'm more of a developer than a user. Mobile development is the most frustrating thing I've ever done. What is the next generation internet? More decentralised, with a "service landscape" of apps being mash-ups of services. Something about peer to peer networks and scalability.

GB: From our research, looking at young peoples lives in 60 countries, young people don't wake up thinking about our brands or our industry. Only 5% of the information your brain receives is processed. It's the same with youth: they filter it out. There are only 2 industries that call their customers "users". We believe they're listening to what we're saying. I don't think mobile social media is relevant for them: help them get laid. We're caught up in our language.

Simon Rockman: why should mobile carve its own way, why not extend existing social networks?

GB: Mobile is just a part of a wider mix of social media. "How can I look good, how can I get laid".

BF: What kind of community forms around enriched proximity? You'd expect mobile social networks to spring up here.

PM: It's different because people want to be liberated, they want to find new friends. Mobile can be an ice-breaker, helping us start conversations.

LBJ: It's still early days.

SL: People aren't spontaneous enough to want to meet new people via mobile, unless they're dogging. It's about being time-sensitive not location-sensitive - I take the bus instead of the tube because I have coverage. I don't want a new mobile social network, I want a version of Facebook that doesn't look shit on a small screen. It'll get more interesting with widespread media production from phones (i.e. 5G).

Question: do we really have nothing to say for the largest growing group of people in the world, the over-35s.

JF: Is there a distinction between mobile social and social, in terms of age.

GB: Youth are future customers, not the only ones. If you always target the wealthy demographic, your audience are aging out of reach. Banks throw money and loans at students because they know you're unlikely to change your bank account. Mobile is good for forming relationships at a young age, and mobile social media is good at building relationships.

LBJ: In 2000, Age Concern had a vibrant online community - an early success story of social networking. I'm sure there's a niche there.

Simon Rockman: But the devices aren't there.

SL: It's taxonomy. As soon as you have to learn a bunch of new terms you put people off. When I explained twitter as "you can text me and my brother at the same time" she got it.

Question: Are we heading for a privacy car crash, with widespread mobile media production and the tabloids etc?

PM: We seem to have all agreed to be performers. You have to make quite an effort now to withdraw. Maybe we'll see a wider democratisation of celebrity. It's interesting how the bogeyman in your question is Old Media.

JF: I'm working with teaching unions providing advice around education and employees as victims of cybercrime (incl happy slapping incidents). There's lots of assumptions around this stuff: e.g. young/old tech divide. French law to ban happy slapping was a disaster and inopportunely put through on the anniversary of the Rodney King film.

Question: I see lots of people concentrating on cool new devices. The average user has a Motorola RAZR, browsing and using Facebook on it. Is there a danger of focusing on the wrong devices?

LBJ: Our focus was on mid-range handsets that our users have. Outside the UK, ownership of these devices is practically zero.

SL: 1% generate content, 10% share it, 89% consume it. It's OK to target a smaller chunk because they'll talk about it, but the information needs to be redistributable. Yes it's an issue but the way people use content means it's not that tragic.

BF: I like doing LBS and NFC development.

Platforms Panel

Chair: Dan Appelquist
Andrew Scott, Rummble
Sean Kane, Head of Mobile, Bebo
Priya Prakash, Flirtomatic
Jennifer Grenz, ShoZu
Chrisophe Hocquet, Moble/Buddymob

JG: Shozu: "the best way to get shit off your phone"

AS: People use social networks because they add some value. People working in mobile can learn from brands online, who've been through much of the learning curve.

SK: Scratch the broadest itch you can find. Mobile is full of friction. Every time you have to slow down, you lose a broad swathe of users. iPhone etc. are exciting to us. Forget your inner geek. Be less niche, a bit simpler, a bit broader.

PP: Be unsexy. Don't talk about features, talk about the activity you're designing for. It doesn't matter where the problem lies, whether it's network latency etc., users don't care. I'm grappling with crafting an experience in Flirtomatic; when you want to grow and improve the speed and smoothness of the service, it's the small details that matter. What are the things you don't notice because you're so deep into the service.

DA: What impact is flat-rate having on the takeup of mobile social?

PP: We had one user come in to a focus group with 6 SIM cards, using different ones for different times. Thought it was an aberration, but then we had someone else come in doing the same. Users would do what it took to access the service.

JG: We love flat rate. You can put your stuff anywhere.

AS: There's been a chance since operators starting talking about the Internet. Per-minute to broadband is a familiar switch from fixed-telephony days.

SK: Outside of unusual markets like Japan/Korea, mobile flat rate isn't there yet - which is encouraging given the traffic we're already seeing now in these territories. Even without flat rate, we see a 10-15% increase in data traffic per month on some networks. It's important to keep customers after bill shock.

DA: How many of your users are roaming; is this impacting your growth?

AS: Many of our users are mobile. Even amongst my friends, they're choosing to get handsets with roaming because travel is cheap (look at EasyJet, RyanAir).

SK: I see my users moving to roamable services like text messaging when they're abroad. Don't be focused purely on the browser - texting's powerful and works everywhere.

