Social networking market dominated by MySpace…

But where next for online societies? 

It’s a pretty ubiquitous feature on the web and social networks continue to grow, with thousands registering for new accounts each week. According to Hitwise, 4.9% of all Internet visits in September 2006 went to one of the top 20 social networking sites. That is a 94% increase in traffic over September 2005. In February alone, some 403.3 million unique visitors worldwide visited online community sites (from ComScore)

MySpace dominates the market – an obvious result – but maintaining an 80% market share ahead of nearest rival Facebook (with a mere 10% market share) is an impressive feat. Catching users’ interest with the music capabilities has proved the winning formula;now that it’s working with YouTube it exhibits the essence of web 2.0, gifting users easy access to their own online identity and providing a new and engaging web-culture.

But we’re seeing more and more mobile telcos getting in on the social networking phenomenon – MySpace and YouTube working with Vodefone, YouTube withVerizon and now France Telecom (Orange) is teaming up with Bebo. Last month Bebo also struck a deal with music download site 7Digital, launching a tightly integrated system which allows unsigned bands on Bebo to sell their music via 7Digital’s Indi Store. More and more the web 2.0/social networking/digital entertainment world is forming a particularly complete online society – lines of differentiation are blurring and the applications offered by these online entities are becoming all the more capable.

As noted by Kate Norton at Business Week, the mobile is perfect medium for social networks. Consumers trust their mobile phones and they are the most personal of all the digital devices found in the average users’ pockets. And the demand exists; in a Gartner survey conducted in mid-2006, 35% of U.S. mobile users said they would be “extremely interested” in using their phone to submit text, pictures, video, or audio content to a blog. In Britain, 10% voiced similar enthusiasm, as did 12% of those polled in Italy.

Personal identity and trust aside, the nature of social networking is in many ways ‘information snacking’ or dropping in to the site for a few seconds to see what friends are up to. Nielsen/Netratings confirm that the average MySpace or Bebo user spends less than 30 seconds on each page when visiting the sites. In that sense, social networking is ideally suited to mobile phones because consumers can check in while waiting for a bus, for example.

Mobile telcos continue to search for the elusive ‘killer app’ for 3G, maybe they’ve found it with social networking sites – an established user-base, hungry for access while on the move, could reap dividends for struggling operators.

If the success of Twitter is anything to go by, Social Mobiling will be far more than a faddish phase…

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