I recently rote a post to the MomoLondon in reply to Paul Walsh from Segala’s post about Mobile Social Networks; and thought I’d share my reply here:
Having starting building Europe’s first mobile social network (playtxt back in 2002) we soon realised that any big consumer “mobile” social network would have to offer something more pervasive than just location based messaging and “who’s nearby” functionality, in order to become valuable. That is unless you serve a specific vertical (e.g. Mark Curtis’ Flirtomatic which is doing very well).
Rummble focuses on making it easy to find things nearby that you will like – i.e. location based content from within your extended social network. However, by nature of knowing the users location, we also tell you which of your friends are nearby, which are going to be and also the ability to message those who are nearby you don’t know, without revealing your or their mobile number.
Dopplr is trying to build an entire service around saying whether your friends are going to be in a location or not; where as we believe this is a natural function of something more pervasive and have offered this functionality since our playtxt platform.
What is changing now, is the ubiquity of location information and user uptake of it.
We believe GPS will become the next defacto addition to mobiles (as the camera was) and in anycase there are other ways to find location without paying the operators for it . The iphone uses SkyHooks technology (wifi positioning and I believe also cellID) and there are other options out there (Googles MyLocation is another good example which 70% of the time locates me perfectly – despite the log-in disclaimer stating “This service is reliable to within 4000 metres” 🙂
Rummble supports GPS, we’ll support Yahoo’s Fire Eagle API by next week, we’ll soon have an iphone app out and we’ll support Google’s Android when it arrives. (btw, if people don’t know Tom Coates‘ FireEagle then check it out – its an extremely important step toward distributing your location reliably to services and will raise awareness of LBS outside of geekville. They recently launched Fire Eagle at E-tech but there is already a fervent and growing developer community).
You do raise a very valid point about having a decent and simple UI. This is actually our current battle and having built a bullet-proof backend its the GUI we’re going through iterations on to get right. As all developers on this list will know, its an annoying and costly process to get even your mobile XHTML looking good on multiple devices, let alone a Java app with its archaic high-level restrictions or having to write native apps for Symbian and soon Android to get something looking good.
There is a reason why its taken until the woolly world of Web 2.0 and cheap hi-res TFTs for us to get easy, attractive and people friendly web applications and interfaces on the desktop – Browsers are pretty much consistent (within reason) and broadband enables UI lovelies such as AJAX for asynchronous saves without page reloads and lots of colourful gradients (too many some might say!).
We’re a world away from all that with mobile. And there in lies the problem. We can produce a wonderful UI for the iphone -but that’s a drop in the ocean. The resources and time it takes to guarantee are fantastic mobile user experience are too high for many start-ups. And the user does expect a slick easy experience because that’s what they are used to on the broadband web.
Can you imagine the step-change even if simply all phone browsers supported AJAX; even on EDGE/GPRS the lack of need for an XHTML page load would revolutionise the user experience.
We think Rummble provides pervasive functionality – the challenge for us is to make that usable for the majority of users who dont have an iphone or the equivalent shiny new HTC.
The cost to start-ups of providing slick UI across so many screen sizes is frustrating for us and gives users a nasty surprise; but ultimately we’ve got time for these things to change, as until MNO’s bundle flat rate data with every single tariff they offer, we wont see the hockey stick curve of mobile internet take up by Joe Bloggs what we all crave.