Social network sites eye up a move to mobile platforms

Social networking, the online phenomenon of 2006, is looking to do the same on mobile in 2007.

In the past month there’s been a spate of announcements, from online market leader MySpace to smaller mobile specialists like Pitch. Finding it almost impossible to charge users for services, advertising is again the most obvious route to turning them into viable businesses.

Smaller sites are already growing fast. Yootribe, which launched its beta site just over a year ago, is expected to have 100,000 users by the end of the year. It is now preparing its mobile offering, with members receiving mobile alerts and invitations from other members and a location service which lets them find nearby friends.

Hotxt, a text message service launched by Dragon’s Den star Doug Richard, is also widening its ambitions. Having recently turned into a free service, it has been rolling out lifestyle features and letting groups of friends text chat on their mobiles.

The market they are all going after, for mobile user-generated content services, is one which Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts will be worth $13.2bn (£6.8bn) by 2011.

There is a growing list of brands fighting for a share of it. One of them, Tocmag, lets users create their own mobile magazines. Since launching in May more than 10,000 Tocmags have been built, generating almost 125,000 downloads in 20 countries. For now it is free and has no ads, but the company is looking at how to bring in revenue. “We want to build a solid Tocmag user base before exploring potential revenue streams,” says founder Brad Ells. “We’re in no rush to monetise: we’re looking to secure user loyalty at this early stage.”

The biggest company in the sector is also ramping up its services. Last week MySpace announced the appointment of Jean-Paul Sanchez as its first vice-president of mobile for Europe. He will report to David Fischer, Fox Interactive Media’s managing director for Europe.

“Mobile services are a top priority,” said Fischer. “J-P is a key appointment for the business in an area which we expect to grow rapidly.”

YouTube has also been talking about how to move its platform onto mobile devices, although some have already got there – is essentially a mobile version of YouTube.

The fight is now on to secure advertiser support for many of these services.

Pitch, which already runs an ad-funded mobile content service, last week launched an ad-funded service featuring instant messaging, photo and video upload and sharing.

Chris Seth, UK managing director for Piczo, says: “Mobile technology provides a perfect conduit for online communities to extend their interactive features and user experience. Mobile will allow Piczo to be an ‘always-on’ product in our members’ lives.” He adds: “Advertising and brand partnerships are and will remain the leading monetisation method for Piczo. Mobile will open up additional revenue streams.”

Pitch says an online service is also to follow next month – part of a trend for mobile specialists to offer Web-based services too. Hotxt also lets users send messages from a traditional Web browser. It seems that just as the Web giants see being on mobile as critical to their future, the reverse is true for their mobile-based rivals.

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