Subba’s Serendipitous moments

August 11, 2009

Mobile phones serve as catalysts for social media.

The mobile data services market is on an unprecedented roll. For the first time, wireless data revenue in the U.S. passed $10 billion in Q1 2009. Wireless data revenue in the U.S. itself maybe $42 billion by 2009 as per the respected analyst — Chetan Sharma who has provided details in his market update. The U.S. is now is the largest mobile data market, ahead of Japan and China. Verizon’s data revenues are close to $4 billion, just shy of NTT DoCoMo’s. The top four U.S. carriers figure among the top 10 global operators by way of mobile data service revenues.

I was curious to find out what could have led to the phenomenal surge. While there could be a few factors, in my view the single largest contributor has been the growth of social media. Let me explain:

As more and more people sign on to social networking platforms like Facebook, there is a compelling desire to share and be part of the communication. This naturally implies that more people are signing up for the mobile data plans which are far more profitable for operators. The key catalyst that contributes both to the social media and to the operator’s profit pool happens to be the ubiquitous mobile phone.

A simple, easy to use browser and a good camera on the phone is all that is needed. When the smart phone was invented, I bet no one saw this as a potential application. The iPhone showed what is possible and soon a variety of devices has made access to social media quite easy.

Now, mobile operators for a long time have tried to offer a variety of applications, but barring a few none took off. This only goes to show that managing a network and managing a application portfolio calls for different competencies. And suddenly when one was least expecting, there’s a big surge in mobile data services.

INQ Mobile — owned by Hutchinson Whampoa has launched a Facebook phone. In Hong Kong, where the INQ1 launched back in March, nearly 50 percent of its owners regularly use data services on a level that is four times higher than the typical 3G user base. Facebook usage is also 3-4 times higher than the average on other 3G devices on the 3 Hong Kong network, the company said. Soon we may have a Twitter phone as well.

So, we are back to where it all started: Carriers have become dumb pipes and the innovation is happening around the ends of the pipes — at the device level and at the application level.

So, like I normally say about innovation, the unintended effects of an innovation caused by seemingly disparate tributaries often causes a flood in an area that we least expected to happen.

November 7, 2008

President Obama exploits social networking

Barrack Obama’s huge victory in the recently concluded U.S Presidential elections will be analyzed for years to come. It has been one of the most successful campaigns from a relatively unknown senator to the White House.

One of the lesser known strategies that he embarked upon was how he built a very innovation mechanism using the Internet technology and more specifically the social networking model, which his opponent John McCain failed to exploit.

At each rally, his organizers collected the email, zip code and telephone numbers of all the attendees. These people received regular news and updates, thus paving the way for building a community.

The next step was building the community into a social networking site called MyBo with half a million members and 35000 affinity groups who went on a grass root campaign creating over 150,000 campaign related events over the course of the campaign. Every constituency– from professors and pastors to union organizers were roped into the campaign and fund raising. This bottom up approach was in stark contrast to the campaigns run by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain who led top-down campaigns. It even developed  the iPhone and iTouch applications that enabled owners to mobilize their friends and contacts in battleground states through the Apple devices.

The results clearly attest to the success of the effort. More than 3 million people donated for Obama, almost twice as any other presidential candidate in history. He collected $639 million the largest fund raising effort in the history of the US Presidential elections, and most of it came through small donations through online donation.

Further, Obama dominated the social media activity and was the first to exploit them and in a far better manner than his opponent. Statistics bear this out:

Obama: 2,379,102 supporters
McCain: 620,359 supporters

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain. (In the 18 days before Nov. 4, Mr. Obama’s online fan base grew at a rate of more than 10,000 per day)

Obama: Friends: 833,161
McCain: Friends: 217,811

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain

Obama: 1792 videos uploaded since Nov 2006, Subscribers: 114,559 (uploads about 4 a day), Channel Views: 18,413,110
McCain: 329 videos uploaded since Feb 2007 (uploads about 2 a day), Subscribers: 28,419, Channel Views: 2,032,993

Obama has 403% more subscribers than McCain
Obama has 905% more viewers than McCain

Obama: @barackobama has 112,474 followers
McCain: @JohnMcCain (is it real?) 4,603 followers

Obama has 240 times more followers in Twitter than McCain


With such a huge advantage in the social media sector, is it any surprise that the young voted for him overwhelmingly.

The Obama victory has conclusively proven that technology has a vital role to play in any  election campaigns. I can’t help but recall how President Estrada of Philippines lost power in 2001 due to the smart mob. A million residents in Manila organized and coordinated their actions through text messaging. More recently, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdul Badawi said that he regrets that his governing party ignored alternative media like SMS in the recent elections. He said “It was a serious misjudgment. We made the biggest mistake in thinking that it was not important. We thought that the newspapers, the print media, the television was supposed to be important, but the young people were looking at SMS and blogs.” The use of SMS and alternative media is largely credited with helping the opposition party to dramatically increase its seats in the Parliament. The ruling BN party in 2008 won just over 60% of the federal parliament seats, significantly less than the 90% of the seats that they won in the 2004 elections.

If in Philippines in 2001 people united through their cell phones both the Malaysian elections and the US elections, supporters united through the social networking platform and social media.

It only goes to prove the significance of new technology mediums both in developing economies and in mature democracies

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