With more than 450 million users across India and a far greater reach across demographics, mobile has gone beyond just calls and SMS alerts to user generated content and mobile video, which is set to become big once 3G is launched in India.
In the case of social networking, mobile again is seen as being a revolution in terms of anytime access and convenience of users. Social networking sites like ibibo and BigAdda have also introduced features in this space. BigAdda.com, for instance, had launched its mobile version, Mobile Adda, with features like friends search, inviting them from one’s phonebook, communicating with friends through text, voice and photo scribbles.
Ibibo.com has enabled users to get connected on mobile and network through various forms of social gaming and contesting genres, games like ‘Parking Wars’ and CricEx.
exchange4media spoke to some industry players to know how mobile social networking is taking shape in India, the growth drivers and challenges.
Ashish Kashyap, CEO, ibibo.com, explained, “Mobile social networking is growing driven by a couple of factors. First of all, growth of data-enabled handsets and push from mobile operators from their ‘Live’ decks. Secondly, growth of social networking on the PC and percolating to the mobile. Thirdly, strong signs of viral growth amongst GPRS audiences, who are not accessing the Internet on PC, and finally, local applications on the mobile that drive engagement and relationship enhancers. For example, ibibo’s social games on mobile like the ‘Great India Parking Wars’.”
Rajiv Hiranandani, Co-Founder, Mobile2Win, observed, “Mobile social networking is going to be one of the fastest growing and hottest data drivers in the years to come. User generated content (UGC) on Ring Back Tones, Blogging, Imagery, Mobile Video and Music are evolving into a robust offerings and differentiated revenue drivers for operators nowadays, given that UGC is at the core of mobile social networking. Video UGC in particular is going to be the driver among the above mentioned categories for incremental revenues.”
“Furthermore, and very importantly, with the growth of mobile consumer base coming predominantly from semi-urban and Tier II and Tier III towns in the year to come, we will see a huge number of these new consumers embrace mobile social networking applications as their predominant means of staying in touch with friends and peers alike,” he added.
According to Manoj Dawane, CEO, Mauj Mobile, “I believe many people are accessing social networking sites using their mobile phones as gateway, and what is driving the increasing usage of this space is nothing but convenience. Most of the social networking sites owners have themselves made provisions in their products to make it mobile friendly, and while the originators of social networking on the Internet are fast adapting to mobile, so automatically mobile has to be on the rise.”
Speaking on the challenges, Viren Popli, Head - TV and Digital Initiatives, Mumbai Mantra (Mahindra & Mahindra), explained, “There are two challenges – one is the penetration of the data itself, so if you don’t have data, you are stuck with mobile social networking on text. Social networking is about one to many and hence, it automatically has to be linked to the Internet as mobile is not the best place for one to many kind of transactions at this point in time. So, till that happens, there will be challenges in this space. However, for India, mobile social networking will have much bigger potential than Internet social networking as there are many companies working on this space, so, hopefully some of them will be successful and it is definitely higher than what it was earlier, but we still have a long way to go.”
ibibo.com’s Kashyap noted, “There are two key challenges that we see in mobile social networking in India. First, is the quality of data on mobile in terms of bandwidth and highly localised content. Secondly, with the launch of 3G, the issue of battery life will need to be addressed, especially in lower end handsets.”
According to Mobile2Win’s Hiranandani, “Challenges will be to price these applications right. Operators and companies like us will need to work closely together to come out with the correct data plans that will keep the user connected to the applications constantly. Keeping the apps sticky and building in the viral element is another interesting challenge.”
Dawane of Mauj Mobile added here, “Mobile gives you location, which is not really possible through PC social networking, which is a huge advantage for mobile. Location is going to play a very important factor and that can be provided by mobile. It will be a shot in the arm for mobile social networking. The other challenge is that mobile will also have to have good and tight privacy norms, because you are actually invading personal space of a consumer, whereas that’s not the case with PC social networking.”
The 3G effect
Kashyap further said, “We strongly believe that 3G launch will have a huge impact on usage of social networking, gaming and communication services. Of course, we need to be aware that the issue of battery life will need to be addressed.”
“When a user does social networking through PC, he is not really concerned about the bandwidth money, whether it’s from office or home, but when it comes to mobile, one gets conscious of the charges being levied for data usage. So, while 3G will perhaps be an excellent access mechanism for this space, one has to understand that it will cost the customer, and since most of the social networking consumers are the youth, at least those in India, they are mainly price sensitive,” observed Dawane.
Kashyap added that ibibo’s mobile subscribers were using ibibo for the first time on the mobile. “With more than 400 million mobile subscribers, even if a percentage of them opt for data on mobile, it is still going to be a larger number of users than PC based Internet.”
Most of the social networking sites usage comes from urban India. It is believed that with mobile penetrating in smaller towns and cities, most of the mobile social networking usage via mobile would be from smaller towns and cities. While experts believe that 3G will provide an additional boost to the growth of mobile social networking in India, it will be price that will determine the effect of 3G in the growth of this space.