Besides txt msging, one of the only non-voice functions Americans use their cellphones for is mobile IM. Most handsets today ship with a Yahoo!, MSN or AIM client pre-installed that works with the given IM network to allow instant messaging to other handsets or desktop computers. This gives the youth of today a mobile way to keep in touch without the annoying “talking” aspect. Which is good.
But socializing on the Internet has moved beyond IM to social networking. You know, that buzzword that encompasses Web sites like Friendster, LinkedIn, and MySpace .
Combined, these sites have more than 126,000,000 users, and some estimates show MySpace getting 32,000 new users a day. Some of them are hot. In addition, one out of 20 Web-site visits are to social-networking sites. The primary demographic of those that use these sites is the coveted 18-35 year-old market, with its idle time and disposable income.
That market, of course, is also the most likely to use advanced handset features. If you’re a marketer of any consumer goods, those statistics make you drool. We’d now like you to meet Oz.
Oz is the Montreal-based company that makes most of the instant-messaging clients for cellphone manufacturers and network operators. If you’ve sent a mobile IM, you’ve probably used its software. And now Oz is taking the next step, with MySpace and Friendster clients in the works that should hit handsets next year.
Helio currently is the only network operator with built-in MySpace access on its handsets, though Cingular has txt alerts and is working on something more for next year. If things keep going like this, then it’s plausible that within a fairly short period of time, people will be using their handsets as social-networking gateways as often and as readily as they use their computers.
This type of instant social networking (we’re coining a term here) could change market forces measurably, as well as how we socialize. For better or worse, it’s too early to tell, but with this type of networking and the rising popularity of QWERTY on handsets, we might never “talk” on our phones again.