I was invited out to lunch last week where the question quickly turned to what type of strategic direction an organization should take in the new media space. Knowing better than to presume, I asked what they meant by new media and it turned out to be social networking sites and/or the b'sphere. Well, there is certainly lots of action in those places and, for public health, some interesting opportunities. Though I think the Second Life phenomenon, despite the spin, has slowed to a crawl and is on the verge of becoming the fad it always was. My advice to them, and since it only cost them lunch is free to you too, is to think mobile. There are any number of reasons for my position here, and here's a recent presentation on marketing with the connected consumer that outlines some of them. A news article I read today, however, shows how far reaching the mobile trend will go as the CTO of Verizon says that their whole 4G strategy is built around the idea of mobile platforms performing social networking functions: What we see is the typical person today at Facebook or YouTube, or any social networking site, being the major wireless user of the future... 4G isn't going to be about more voice (services) or more text messaging...It's going to be about interactive applications - customers that are far more comfortable with and demanding of interactive applications, people who believe interactivity is a right.
So if you are thinking ahead, and I realized again today that many people don't look past next month or where the next Benjamins are coming from, social networking behaviors are not going to go away - they will shift to the seventh media of mobile phones.
For the readers who say to themselves "I work with the poor and vulnerable, the Internet and mobile won't affect my work" - consider this recent announcement:
"The World Bank is now doubling its commitment in Africa's broadband infrastructure development in the next five years by investing $1 billion in broadband infrastructure development," said World Bank director of operations, Hartwig Schafer. He added that the aim of the funds is to make sure that the continent catches up with the rest of the world in broadband connectivity...Celtel International, Africa's second largest mobile service provider, received a $320 million loan for expansion in five countries on the continent, including Madagascar, Uganda, Sierre Leone, and Malawi. Celtel has a presence in 14 African countries.
Then there's a recent market report from the World Resources Institute [pdf file] that concludes:
Mobile phones already have an enormous lead over computers in developing countries. Moreover, phones are relatively easy to master, generally require no sophisticated technical support, and, as voice-based devices, pose no literacy barrier. Phones are less expensive than computers - basic GSM models designed for developing countries are approaching US$30 - and service is often offered through prepaid business models that are more affordable for BOP consumers...Equally important is the potential for low-cost fixed wireless networks in rural areas, bringing Internet access - and Voice-over-Internet telephony - to phones and other devices in areas too sparsely populated to support conventional cellular networks. Adding a WiFi chip to a mobile phone to allow access to such rural networks will cost only a few dollars.
The combination of powerful phones, inexpensive networks, and voice-accessible Internet applications - for obtaining market prices, health information, or government services - may open up the Internet to large numbers of new users. [Ed Note: had to underline that!].
Regardless of where you are reading this (and God forbid someone's doing it on their cell phone, though if you are check the Plusmo feed I have) - you can sit and wait for it and try to catch up..or you can lead.