Pitch invasion: the battle for the mobile social space

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What’s happening with mobile social networking? It suddenly seems to be the new frontier for Web 2.0, in particular now that moves by Three on flat-rate Internet access and T-Mobile’s Web and Walk are starting to gain traction.

Pitch is – supposedly – new mobile social networking tool which – their PR at least – seems to think is a ‘MySpace killer’. But not so fast.

There are plenty of online social networks already moving into the mobile realm, and bringing their existing customer base with them. So can a mobile play come from the opposite end of the spectrum and start building in mobile, and emphasise the mobile experience, rather than starting with online?

Let’s review a couple of the “MoSoSo” (Mobile Social Software) developments to date. MySpace tested the water when it partnered with the Helio service in the US, with fair results. In part this was a response to software projects like EQO which let you carry your MySpace network around with you via the mobile. Here in Europe Playahead.se (also now launched in the UK) has worked with Kenet Works to mobilise it’s online community and display the “presence” of users on the mobile.

And we recently wrote about BuddyPing, the one-man startup that already has several thousand users and has an implied location-based advertising model built discretely into its social networking features.

Now, of course, MySpace is looking for European partners for its service. Since MySpace has 130m users, it’s going to be pretty hard for a mobile start-up to start from the mobile and work backwards / simultaneously into online.
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

So, according to Pitch:

The Pitch service includes messaging, chat, picture upload and sharing, free mobile content and more – but it’s 100% advertising funded so doesn’t cost a penny and users don’t need to worry about being landed with an enormous bill at the end of the month (Users are also guaranteed a maximum of two to three ads per week so they don’t need to worry about spam).

Pitch customers can build a personal a mobile home page, message inside the service to friends of groups, IM etc – think Yahoo Groups on a mobile. There is also, says Pitch, going to be video and picture sharing, but the web application only launches in December.

Obviously, the service is not actually going to be free to the end user. There is always the ever-present issue of data charges from the network provider.

But who or what is Pitch?

Pitch says it was founded in 2000 by CEO David Warburton who also appeared to be CEO of The Music Solution in 2004, a ringtones company.

The background to Pitch is explained more fully on their corporate site, which details that while The Music Solution secured contracts with the likes of Motorola and Carphone Warehouse among others, it dumped the B2B model to go B2C in 2004, relaunching as SplashMobile (ringtones club), doing some European deals and then relaunching as Pitch Entertainment Group this year.

So a former ringtones company has suddenly got Web 2.0 fever?

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One can’t help feeling that behind all this hype, we may be being subjected to a “MySpace bandwagon” spin on an old press announcement.

Back in June TotalTelecom ran a story about the beta launch of the mobile advertising-funded service as just being a pure opt-in advertising network. This had zero mention of MySpace, Web 2.0 or social networking.

Either that or Pitch really will tick all the right boxes in December when the Web application comes out. But frankly the jury is out on this one, to say the least.

Whatever the case, Pitch will have hefty competition.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, Bebo is understood to be in informal talks with mobile networks and Friends Reunited is expected to launch a mobile version of its service in mid-2007 (although I predict it will could be rather late to the game by then, even if it is more of a mainstream audience).

But where all of these new services will have to deliver is in the area of the user experience. We have all been beaten over the head by talk of the personalisation and customisation of the web for years. Well, guess what? The mobile is the most personal space of all. Get that wrong and you can really screw up. Look at the hoo-ha surrounding the Crazy Frog debacle.

If social networking providers hope to have any kind of success in the mobile environment they are going to have to make the experience utterly easy, beautiful and unobtrusive to the users. Sending them adverts is probably not going to cut it.

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