Social Networks, Swedish Phone Throwing, & More at Mobile Northwest

10/20/08Follow @gthuang

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hardware, and we’ve seen the first evolution,” he says. “The big question is what will they bundle with it that’s open and free? Are they in fact the true evil empire?…Every startup needs an evil empire to compete with.”

Huseby finished with some thoughts on mobile companies today versus Web companies during the bubble of 2000. Then, he says, entrepreneurs had a “that’s not fair” attitude—”‘others made millions, we made nothing,’ they were whining. Venture capitalists said, ‘I guess we knew it was too good to be true.’ Bankers were much more culpable… That’s not what’s happening now. Mobile has become mainstream.”

Next up was an interesting panel on social networking and social media in the mobile sector, moderated by Tricia Duryee of mocoNews. The panelists represented a good cross-section of local and national mobile companies: Brent Brookler of Treemo, Peter Claasen of Ontela, Venetia Espinoza of T-Mobile, and Timo Bauer of NewBay Software.

Some of the key take-aways:

—The importance of small, individual-based social networks. “Most people call about five people,” says Espinoza, and those five people also get the vast majority of pictures, videos, and other content shared by the user.

—When it comes to social networks on mobile devices, “Immediacy is where the opportunity is,” says Brookler. “It’s a great and active extension” to social media on laptops and desktop computers, says Claasen, who points out that users are drawn to rich content (like baby pictures, for instance), which can lead to “viral” distribution from user to user. “What Facebook and Google don’t have is creating [mobile] content,” adds Bauer.

—As for whether social media is a stand-alone product for mobile devices or just a feature or extension, Bauer says, “There’s a huge opportunity if you own the interface” that connects social networks of families and friends. Espinoza says it’s “probably both. We see lot of applications developers who use social networking as an ingredient in what they’re doing. Not to replicate what a Facebook is doing, but using the social aspect of the application you’re making to get the word out and get distribution.” Brookler points out that “Six months ago, it was ‘I need a Facebook page.’ The last two months, it’s ‘I need an iPhone app.’ People are looking to companies to power this transformation.”

Lastly, Duryee asked the panelists about their future outlook and the impact of the financial downturn. Brookler pointed out the challenge of advertisers cutting back. Claasen said, “One thing I think we’ll see out of carriers is more neutrality in the social networks they’re building.” Espinoza didn’t disagree, emphasizing that mobile devices and plans shouldn’t suffer too much in the grand scheme. “Customers say, ‘This is one of the most important things I pay for,’” she says. “They’ll let go of their land lines, or cable, before wireless.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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