Japanese mobile social networking hits the UK

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Japanese mobile social networking hits the UK

A mobile social networking service from Japan has been launched in the UK.

Mobikade, popular among Japan's urban youth, enables friends to provide each other with a constant stream of where-I-am and what-I'm-doing pseudo-news via a website accessible from their mobiles.

Every action earns participants points, which can be used to send text messages to friends, or they can be saved and entered in a monthly prize draw. Users can also download games, mostly puzzles like Sudoku.

The service faces a number of hurdles before it is successful in the UK, however. "A direct consumer play could be a problem," Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum's consumer practice, told vnunet.com

"The brand is unknown in the UK, so they might do better allying with a known mobile or online brand."

A safer bet for success would be mobile features added to an existing popular social networking service, added Zoller.

Furthermore, in Japan, where conventional PC adoption is lower, accessing the web from a mobile is more established than it is in the UK.

UK mobile operators have struggled for years to increase the data proportion of their revenues, which are still only a tiny percentage compared to voice traffic.

In Japan, Sogo Shosha ITOCHU and Excite Japan, the companies behind Mobikade, fund the service principally from advertising.

Because mobile web access is so popular in Japan, the mobile ad market grew 35 per cent last year to a value of £156m.

But this model is largely unproven outside Japan and advertising could be turn-off for UK users, according to Zoller.

"In the context of social networking, advertising is even more sensitive. Social networking is inherently personal and people are possessive of their pages and see advertising as intrusive," she said. "In short, they will struggle."

Mobikade's owners expect that the mushrooming popularity of social networking sites, such as Facebook MySpace and LinkedIn, combined with the universality of mobile phones, will make Mobikade a roaring success.

"My aim is to successfully introduce Japanese mobile strategies to the UK and Europe. Mobikade is so cool it will change the lives of mobile users," said Atul Sasane, head of new business at Global Network Solutions, the European arm of Sogo Shosha ITOCHU.

"We will use this experience to bring in more innovative businesses from Japan to Europe."
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