Social networks are seeing more users access their sites via mobile devices –Twitter got 347% more mobile usage in January 2010 than it did a year earlier, while Facebook saw its mobile usage increase by 112% over the same period. Is that a good thing for these mega-popular social networks — or a signal that the winds are starting to shift?
Techies have been talking about the potential of the mobile Web for almost as long as they’ve been excited about social media. The difference is that while social networks have taken off in a big way over the past seven years or so, mobile has been crawling along. It’s not hard to see why — surfing the Web on a non-smartphone is a pain and it’s only in the past few years that smartphones have become cheap and plentiful. Finally, the masses are catching up to the technophiles.
That sounds like great news for today’s dominant social networks, right? Except that Facebook wasn’t designed with mobile in mind. Neither was LinkedIn or MySpace or any number of other traditional social networks. It’s not clear yet who will make the transition well and who won’t. While they’re figuring out how to make the most of mobile, we’ve already got a number of social networks that were meant to be used on a mobile device. They’re natives to the platform.
This is when industry shake-ups happen: When something fundamental about an industry changes, it invites competition that the former titans of the field may not be prepared for. Of course, it doesn’t happen every time — and in this case, Facebook has had more than ample notice that the shift is coming. I’m certainly not suggesting that Facebook is just going to lay down its crown and walk away because of a little paradigm shift. But mobile gives its competitors an opening they didn’t have before. If someone is smart and finds a way to exploit that weakness, we may be in for another Friendster/MySpace-style changing of the guard.
What about Twitter? Twitter is a special case. It was, in a sense, born out of text messaging, and it’s already taking location into account. So it’s even harder to say whether mobile gives Twitter the boost it needs to become truly ubiquitous or whether it presents a vital opening to a would-be competitor.
Is mobile good or bad for established social networks? Do you think any of the mobile networks on the market today pose a real threat to the likes of Twitter and Facebook?
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