Nokia's Mosh marries mobile with social networking

When George Linardos was ordered to clear his diary to help dream up new business for Nokia, he imagined six weeks brainstorming on the terrace of a five-star hotel in the Caribbean.

What he got was a pot of porridge every morning at a Spartan hotel hours from Finnish capital Helsinki, with forests and snow all around.

Seeing the same half a dozen faces for 45 days and craving greater social interaction, Linardos and his team came up with a site aimed at making informal networking easier, especially for people without access to a PC.

The result, Mosh, a social networking site that is accessible from cellphones, is the latest piece in the puzzle for Nokia as it tries to build an internet stronghold to balance a maturing cellphone business.

Users seem to like it.

“It seems to me a bit like a return to the origins of internet, where people can access content and share it with others,” said Nico Virtanen, an IT student in Finland.

“I like the site a lot. Other sites allow you to share audio and video, but here you can also find programs and documents.”

So far there have been no advertisements, just word-of-mouth promotion by guys like Virtanen, and already more than six million people have logged on to download pictures, video, music and computer programs written by other users.

It’s all up to the users, said Linardos, now head of the Mosh business.

“We opened up the platform. We don’t know where it exactly goes and we are not entirely in control,” he said.

Nokia is the first handset maker to move strongly into content space with services like Mosh and its upcoming music store and gaming services.

“Nokia’s dominant market share in the mobile phone market has enabled it to take a more aggressive approach to opening up new revenue streams than its rivals,” said Ben Wood, head of research at consultancy CCS. Nokia’s rivals are shying away from such bold moves, and are instead hosting services on their phones, Wood said.

While Nokia has left traditional rivals Motorola and Samsung behind, it faces competition in its new space from Apple’s iTunes, News Corp’s MySpace, and personal navigation device makers TomTom and Garmin.

Neil Mawston, analyst at research firm Strategy Analytics said services like Mosh are partly defensive for Nokia, which is trying to keep big brands like Apple, Google and Vodafone out of its market.

“In the near-term, such internet services are designed to make Nokia handsets stickier. In the longer-term, the goal is to generate a fresh revenue stream for Nokia shareholders,” Mawston said.

Revenues from running networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo on cellphones are expected to rise sharply in coming years as so-called “user-generated content,” once a niche concept, starts to win mass appeal.

“From content distribution point-of-view, mobile has been a very closed channel. First thing we wanted to do is to open it up,” Linardos said.

Juniper Research expects annual revenues from wireless social networking to increase to â,¬2,86-billion in 2012, compared with just â,¬190-million this year.

Unlike most other such internet sites, Mosh is designed primarily for cellphone usage, even though one can also access it from a PC.

Linardos said four people out of five logging to the service have done it from cellphones, with people from more than 100 countries already visiting the site.

“Our number one market has been India, by pretty overwhelming degree,” he said, adding that Russia and South Africa were next in line, with many people accessing the site from old, not very advanced cellphones.

“In some of these areas you don’t have broadband penetration—mobile phone is often the fundamental way these people stay in contact with the world,” he said.

Mosh plans its future in four to six weeks cycles, a time frame that any large global organisation would be unable to cope with. Developing a new cellphone model takes usually more than a year, for example.

“This community place moves very quickly and we have to move faster than the company like Nokia usually does,” Linardos said. “We want Mosh to be completely authentic, but at the same time we are part of the global company with global brand.” - Reuters



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