The future of social media is mobile

Thank you desktop. Thank you laptop. Both of you have been a great help introducing the world to digital socialization but now your time is up, we’ve found something better, easier and more timely. The smartphone.

I’m already on record somewhere with my belief that the laptop is a transient tool — somewhat of a usable mistake until the next generation of smartphone or tablet is designed (from the ground up) and developed (to not look like a pimped out PIM-focused device) — so I’m wondering if this is one of the finest examples of “good enough and getting better” technology married with a “just perfectly made for it” service.

The rage at this very moment is “check-in” software a la Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, Yelp, Places, DoubleDutch and others, but this is just the first layer of the mobile-social cake with no icing visible yet. Those of us that have been using this type of social software already had been checking in for no apparent reason and, as typical when a new paradigm is introduced, traction has been slow — probably because there hasn’t been a compelling enough reason for everyone to start using it.

Is this Facebook Places?

The challenge with introducing a service to an audience that had no idea they wanted it is that you are the pioneer of the service which also means you are the one everyone is gunning for. If they are smart, they will differentiate (Gowalla’s virtual goods versus Foursquare’s mayorship for example) or they will leverage an existing user base – something Facebook hopes to do with Places.

The significance of Facebook getting into the game cannot be lost on this nascent industry. They’ve had the luxury of watching, for more that three years, what has and hasn’t worked, what people will and won’t do. They’ve watched as the market leader grew their user base to over 4 million people and struck up relationships with key brand partners. They’ve had the distinct advantage of focusing on another business – their core – and in the same period have gone from under 100 million users to over half a billion core users and over 100 million mobile users.

Are brands the tipping point?

Perhaps the novelty of the check in has wained. We all now need incentives to offer our location and brands are more than willing to leverage these platforms to get solicit your personal stamp. These incentives come in the form of coupons, rebates, discounts, loyalty points and, sometime even social status and rely on a significant number of brands attracting a significant number of users.

Facebook + Brands

Brands have flocked to Facebook and for good reason – well 500 million easily segmented reasons to be more precise. I’m not sure that there is a significant brand out there not participating somewhere on Facebook and this is where Places can bring the social stamp into the mainstream. By simply extending the existing automated advertising model currently available on Facebook to Places would give the average consumer a heck of a reason to relinquish some privacy – location-based benefits would flow and advertisers would flock to Facebook because the service can not only segment online but drive real-life traffic to advertisers establishments.

The shift is coming

Whatever the tipping point, this industry has garnered enough interest from the larger influencers to be validated and it’s only a matter of time before the base equation will be checking in and then the real innovation can start.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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  • Shafeer Badharudeen

    I agree with you Rob! Definitely the future of social media is going to be mobile due to its capability to communicate the context and location of the target user to the content providers. Content providers who are making use of the info provided by the mobile channel and bring in innovation through adoption of other relevant technologies like image processing for delivering content delivery experiences close to reality (augmented reality) are going to stand out for a longer run in the social media space!

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