Building mobile communities

At our most recent MEX conference we ran an extremely lively session entitled ‘Community convergence’, examining the creation, support and opportunities presented by virtual and existing communities in the mobile environment. The session built on a previous MEX article of the same title.

The debate was chaired by Marek Pawlowski, with a keynote from Frederick Ghahramani, Director and co-founder of AirG, a pioneer of mobile communities. Expert panellists included Mike Beeston, Managing Director, Fjord; Alexis Michaelides, Director and co-founder,; Gunnar Larsen, Director, EMEA, Real Networks and Jane Vincent, Visiting Fellow, Digital World Research Centre, University of Surrey.

The following is extracted from our 32 page report on the MEX conference, which includes complete coverage of all the event’s sessions as well as access to the presentations. The report is available for purchase for GBP 395 + VAT at

What is a community?

It allows the building of connections between people beyond use of the application itself. There are (at least) four building blocks. Every community has these and the combination of them creates a multiplier effect.

  • Identity. How people see me. Persistence, profiles, blogs, photo albums.
  • Presence. Location based, buddy lists, privace controls.
  • Interaction. Applications, chat IM, lounges, 1-1 and 1-many content uploading.
  • User Interface and Experience. WAP, Web, JAVA, SMS, AJAX.

    The difference between services depends on which of the blocks (presence vs identity vs interaction) each service concentrates on. Over time, applications tend to depend on one block and combine others later.

    These elements already exist in the form of Blogger, ICQ, MSN, AOL Compuserve. MySpace is a good example that includes all building blocks. MySpace is successful and addictive because of the multiplier effect as each block enhances the others.

    The challenge is how to combine all building blocks on the small mobile screen size.

    Can a ‘consolidation play’ occur in the mobile space? Will mobile consolidation lead to the multiplier effect? How will consumers react?

    Startups are currently creating the separate blocks. We need UI innovation to allow them to come together into one service. AirG’s experiences show that users exhibit greater takeup and have greater session lengths with community-based embedded applications.

    User generated content has advantages over conventional (spoon fed) content delivery. When content hasn’t been screened it can be more exciting and immediate.

    One risk for network operators is that consumers have not (yet) dis-associated content with the network operator. Copyright, IP infringements, privacy issues all become issues for the network operator. However, these risks are not new and already exist for existing media companies.

    Adult verification is starting to be implemented by mobile operators. Signup is currently troublesome. Other operators are ignoring user generated content altogether in order to avoid the issues. Community moderation may provide one solution. Pragmatic approaches may allow third party providers and existing online communities move to mobile faster than some mobile operators.

    Points from the panel/discussion…

  • Community can strengthen existing communities as well as create new ones.
  • What can mobile add for existing communities? Privacy. Other people can’t oversee what you are doing.
  • There’s currently a disconnect between the mobile game (download) community and the Internet game community.
  • Knowing the actual cost of the (data) service is a barrier to creating communities.
  • What are the technical challenges? Steep learning curve. Partnerships are key to the market.
  • Mobile may be more suitable to communities based around tangible objects (photos, tones, games).
  • Children multi-task many activities but NOT on the mobile phone. Phone is single focus.
  • It’s possible to do adult verification at point of sign-up.
  • What are the challenges in providing full community content on the mobile? Rhythm of communication between mobile and PC users. e.g. mobile users may respond slower or answer in ‘text’ speak. In using the mobile version you may no longer be anonymous (and want to be).
  • It may be better to create the community firstly on the phone and then move it to the PC Internet space.
  • Users actually create and generate the demand, NOT the industry. Users have the greatest insight as to what’s needed.
  • How to create money from this? What are the revenue models? Mobile advertising difficult due to the small screen sizes. It’s difficult to make money when the operator takes 50% to 70%. Difficult to charge on the web where it’s usually free.
  • Extracted from our 32 page report on the MEX conference, which includes complete coverage of all the event’s sessions as well as access to the presentations. The report is available for purchase for GBP 395 + VAT at

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