Bill Johnston of Forum One hosted an excellent Unconference on Mobile communities. The venue was the Sheraton Palo Alto. You can read more about the unconference at the wiki. Great event overall since I met some really wonderful people. Here’s what I remember as my top takeaways:
1. SMS & voice is the least common denominator for all cell phones. Since 90+% of all phones currently in use are not smart phones, both Utterz (Simeon) and 3jam (Cathy) were focused on services that support every phone user. If you are aiming for the iPhone camera or SDK, realize is a small (but growing) market.
2. SAP (Mark, Pratima) and HP (Jamie) were all very interested in Enterprise applications for Mobile communities – internally. They seemed to universally agree that this market was about 3-5 years out for mobile. There are a few plays in the “security” space, but limited was their impression.
3. Alta Partners (Robert) questioned that even though the ringtone market is large (apparently over $5 Billion currently) is it going the way of the Berkeley toaster screen saver? – we all seemed to be dating ourselves.
4. YouTube (Tim) had some great information to share about localization – they are doing it in 10+ regions and in EACH region they negotiate with EVERY record label / music company to get rights to include their music in videos uploaded to their site so they dont get sued. If they did not do this, they would get sued by local providers if their users uploaded movies that included any copyrighted music.
5. MobiHand (David) talks about how they are spending more time with developers of mobile software asking questions and details on their “revenue” model. Unlike the web, mobile advertising is still very small, so even though there is a lot of interest in mobile marketing, very little advertising is being done.
6. You have to understand the dynamic of the local market before you decide a business model. Nokia (Niklas) had a great comment, that in North America the carriers had all the control, in Europe it was shared 50-50 between the carrier and the handset maker, in Japan, carriers again rule whereas in other parts of Asia, the handset makers pretty much call the shots.
7. There is no “global strategy” for UI, usage and development of communities. AOL (Erin) had a great comment about the 3 most important factors that went into consideration for distribution of mobile content – user behavior in the country, carrier control and handset capability. E.g. Users in Korea spend an hour each day using their mobile while traveling – to watch video, play games etc.
8. Cyworld (Catherine) is a great example of mobile in Korea. About 30+ Million users are on the site to “dress up” their virtual home, buy gifts and create “mini-homes, mini-me” (sic) etc. Users spend hours and days on the mobile doing this when they use mass transit (they commute via train, bus, etc) to work / school. This is very different from the usage in the Americas she noted.
9. Utterz (Simeon) showed us some really cool demo’s of how users are leveraging their solution for group chat, conferencing and multi user messaging. In mobile, voice is still the killer application!
10. I also learned from 3Jam (Cathy) that you dont really need a short code (a 5-6 digit code that you have to purchase from each carrier to allow you to receive SMS messages) for services to work. If you get a “regular” – 10 digit phone number you can well use that as a code – the long code. That way you dont rely on the carrier or have to deal with multiple carriers to get your application to work.
It was awesome to catch up with old friends Sylvia (Edmunds), Chris (Conversation Group) and Jim (Forumone). Overall a great event. Kudos to Zoe, Bill, Heather and Jim. Thanks.