Yoo-hoo, Young People: Carriers Add Social Net Hubs

AT&T and Verizon Wireless both announced new mobile social networking offerings this week as part of efforts to woo young consumers and boost mobile Web use.

The carriers’ new applications–powered by mobile media company Intercasting Corp.–give users a single source for accessing multiple social networks including MySpace. While both use the same platform, Verizon’s service is branded as “SocialLife,” and costs $1.49 a month, and AT&T’s, dubbed “My Communities,” is priced at $2.99 monthly.

The deals mean that San Diego-based Intercasting now has deals to provide its white-label social networking platform to all four of the major U.S. carriers, including Sprint and T-Mobile.

Separately, Yahoo announced today (Sept. 10) that it would make its oneConnect address book service available as an iPhone application. The program includes a feature that allows people to monitor various social networks including Facebook, Friendster and Bebo.

Analysts have forecast that social networking will become increasingly popular on handheld devices, helping carriers accelerate the growth of mobile media. eMarketer predicts that more than 800 million people worldwide will be participating in a social network via their mobile phones by 2012–up from 82 million in 2007.

“For the mobile industry as a whole it would seem that social networking offers the chance to get out of that shallow growth curve they’ve had with mobile content and bump it up,” said John du Pre Gauntt, senior mobile analyst for eMarketer. As of the end of the second quarter, 23% of U.S. cell customers subscribed to advanced data services, according to Nielsen Online.

Turning to outside companies to supply social networking services is also a smart move by carriers, said Gauntt. “Having somebody like Intercasting in the background doing all that stitching together of social networks can provide everyone a better user experience,” he said.

While AT&T already features access to MySpace and Facebook on its mobile portal, its new “My Communities” hub “speaks to the way people behave in social media,” said Emily Soelberg, director of applications and games for AT&T’s wireless unit. “Lots of people are part of more than one social network.”

In addition to MySpace, both the “My Communities” app and Verizon’s “SocialLife” include online ethnic communities AsianAve, BlackPlanet and MiGente; FaithBase, a Christian community; GLEE, aimed at gays and lesbians; as well as LiveJournal, Photobucket and other social sites.

Whether AT&T’s monthly $2.99 charge for the service–twice what Verizon is asking–will prove a barrier to adoption remains to be seen. “There’s still a lot to be learned about what the right model for all these services will be, and we’re still pretty early in the evolution of mobile media,” Soelberg said.

But she added that AT&T has outperformed the industry by 70% to date in average revenue per user (ARPU) for community and chat applications, citing Nielsen Mobile data.

Mark Walsh – Writer for http://www.mediapost.com

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