Next2Friends: Another Bluetooth social network joins the fray

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When is someone going to crack the ‘mobile social network via Bluetooth‘ conundrum? Or will it all turn out to have been a massive red herring? The latest to enter the fray, launching Thursday, will be Next2Friends, a new social network based on Bluetooth-enabled handsets.

Here’s how they say it works: You set up a Next2Friends profile detailing all your likes, dislikes etc. You then load the software onto your mobile (it’s not yet clear but I believe it’s a Java app) and head out into the real world. As you walk around the Next2Friends software will automatically collect and match your data to other Next2Friends users you (or rather your mobile) came into close proximity with. It can scan up to nine mobiles at any moment. The Next2Friends founders say it will be used in clubs, where people can set details like “single and interested in music” (er, right). When you next sign into your account you’ll receive notification of all the people you passed throughout the day you share something in common with. Next2Friends claims they have lots of privacy controls.

There are a number of other features which remain to be checked out. Such as the ability to stream live video (I wonder if this is like Qik?), online video editing, and video messaging (perhaps a little like Seesmic but via mobile). The service also lets you picture message or text a question to your network of friends and get feedback (although I use Twitter for this which scales a lot faster than me having to wait for my friends to download a Bluetooth app). So far they claim they have 12,500 users, which seems a lot for a beta which launched over the dead Christmas period. Andrew Doyle is COO and Next2Friends claims it has “three Industry Veterans on their Strategic Advisory Board” though they aren’t named.

However, as usual there are problems with the whole bluetooth network thing. The idea is by no means unique. Let’s see… Nokia released Nokia Sensor some four years ago. It broadcasts information about yourself to others via bluetooth. Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else, although incredibly it is still available for download. Google’s Dodgeball – which was supposed to tell friends (and friends of friends) who are within 10 blocks of you where you are and what you are doing – also bombed.

In Europe Aka-Aki, based in Germany, does almost exactly the same thing as Next2Friends. So far they seem to be doing well, so launching in the UK may be on the cards. Copenhagen-based Imity also detects other members via bluetooth and sends basic profile information to your phone. Imity went open source in February 2007. MobiLuck, based in Paris, is another bluetooth solution similar to Aka-Aki and Imity, as is Britekite and Loopt in the US. For more on this see my previous post. In the UK we have other startups interested in mobile networking space like Rummble and Buddyping.

Lastly, for Next2Friends to take off, they need consumers to download the application. Meaning they will have to spend serious cash on marketing. And since the software needs to be kept switched on and broadcasting over Bluetooth, that will eat battery life and potentially annoy users. “Ok for geeks, but not mainstreamers,” as UK mobile veteran Helen Keegan of Beepmarketing points out to me. And yes the dating market is highly lucrative, but is this the best way to crack it?

Personally I think that somewhere along the line Google will take its mobile mapping application for handsets – which now does quasi location triangulation – and turn on social features, and then that will kill off all the startups that can’t compete with its marketing muscle.

Anyway, it will be fascinating to see how Next2Friends does.

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