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Mobile social networking sees explosive growth

Players bank on video messaging to attract users

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isn’t confined to the fully-abled community anymore — the sites have opened up new avenues to connect the hearing impaired and deaf communities. , a 32-year-old hearing impaired person, who heads a Vadodara-based NGO, (MBM), has found a solution to problems faced by the hearing impaired in — a mobile social networking platform.

RockeTalk allows users to send video messages that makes communication easy for the community because facial expressions are critical during a conversation between two hearing impaired persons.

“With video messaging, talking to one another becomes easy. In addition, users can also send their video messages to an interpreter who in turn would talk to a normal person on their behalf over the phone,” said Ketkar. MBM has even prepared two short films demonstrating the use of this application and uploaded it on various other social networking sites.

With 70 per cent of India’s mobile internet users coming from SEC A and B cities, the 46 million mobile internet users, according to a report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (), are a valued user base that has got the bigger social networking giants like , , and LinkedIn investing in their mobile platforms.

But dedicated mobile application developers like Nimbuzz, , RockeTalk and Mig33 have painstakingly built large mobile user communities that show no signs of slowing down. 

Keeping the Indian user happy

Chris Chandler, VP, Business Development of Mig33 claims having 50 million users worldwide. “We are very popular in tier II and tier III cities of India. Before expanding, we did a pilot and went to cities across India and found that we enjoy popularity in cities like Patna, Bharuch, Jalandhar, Vapi, Valsad and towns in Gujarat, Haryana.”

Mig33 is a social mobile platform where users make new friends, chat with them, exchange virtual goods and play social games. Chandler says the company has seen its NRI user base connecting to their community from across the globe.

“For example, a lot of Gujaratis live in Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa, among others, and we have a good user base there. We have seen mobile community members connecting with them in chat rooms, exchange virtual gifts and play social games.”

Nimbuzz, a cross-platform chat app, allows users to send messages to other instant messenger applications like Windows Live, Google Talk or Facebook. The app also allows free voice calls to other Nimbuzz users over WiFi or 3G without using any voice minutes. Jamshed V Rajan, country head, Nimbuzz cites that while their smartphone users log into the application around six times every day, feature phone users (entry to mid-level handset models) were logging in about less than twice a day.

“This was mostly due to the lack of push notification feature that updates users about the social network activity on their handsets,” says Rajan. The company promptly launched a new SMS-based notification feature that sent offline updates to its feature phone users. “Our feature phone users now log in five times a day to the application.”

RockeTalk, which started out as a mobile peer-to-peer voice messaging system, has evolved into a social media platform in the last two years. Rajiv Kumar, CEO & founder, RockeTalk says: “We have over 6.7 monthly active users in India alone and over 2.5 million active coming from around the world. There are more than hundred thousand communities on RockeTalk in India and we are adding a new user every 4 seconds.”

Kumar says Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement caught the imagination of the RockeTalk subscribers and within 48 hours over 3,200 messages were shared within the community. “A group of users from Maharashtra used RockeTalk for live discussions by using voice & video messaging about anti-corruption. Anna’s supporters used mobile multimedia as a big tool to convey their support and RockeTalk witnessed numerous live video and audio feeds that were circulated in India and abroad.” 

Innovating to keep users interested

Reports from Analysis Mason estimate that the number of users in India who use social networking services on mobile web would reach 72 million by 2014. The key factors behind the trend are the falling cost of smartphones and data charges.

With 63 per cent of active mobile internet users coming from the top eight metros, Nimbuzz is listening closely to what users want from their mobile social networks. “We have introduced a social game and have smart-bots like cricket and astrology, that give customised updates to users,” says Rajan. For as little as Rs 1, Nimbuzz will soon allow users to customise their social gaming avatars or buy in-game upgrades.

Mobile social platforms like RockeTalk have even opened their API’s for third-party developers to build applications using its platform that would be released in the coming months. “Celebrity chat, mobile social gaming, dating, etc are few of the examples. Additionally, for entertainment and infotainment needs RockeTalk has partnered with Hungama.com for movies related content,” says Kumar.

Users who don’t use data services or internet on their mobiles are being pulled into social networking too. SMSGupShup has built its network of 50 million users with it free SMS-based messaging service. Co-founder and chief executive Beerud Sheth says: “We are managing an active base of five million user-generated communities and that’s a heavy SMS traffic to maintain.”

The group messaging company has found a ready audience with users like Dheeraj Desai, a stock trader from Mumbai, who is part of several user communities on SMSGupShup that discuss stock market technicals and tips with fellow traders every morning. “Most markets tips and news that we share on SMSGupShup was earlier done over group phone calls. But this is a free group message service, which means the originator can send 100 SMSes to recipients and they can reply to him, all free of cost,” says Desai.

Sheth and his team of 200 employees are now looking to introduce paid services that would allow group peer-to-peer messages for a fraction of cost of SMSes. “Marketers and government institutions already use our platform to reach to their target customer but we will begin to monetize our individual user community by collaborating with telecom operators and giving group messaging services for a lot cheaper than a SMS.”

Five months ago U2opia Mobile, a value-added services (MVAS) developer, launched an application that works on USSD and allows users to access Facebook without a GPRS connection. Umesh Menon, co-founder, u2opia says: “Although and estimated 40 per cent of the market has data capable phones, we estimate just 10 per cent actually use data on their phone.” The application, onetwish has crossed 150,000 users in under three months and has collaborated with Airtel, Tata, Idea and Videocon in India.

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