Wireless companies hoping to emulate the success of online teen hangout Web sites like MySpace.com on cellphones are finding it hard to entice teenagers away from their computers.
While young people happily use cellphones to send each other text messages and download ringtones, getting them to send video clips or post bulletins from their phone is proving difficult partly due to small screens and slow data speeds.
A plethora of mobile social network sites, such as Rabble, SMS.AC, Airg.com, Mixxer and JuiceCaster, have cropped up with an aim to cash in on the MySpace trend. Top U.S. cellphone service providers offer some of these services in the hope of boosting use of their wireless data networks.
But according to Jupiter Research, less than 1 percent of U.S. cellphone users engage in mobile social networking. This is partly because wireless providers need to make the services easier to use and to accept that they will be unlikely to attract the same kind of usage as desktop services.
The traditional handset doesn't lend itself to writing major novels or pouring your heart out. said Ovum analyst Roger Entner.
Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc, and Cingular Wireless, owned by AT&T Inc and BellSouth Corp, offer Rabble and other social services. Start-up provider Helio, owned by SK Telecom and EarthLink Inc, offers a version of News Corp.'s MySpace on its phones.
Taylor Mills, a 17-year-old aspiring musician, uses MySpace to promote her music. She logs on to the site about twice a day; briefly on her Sidekick cellphone, which has a keyboard and a large screen, and a second time on her computer, where she composes messages for existing or potential fans.
I would never pay for the availability of having MySpace on my phone. I don't feel it's that big an issue, said Mills, I feel I need to really devote the time to it when I'm on my computer and don't need to use it when I'm on the go.
For mobile social networking to take off, analysts say wireless companies need to integrate mobile services more tightly with desktops and give teenagers compelling reasons to post when they are on the go.
What the cellphone can help with is immediacy, said Ovum's Entner. If you see your favorite rock star right now you can take the picture, upload it to your site and tell your 5,000 closest friends who you just saw.
Jupiter analyst Julie Ask said fewer than 10 percent of U.S. mobile users who send text messages use it for flirting or dating. So if social network sites incorporate technology that pinpoints a user's location they may have a better appeal.
For example, a user could be drawn to a service that tells them if a potential date was in the vicinity.
If they take something people are doing like dating or flirting, and make it a richer, easier-to-use experience, then I think there's more potential people will buy in, Ask said.
Some say MySpace could have the best chance of making it big on the cellphone because it has more than 85 million members. But so far many of the most enthusiastic MySpace users are not convinced that they need it on their cellphone.
Ironically, MySpace's desktop success may curb its wireless prospects. Some fans fear wasting even more time on the site if they can access it on their cellphones.
Gregg Kaysen, a reporter who raps under the stage name John Brown, said he already spends about 8 hours on MySpace every day. I can't stress enough how addictive it is. It's a little scary ... I think (a cellphone) could increase the addiction rate, said Kaysen. My girlfriend would throw my cellphone out the window, he added.
Legal secretary Liz Lane, 30, agreed: Of course I would use it but I think of it along the same lines of getting all the movie channels: it's dangerous territory. I really do not need MySpace sucking up more of my time.
A Bay Area resident who goes by the screen name Amazonian said she uses Rabble for about two hours a day mainly as an outlet for her creative writing. She likes to post photographs from her cellphone but uses a desktop to write.
The only thing I wish was different is I wish you didn't have a space limitation on the cellphone, she said.