[by Jemima Kiss] From the the PMN Mobile User Experience conference in London this week: The session I was really looking forward to: Frederick Ghahramani, director and co-founder of AirG, Vancouver-based mobile social networking specialists. He defined community with four key elements:
- Identity. How the user is represented.
- Presence. Tools like IM and ‘online now' indicators.
- Interaction. Content sharing, comment functions and so on.
- The user interface and experience fits round any or all of those.
Various sites have been built around some of those elements - Napster around interaction, Blogger around identity, Friendster around presence and identity - but (because you seemingly can't give a presentation on social networking without mentioning MySpace) MySpace was the first to combine identity, presence and interaction. "Identity gives a reason to interact and presence makes the interactivity real time," said Ghahramani. Pointing to his own MySpace page, he said: "What I see here is Blogger and Photoshare and then elements of Match.com, only not done as well, Friendster, only not done as well, and Napster - only not done as well. MySpace has become successful by playing a combination game."
Translating this experience to the mobile space will depend on user interface innovation, he said: "How do you combine identity, presence and interactivity on a 90×50 pixel screen?." Embed user interfaces that mimic an online experience are promising. "UI is the most important thing when it comes to mobile comunities. Ultimately it's going to be UI innovation that will drive market success."
AirG's own move to a Java-based embed experience in Q4 2005 produced a three-fold increase in session length, a 50 per cent increase in install base in Q1 2006 and pushed user numbers to more than 10 million. Compared to the WAP experience, users find it easier-to-use, faster and say it looks better.
On user-generated content, Gharamani gave the example of Kimbo Slice, a Miami-based illegal ‘Fight Club' boxer who put video of his fights on YouTube. In four months his videos were downloaded five million times and he became an instant celebrity - although it's all illegal of course. The popularity of this kind of content is undeniable but the swathe of complications - legal risks, privacy issues, copyright breaches, content management requirements - is an enormous issues for mobile operators because unlike a lot of UGC in the online space, consumers haven't disassociated the liabilities from the operators: "operators will be the first to get the blame if anything goes wrong". From the Kimbo Slice example: "Five million downloads x upset parents x calls to customer services = one expensive customer service issue".
He joked that if MySpace was advertising for a head of mobile, he'd apply...
- Fjord MD Mike Beeston: Given the choice between accessing a service on a PC or mobile, users can prefer the privacy and intimacy of a mobile interface for services like Flirtomatic, for example.
- Gunnar Larsen, director EMEA, Real Networks: "Trust is the issue here: people don't use mobile as an extension of online communities just because they don't trust the cost." Larsen also defined ‘casual games' as more female. Stuff like Tetris - "not the ones where you shoot things and blood splatters everywhere". Nice.
[by Jemima Kiss] A delegate piped up: Is mobile not an interesting enough space for ‘real' media companies? There are no ‘real' media companies here to ask, but maybe I'll put that to a few of them at the Association of Online Publishers drinks tonight...
The consensus here is that mobile operators are stepping back from creating content and trying to be a media brand in their own right. "A lot of operators went into this space with aspirations of becoming a big media company," said Lars Becker, COO of Player X. "But they've toned this down and looked at where they are making their money, and that means focusing on customer support. They understand it's very hard to build a media company that appeals to everyone."
On the other side of the fence, media companies are "red hot" in wanting to move into the mobile space and just have to mobilise their products.
[by Jemima Kiss] Gus Desbarats of industrial design consultants Alloy said it's unthinkable that designers would produce a shampoo bottle and then complain when users couldn't work out how to use it. Alloy asked users what they thought about the trial Sky TV service through Vodafone. The tester says it's an interesting idea and is keen on watching snippets of mobile TV in his down time. But a few minutes later after some very sketchy images: "Oh. That's not good. It's like when you get on one of those dodgy porn sites and try and download stuff. Huh. If that's what streaming is then I'll never even think about getting it, let alone paying for it." He's been hoarding insights from users on their mobile services, like why a portrait-format screen would be taken up with so much menu clutter that it actually becomes a small landscape screen, like where users actually put a handset if they are watching video on it, and headsets - people hate them. Headphones with an iPod are different because the user chooses when to plug in, but users can't choose when they will get an incoming call. All these observations and definitions "power the design of the device". Again, users often refer back to the usability of their PCs where the hardware often goes unnoticed - the focus is on interaction through the screen.
Alloy's prototype is a clam-shell twin-screen model. Users don't like the main screen to be combined with a touchscreen pad because "you get grubby marks all over the TV you're watching" but the big advantage is that the touch screen menu can change according to the mode the phone is in. "Mechanical keypads offer significant restraints in the context of multimedia environments," he said. So the controls change from video mode to the camera function to the phone. It looks like a conventional phone but has other pleasing touches: the phone sits on its side with a 5 degree tilt to make it easier to view in TV mode, and it's also designed to sit comfortably in two hands unlike smaller handsets which bring the user's elbows too close together. (I hadn't thought about that before, but try it!). This design is modest but really impressive. Desbarats doesn't want this to be called a blue sky project because that "becomes about the designer's vision. This shouldn't look crazy to people - I want them to say ‘OK, right - I get it'."