I’ve watched with interest (and a little bit of self-serving private satisfaction!) as the online dating and communities sector has developed much as I predicted, since I first got involved in the arena back in 2000. It was clear to me while running my -then- web development company worldwidecity.com, that mobile (at that time, interactive SMS, as J2ME was too early) was the inevitable future for the dating and social networking industry.
My first significant foray into this area was Dinner Date Auctions – an off the wall online dating service with interactive SMS functionality. Users would “bid” for another user’s details and could increase their bid via SMS. I became Technical Director but sadly after the client investing £25,000 and us completing the site, there was a crisis with the founders’ main business and he pulled the plug so it never reached critical mass. But it still amazes me that other dating services (or the likes of ebay) haven’t jumped on this sooner. I suspect with paypal’s new mobile offering things will come full circle.
Anyway, intrigued by the mobile possibilities, by 2001 along with a colleague I’d created our first Alpha version of playtxt. Since then we’ve been slowly accelerating our development on playtxt and after a few false starts as I’ve extricated myself from the world of consultancy, we’re getting playtxt back where it should be – at the cutting edge of mobile communities; or in our case LOMOSOSO’s (locational mobile social software).
In the last six months the mobile community / MOSOSO sector has really begun to accelerate. Beta versions (and better versions of existing services) are popping up all over the place. Although at times it has been frustrating not to have a multi-million pound funding package at our disposal (our struggles during 2005 to secure funding took a little longer than we’d hoped – apparently UK investors are not as savvy as our American counterparts when it comes to new mobile acronyms!) the future for playtxt now looks good.
Perhaps more importantly for everyone else, maturing services and all these new participants in the space are good news for the mobile sector – and for mobile consumers.
As touched upon in first in my first post, the cycle of growth for MOSOSO services over the last four years has been steady, but characterised by small and inventive companies, most operating virtually on a hobby basis. With the big boys about to wade in (e.g. see MySpace article here) the sector is set to explode.
To try and paint a more general picture about what is happening, my next post will begin to list some of these new services. Categorising them is not straight forward – functionality changes fast and it is not always easy to gauge actual re-world usage for services. In addition the lines are blurred between dating, friends networks, presence services and instant messaging systems. In functionality terms this is a good thing but it poses significant problems for companies trying to educate their users as to what they are – and especially when it comes to explaining to a financial backer.
A conversation circa Q2 2005: London Financier: “Are you an instant messaging company or a dating site?” playtxt: “Well, we’re used for both. We enable people to connect to new people, on a location basis, worldwide.” Financier: “Sounds like you need to clarify your brand message.” Luckily for us, most users are slightly more pragmatic and many are already quite savvy about community services – whether online, MOSOSO or something else.
While of course it’s important we send clear messages to our users, it is also wise to allow your user base to interpret your brand to fit with their needs. Keeping this dialogue open and flexible means maximum exposure, maximum usage and consequently, maximum monetisation.