DA: I've heard lots of startups talking on/off-deck vs app-store models. What place for the operator in terms of discoverability.

AS: Operators have to expect the realities. Quote from Mike Short around access to mobile networks being free as "nonsense".

DA: Sean, you're new to Bebo. Where do you see operators fitting into your model?

SK: You have to be on and off-deck. We're in a transition space where percentages of traffic via both are significant: on-deck is holding its own. There's a role for discoverability on deck. It's tough to work with operators, you need demand established already. On-deck has value as we move to an ROI world. Off-deck has its advantages - you can start off-deck and move on-deck.

PP: Operators are useful, having seen how many users come via their portals. They still seem to have strength in attracting users. Recounts quote from users trying to find apps in the iPhone store. If they could get rid of all that unnecessary navigation, noise, banners and curate a decent experience, you should be able to do something decent. I'm surprised this hasn't happened. There's a traditional notion of what a "deck" is... the future is boring, things happen so subtly. Discovery is slow but people get on with it.

JG: There isn't one coherent Valley perspective on this stuff: if you can do both, do both. We go on-deck. We're reaching 10s of millions of clients installed on-deck or on-handset, but we get thousands finding us every day. Discoverability outside operators is on the rise.

SK: We haven't figured out how to make mobile services viral effectively, we've done a horrible job. Typing a URL in or going via a portal doesn't work well.

DA: The Obama app told me people I know from my address book living in swing states who I needed to contact. The other button was "share with a friend".

PP: Lots of folks have "send to a friend", but mobile has many more shared social objects.

AS: But it has to be good, otherwise the sender is spending social capital. Startups: don't waste your time with mobile operators. Don't waste time trying to get on-deck, work on your offering.

JG: Not just cool, but give me benefit if my friend joins it. This is what we're focused on right now. We're doing iPhone because we can guarantee a good experience on it (vs Java). You can't say this on WAP.

CH: Viral is expensive today. You (either the user or the service) need to pay for SMS messages.

AS: This is why we shut PlayTxt down - SMS costs.

CH: Operators are still important today. The app store is interesting, we're coming back to the premium business: people going off-deck but purchasing apps. It's the new walled garden.

Question: ???

PP: Lots of social networks overfocus on network effect. This isn't necessarily enough.

JG: Shozu isn't a network.

SK: There's lots of limitations; things become more important in environments where they otherwise wouldn't be. Maybe a text isn't constantly worth it, but is worth it once per customer.

Question: How do you educate your consumers as to the cost of the service? Flat rate in the UK, great, but in the rest of the world?

JG: Roaming messages help.

DA: Mobile social network support group for bill-shockers?

Paul Walsh: what's your opinion around privacy settings for location-based services? Where's the balance between revealing all and nothing?

DA: And what are the regulatory issues?

AS: <5% of Rummmble use it. You have to offer LBS privacy in case of regulatory reasons; people don't use it.

Audience member: Having worked for Disney Mobile in the US, where tracking children was an issue, what's the minimum age.

AS: We spoke to lawyers, but ended up copying Facebook: 13. But it depends on context of service: we're different to Flirtomatic.

PP: When we started location search, we didn't do anything fancy with it. But when finding people, they didn't want folks who are too close to them - it's a bit creepy. They want fuzziness, there's a social aspect to masking location data.

JG: Our users aren't using it that often. Some users do want to know where they keep a photo.

Question: Operators see mobile social networks as bringing data revenues.

PP: We're working with most operators

SK: 2 years ago operators started engaging with us. They are now.

DA: On metrics: what's the most important think that you're measuring right now as a health check of your business.

AS: Conversion from download to active. We see 3-4x engagement with iPhone than other platforms. Now we have the usage we're increasing our level of virality. How can we make this integral?

SK: Unique users, page views.

PP: Number of flirtograms. Mark (Curtis) has a theory about taking people from registration to using a value-add service.

JG: Churn, defined by active use month by month and maintaining usage.

CH: Click-through rate and love: people buying each other gifts.

David (Trutap): No-one's mentioned Nokia yet, Blackberry?

DA: Are you seeing any embedding?

JG: Nokia is one of our leading devices. Shozu is great on Symbian.

AS: The days are behind us where you'll build a MoSo network. Knowing where someone is should become a commodity. A step towards this is mobile social networks sharing location data between one another; I've been having a few of these conversations so that maybe you can see users from other networks in your searches.

Question: Can you combine "serious mobile" (realtime data etc) with social mobile? Child tracking is coming in for more paranoid parents.

AS: It's about critical mash.

PP: Back at the BBC Mobile, our first app was for the Tsunami. Mostly social now.

SK: There are serious apps for any broad-based social network.

PP: The Baby P case happened recently; much discussion happened on social networks, we had messages from operators asking us not to reveal names. As a social network you need to be more responsible wrt rumours etc. breaking out.

Question: the Met Office have just launched a TV channel with GorillaBox. It's ad-funded, the Met Office has a public service remit to advise re weather conditions.

DA: What's the big thing for you in 2009

CH: Android

JG: Choice

PP: Friends Are Overrated

SK: Ubiquity

AS: Distribution