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Mobile social networking blowing up: Forrester

The number of people regularly accessing social networks on their mobile phones has doubled in the past six months, according to Forrester Research.

The percentage of mobile subscribers in the United States accessing social networks on their mobile phones at least monthly has jumped from 5 percent in early 2009 to 10 percent last quarter. Due to the surge in interest, Forrester has published two new reports on the topic of mobile social networking.

?My research focused on the convenience of mobile services generally,? said Julie Ask, San Francisco-based vice president/principal analyst at Forrester Research. ?If mobile experiences are convenient, consumers will use them.

?In mobile, convenient mobile experiences will have context, that is, leverage location or past usage, be simple and be such that consumers value immediacy of the information or service,? she said.

The Forrester report argues that mobile phones hold the key to unlocking the full potential of social technologies, because the digital social experience is fragmented. People have separate identities in each social network they visit.

However, in the future, universal social IDs will enable a portable identity that will empower consumers. And that is when the mobile phone will become the hub of social computing activities?the glue that holds the social graph together.

The always-on handset connected to the mobile Web is what frees social from the chains of the PC and thrusts it into the real world, according to Forrester.

Handset makers, wireless carriers and online players are all jumping on the bandwagon and willing to tap into consumers? social address book, according to the report titled ?Why Mobile Could Reinvent Social Computing.?

Another new Forrester report delves into the Facebook experience on the mobile phone.

Forrester applies its Convenience Quotient methodology to illustrate how mobile delivers a social experience that can be more immediate, simple and contextual.

The open question is whether or not mobile may become the preferred device for engaging with one?s social graph, as to date only one percent of U.S. consumers surveyed are doing so exclusively on a mobile phone, according to the report ?Facebook On Mobile Phones: A Case Study.?

The report compares the Facebook experience on a variety of handsets: the Nokia N97, Apple iPhone, INQ1, Blackberry and Palm Pre.

?I attribute the jump in the percentage of consumers accessing social networks on their cell phones to more smartphones, better experiences and the network effect,? Ms. Ask said. ?The pros of Facebook?s mobile experience compared to its wired Web experience include immediacy.

?I?m more likely to be doing something interesting when I?m out and about, and I?m more likely to want to see what friends are doing when they?re out and about,? she said. ?The cons are that the mobile version only has a subset of online functionality.?

Social networks are monetizing the mobile space via a mixture of models, from pay-per-download and subscription-based applications to micropayments and virtual gifting, as well as ad support.

?The hope is for ad-support for the social networks,? Ms. Ask said. ?Carriers collect data service fees.

?We expect to see more mobile-first experiences where people choose the mobile phone over the PC for activities that are convenient, including social networking,? she said.