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A word about mobile (I mean social) devices.

August 13, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a John Mayer concert. (Don’t ask.) There I was with my wife and the shrill of about 15,000 overly excited teenagers. Soon the lights went dim and it struck me. Enlightenment. In the form of thousands of little white lights, glimmering like the ocean of stars that make up the Milky Way.

Teens sure do like to use their cell phones. Half way through the concert, those tiny white lites still filled the stadium. And the amazing thing is, they weren’t talking. They were texting. They were photographing. They were filming. And they were sending all these things back and forth to each other. A group of teens two rows down from me were unable to get tickets next to the rest of their friends. Pictures were sent from one group to another, trying to determine who had the better view. Texts were sent between the group constantly throughout the night. In another group, someone ran down to the floor to get a picture, and then giggling, came back to their friends. She sent the picture to her friends, so they could have it as well.

The cell phone industry has already had their epiphany about 14-24 year olds. Photo sharing, video sharing and music are some of the more successful 3G services. And I finally understood why Blackberry is John Mayer’s primary sponsor: at least half of the 14-24 year olds at the concert had non-traditional handsets: Sidekicks, Blackberry’s, Treo’s, etc. (Which also made me realize how expensive it is getting to have kids. I mean, when I was growing up, I had to beg and plead for years just to get a pair of Converse All-Stars!)

Yet, the video content industry still thinks getting content onto cell phones primarily means making it shorter. This industry could really benefit from going to a teeny-bopper concert to see how these devices are really being used. To me, the epiphany was four fold:

  1. These are first and foremost, social devices. Cellular devices primarily allow 14-24 year olds to socialize with one another by talking, texting and sharing video and pictures. Perhaps that has become true because of its mobility, but at this point, the ability to be connected to their friends is the primary benefit they get out of their cell phones. And with Myspace, Facebook, Youtube and others porting their services to cellular networks, more and more social interaction will be done on a mobile social device, at the expense of a computer. Regardless of whether they are at home or not.
  2. Content is thriving on social devices. The content is being created by this demo, for this demo. Pictures, video clips, messages…all user generated, and all being digested over cellular networks at a substantial rate. Sound familiar? The evolution of content on mobile social devices is starting to look remarkably like the evolution of video content on computers. The primary thing that will spell success for more professionally produced social device content will be that which spells success for computer based content: does the content reflect the way we use that particular device?
  3. For content to work on mobile devices, it needs to be mobile. Nightlife based content is a good, but lame example of this. More compelling, in my opinion, is the finance/business based content that is becoming available. CNBC, Bloomberg and Reuters should be leaders in this area, allowing business users to get their news while on the go, extending their brand and capitalizing on a very attractive demographic. Movie trailers should be all over cell phones as well, in my opinion.
  4. For content to work on social devices, it needs to be social. Social content requires or enables social engagement. This is more tricky, because it doesn’t fit a current form. For this young demo to watch content on their cell phones, it has to induce interaction with their friends. Ultimately it is hard to site examples that work because content, until recently, hasn’t needed to induce social interaction (vs. develop community) in a compelling way. All that will change now.

Ultimately, regardless of the infrastructure used to connect (at some point, the cellular infrastructure and the IP infrastructure will be one and the same anyway), every device has specific uses, based on its form factor. For content to succeed on any given device, it must take advantage of the way in which the target audience takes advantage of that particular device.

To a specific demographic, a given device might be primarily a social device. To others, it might be a mobile communication device. Other devices might be different things, to different people, at different times of the day. It can all get very complex, very quickly. What is comforting to us, is that specific demographics/segments use devices in very specific ways. If you know who your target audience is, it is fairly easy to understand how they use a particular type of device, and therefore, easy to understand the type of content they want to consume on that device at any given point in time.

Of course, once you figure all that out, you end up with the non-trivial issue of developing compelling content. Funny how it always comes back to that, isn’t it?

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 6, 2008 8:32 pm

    I feel like i just went back to college and opted to take Social Devices 101 with Prof. Sengupta as an artist we tend not to think about the logistics we just want to create but all that is over now. Sure its an amazing and wonderful experience to create and be recognized but if you create in a format which cannot be recognized then where do you stand with your audience ? you in a sense end up ostracizing them (not sure if that is the word i want to use but i’ll use it for now )

    in other news I adore John Mayer and I’m not ashamed.

    thanks for this post. food for thought.

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