A recent study from Ruder Finn revealed that Americans are spending nearly three hours per day on their mobile phones. And what are they doing there? Educating themselves, conducting business, managing finances, instant messaging, emailing? All of the above, as it turns out, and then some. But perhaps the most interesting finding from the new data is the fact that more people are using the mobile web to socialize (91%) compared to the 79% of desktop users who do the same. It appears that the mobile phone is actually a better platform for social networking than the PC.
During the 2.7 hours per day that people in the U.S. spending on the mobile web, 45% are posting comments on social networking sites, 43% are connecting with friends on social networking sites, 40% are sharing content with others and 38% are sharing photos. While those last two figures represent activities that can take place outside of a dedicated social networking service, like a Facebook app for example, they still are inherently social activities.
Mobile Web: A Better Platform for Socializing?
What has given rise to this trend? What makes social networking such a popular mobile web activity? It’s easy to point to the proliferation of smartphones and their host of applications, 3G network speeds and more affordable data plans, built in web browsers and mobile-ready websites. Of course these are all important factors that have helped increase mobile social networks’ popularity. However, these measurements are the reason why mobile web use, in general, is growing, not specifically mobile social networking.
A less quantifiable statistic that may also have impacted the rise of mobile social networking to the point where it has surpassed desktop-based social networking is the fact that it’s an activity that taps into how people – normal, everyday people – go about their lives. Readers of a technology site like this may indeed spend hours upon hours behind a computer screen scouring news sites, reading RSS feeds, updating Twitter and chatting on Facebook, but that’s not necessarily the norm. A good many of folks out there still spend more time offline than on. For these people, screen time is spent doing business-related activities at the office (with the occasional jaunts over to YouTube and Facebook) followed by briefer after-hours web surfing that includes catching up with friends on Facebook and reading personal email, downloading music and other media, streaming videos and/or playing games. But these online sessions have to be interspersed with other real world activities like cooking dinner, caring for the kids, watching primetime TV, running errands, etc. That’s why it’s no surprise to find that the rise of the mobile phone corresponds with the rise in Facebook’s (and other social networking sites) numbers. It has become a do-anywhere activity that captures people’s attention whenever they have free time instead of an activity that requires people make time for it.
Beyond Geekdom: Mobile Brings the Mainstream
In addition (and although I don’t have statistics on hand to back this up), the mobile web allows social networks to overcome their more “geeky” stigma of days past. As one friend recently scoffed to me about this particular pastime, “I never saw the point of going home, logging on to the computer and updating my Facebook status. I mean like, who cares what I’m doing? But then I got an iPhone and I could share photos and stuff right then and there. It was cool.” OK, not the most eloquent speech, but the point is obvious: mobile social networking isn’t just convenient, it’s cool.
Here’s the bottom line, a trend we’ve been seeing for some time: the mainstream has arrived. They’re buying smartphones and downloading mobile applications. They’re surfing the web on the go. They’re playing FarmVille on Facebook. They’ll probably get an iPad. And for them, mobile social networking is an easy activity to participate in now that it’s been unchained from the PC. The broader implications of having the less tech-savvy masses online are only beginning to be explored and understood (as ReadWriteWeb recently saw here when Google users accidentally mistook the blog for the new Facebook). Developers and designers will now have to take this into consideration, too. Either they make their applications accessible and simple enough for least common denominator – or risk losing out to competitors who do.