Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Communities on the move

I gave a presentation about mobile communities at the end of 2005. That time mobility was the Next Big Thing (yes, still is in a way). It was challenging to mix these two ('virtual' community + mobility) together. From time to time I noticed that I was narrowing mobility just to current mobile phones and community just to doing-something-together. Where as I should have had a clear idea of the shape of things to come as well as more pragmatic and need oriented focus on mobile communities.

Definition: 'A network of interpersonal ties that provides sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, social identity, and which always connects its members regardless of where they go. Location, time and resources are not necessary constraints on membership or participation in a mobile community. However, the community may choose to form based on intended restriction of those variables. The limitations are less due to restrictions of the physical world and more due to the desires of the members.' (Credits to Howard Rheingold, Jeff Axup and Barry Wellman.)
At the end of 2005 services such as Rabble, Joca, Photosharing, MoPilot, Flux, MogiMogi, MobileLeague etc. were hot and topical. But it was a fact that mobile phones were not there yet. The devices were just too complex, too tiny and unsuitable for similar community building people had experienced at the Internet. Now we have the next generation of mobile phones (3G) on hand and people are more willing to use web services via a mobile device (in Finland 25% of respondents to Mobile Media Tracking study (N=1500) are already using mobile Internet services). So... what type of mobile communities would be useful - interesting - needed?

Currently mobility is more considered from the cross/multiple media perspective where as mobile community is an extension of online communities, or it is a 'remote control' of web/tv-community. Large online communities such as MySpace and Facebook offer mobile extensions to the services. In general the focus seems to have turned from community to social networking. But still we are lacking of good examples. There are some game innovations (e.g. PocketPal, Rupture) but what we are lacking (in general) is the understanding of motivation factors, payment models and perhaps the ways to link mobility to certain locations, themes or activities. Mobile phones are not perfect devices for community activities or group discussions. It is way easier to chat at the Internet than tap the tiny keyboard. Maybe we should think of mobile communities disassociating from online worlds? Maybe mobile communities are not focused on text based communication but ways of leaving something to certain locations? Perhaps we could create stories, mini games, data/information and even services or advertisement campaigns by a PC/mobile device, carry them with on a mobile device and finally drop them somewhere.

Perhaps that wouldn't make a community as such but at least it might generate some virtual-social-location specific groups (like IRC channels, MySpace Communities...) which could all be visible at the Google Earth locator service? Still questions remain related to revenue and operating models, motivation factors... but my point was basically just to look for novel viewpoints to the topic. If nothing else, this is an interesting topic to study further.

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