Wubud – a mobile socnet on a SIM card

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TechCrunch UK & Ireland has learned that Wubud will be the next venture of UK-based entrepreneur, Paul Walsh, who already runs Segala, a usability and certification agency (though he is possibly better known as a blogger and UK Internet scene networker). Wubud – yet to launch – will be a mobile social network pre-installed as an application on a SIM card belonging to an as yet unnamed MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) as well as distributed for download online.

The Wubud mobile social network will most likely hook into location-based services, and details are sketchy at this point – but anyone watching Walsh’s stream of Twitters can’t have failed to notice the idea has been brewing for a while.

The model is an interesting one, according to what I understand Walsh has been saying to colleagues. The MVNO will have some kind of deal to distribute the SIMs (I’m guessing a large retailer or online player?) and will also take care of billing customers. But as an application on the SIM, Wubud will also have access to the billing system and will be able to charge for services without the customer having to input credit card details. That removes a lot of friction and allows Wubud to introduce paid-for services on top of its social network. The only other players able to do this would be another MVNO or mobile carrier, as a normal mobile social network would need to integrate with a separate payments system like Paypal or SMS billing, which incurs extra charges.

The team for Wubud will include (Update: apparently these are just ‘advisors’): Paul Birch (Co-founder, Bebo), Carl Taylor (Director of Applications & Services, Hutchison Whampoa Europe and a member of the Executive Committee at the GSMA); and Ewan Spence, long-time mobile commentator, writer and blogger.

Along with Walsh’s backing I understand that Birch, who recently hit paydirt when his stake in Bebo was realised with its sale to AOL for $850m, is providing seed investment.

Meanwhile, Walsh’s other business, Segala, which specialises in the arcane world of Internet standards compliance certification for web and mobile services, is developing a browser extension. This will classify the content of web sites in a Semantic Web fashion to enable “trust” based on standards and codes of conduct. Angus Banks (Co-founder of Moreover, bought by Verisign) recently became an advisor to Segala, which is looking to raise a $4 million round.

  • http://blog.mjelly.com james

    Good to see a different approach to building a mobile social network e.g. baked into the SIM. Question is do I have to sign up to the MVNO to use the soc net? If so, how will it get critical mass? Or is it a interface play (to other soc nets) like trutap.com?

  • Alfie

    I wonder if its going on the new T-mobile SIM thats coming out

  • Frank Wilson

    Congrats to Walsh and co. There are a lot of moving parts to fit together to make this service work but good luck. Again a socnet on a sim is a great idea but I am sure if it gets any traction the incumbents will copy it. I guess wubud are hoping to get some critical mass quickly in order to become a potential acquisition (exit).

  • Alfie

    I hear WYAN are also coming out with a new SIM so it could be that http://www.cityofmobile.org

  • Asif

    Yes better known as a blogger and scenester for a good reason. There is nothing here.

  • Matt Bielby

    One option might be to be rolled into the firmware upgrades on Nokia’s Social Software play in Ovi – that opens up how many millions of potential handsets? In exchange for handing the Finn’s control!

  • Carl

    Carl Taylor is currently happily employed by Hutchison Whampoa Europe, is not ‘former’ and has no plans to leave ..

  • Mike Butcher

    Great comments, keep’em coming {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/huaYR5Df0k_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Great comments, keep’em coming “}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/mR0QoMzVUQ”}}}

  • Mike Butcher

    Carl – Fair enough – amended the post.

  • http://www.ClearMyMail.com Dan Field

    Good post and video follow up Mike.

    Mobile socnets have to be so easy to use, as easy as sending an SMS message and to do that they really do (Today anyway) have to be embedded into the phone software or sim. This does cause many other problems though… not available on all networks, not available on all phones, requires updating etc. These are all similar to the problems we had years ago with desktop software, but were solved by the Internet and web based apps.

    Be interesting to see how much integration with phone functions can be achieved through Android… maybe then we will be able to give access to the phones directory, sms and location based functions from a web app.

  • Steve Micheals

    Wow Mike its true video makes you look fatter. Time to get of the party scene and back on your foldup bike.

  • Mike Butcher

    Steve Micheals – You are so right. In fact I’m going for a run right now! ;-)

  • http://www.broadstuff.com alan p

    Interesting play, it adds distribution risk so I assume there must be as yet unspecified functional benefits over a client/server web-based system?

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    Great idea, great to see if it takes off or not.

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    I don’t really see it taking off. Maybe in a year or two. Lets wait and see.

  • Erwin

    Its an new good idea, i am wondering who will be first recognized with this idea. I have some time to wait:) just bought good sim only contract from http://www.simonly.eu first webshop that sells sim only’s on an european level. uk website is http://www.simonly.eu/uk/

  • http://www.SimOnlyDeals.co.uk Sim Only

    Will be interesting to see if it takes off. Having it already on the sim would make a huge difference.

    Will depend on which companies take it up on there sims, if the majourity do then it could mean big things

  • http://www.uksimdeals.co.uk SIM Deals

    Did you know that there are 4 billion mobile phones in the world? There are only 1 billion Internet users and 1 billion television sets so, as you can see, mobile is a huge force. In fact,in many parts of the world mobile phones are the only screens and mobile is the only way for people to get on the Internet. That’s where mobile social networks come in.

  • Gerald Speers

    SIM software is extremely hard to make work for multiple handsets. The ROMS in the handsets are usually not library/standards compliant. It is a tough up-hill battle to make it work.

    That said: there exists a extremely large market (India, Africa) for a micro-payment and micro-billing platform to exist.

    I am not sure what Paul is putting together but as a person who comes from that industry I expect it is going to be something like that. Well, I hope it is. If I was going to do something new, that is the way I would be moving.

    There are companies doing extremly well in India (from a building userbase perspective) on the social (aka twitter like – GupShup) perspective.

    There therefore exists a market for this type of social network. It will not exist in the modern markets as long as the current SMS pricing model is adopted by the carriers.

    MVNO SIM networks are plentiful. There are a number of companies that have the ability to produce them for the UK. The problem is that their underlying pricing for direct network access is expensive. In some ways an MVNO with one of the incumbents is a better options even though you basically become a marketing arm for them.

    I don’t know what Paul et al are up to. I hope its a micro-payment platform. If its just a twitter for SMS I will be dissapointed.

    Look forward to seeing what you are up to boys.

    – g

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    As per the comment above SIM only deals are the best value for money in the current climate and the networks have listened to public demand and have come up with some very interesting SIM Only Contracts. The problem for the customer is, which deal to go for. This is where SIM Only Comparison sites like http://www.sim-only.co.uk come into their own and provide unbiased comparison.

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    Due to the SIM Only there has been a sharp decline in pay as you go users. Its just better value for money.

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    It’s a great idea to take advantage of the spread of sim only deals to introduce a new social network but the market must be coming to saturation point in terms of numbers of social networks. It’s going to need to have something unique to take people away from the like of Facebook.

  • http://www.cheapsimonlydeals.co.uk Cheap Sim Only Deals

    There was always a need for a mobile phone social network and I’m glad an organistation has stepped up to the plate, to make it happen

  • http://www.simonly-contracts.net Sim Only Contracts

    seems from the ouset to be a good idea but a big ask to take on established social networks like twitter and facebook

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