The coming social wars
This is the unedited English version of my piece that was published in Sankei Business-I in Japanese on July 2nd 2012. http://www.sankeibiz.jp/business/news/120702/bsj1207020501001-n1.htm
In asia companies are now starting to understand the importance of the social graph. The ability to make it easy for people to share and communicate amongst those they know. Unfortuantely, asia has been slow to the game and hasn’t executed well in the face of companies like facebook, myspace and orkut.
On the other hand, in the west companies are now realizing the importance of mobile and the convenience of mobile commerce and time sensitive content, delivered to mobile can be really valuable. Unfortunately the west has been slow to the game in adapting to mobile compared to asian companies who have a long history at perfecting mobile commerce and content.
Big news in America is the coming adoption of NFC into mobile phones, American media hail it as groundbreaking technology but its something that was long ago adopted in Japan and nearby countries. It’s almost silly the way American media are talking about the future of mobile commerce, when companies in Japan have been earning billions of dollars from mobile commerce since the “feature phone” days.
Ultimately what this means is that while american companies will “innovate” asian companies will perfect. Asian companies will consistently beat American companies on average in the mobile space.
Lets take for example popular mobile applications LINE and Kakaotalk, both applications I’ve written about before and both mobile chatting applications developed by asian companies. LINE was developed in Japan and Kakaotalk in Korea. Kakaotalk is huge in korea and is steadily gaining traction throughout the rest of the world, LINE is extremely popular in Japan, most people I meet these days in Japan are equally comfortable exchanging LINE id’s as they are facebook id’s.
These two applications started as mobile chatting platforms but as they grow they begin to build a “facebook” effect, enough of their social graph are using the application to make them comfortable with only communicating within it. Bypassing mobile email, mobile txt and yes, even facebook.
The next facebook will be built in Asia.
It has been rumoured that facebook has 100 engineers dedicated to working on making facebook mobile applications faster. A big complaint users often have is that the facebook mobile apps are too slow, but the real problem is that facebook presents too much information to the user. Facebook was built for a pc screen. It was assumed the user would have ample screen space to read and consume multiple types of information. But mobile is fundamentally different.
Mobile is about simplicity and ease of use because it has no other choice. Chatting apps like Kakaotalk, LINE and WeChat, a similarly hugely popular app in china accomplish the core need for most people who use social networks, the ability to communicate with your friends. On top of that these chatting applications are adding functions that are similar to facebook, kakaotalk has added kakaostory which is similar to facebook’s photo sharing, but much simpler. Why would you need to share photos on facebook?
Facebook has overly complex relationship management. To connect to someone on facebook all you need to know is their email or name, so you end up connecting with people you would prefer not to share a lot of information with, your boss, your ex boyfriend / girlfriend, old classmates. On the other hand, these mobile apps are a lot more intimate because you have to know the users telephone number to connect and people treat their telephone numbers much more cautiously than email or their name. So almost by default the people you connect to via a mobile first social network are going to be closer to you than a PC first social network.
Mobile social networks have the intimate social graph. All these incumbent mobile companies need to do is selectively pick the functions people care about from the biggest PC social networks and simplify them on mobile. A job that will be significantly easier without the burden of converting from pc to mobile.
This is why I think Asian companies will eventually dominate social networking. I think facebook will have a tremendous challenge fighting off these upcoming challengers because they will always have the legacy of PC. While facebook tries to figure out mobile advertising, mobile payments and mobile ecommerce, Asian companies will simply adapt what they already know best and move into stronger offensive positions faster.
Increasingly we spend more time on mobile than we do on PC, there are plenty of people who outside of work spend no time on PC’s especially younger people. Facebook now has to fight to capture the growing global population of people who are more comfortable using mobile phones than they are using PC’s.
I am really looking forward to watching this play out. While it’s not guaranteed that facebook will lose at mobile, it is obvious that mobile is the future and facebook has a lot of learning to do in a space full of experienced experts. Lets the games begin.
We are in the midst of a fascinating convergence where east and west are increasingly battling it out head to head for control of the new web. The new web is mobile and social. The PC will be a peripheral device in all countries, especially developing nations.
If you look carefully you can see it happening before your eyes. While the west created the iPhone the strongest companies in the smart phone gaming space are asian, not American. While the west perfected social networking it is Asian companies that have been adopting the social graph concepts to mobile, not American companies. When it comes to mobile, western companies are at a huge disadvantage.