RealTime IT News

Social Networks Cozy Up to Smartphones

Social networking player Facebook is reportedly talking with smartphone maker Nokia about integrating site access into the handset maker's mobile device operating system.

Such integration would let users interact with Facebook friends without having to log-in at Facebook and let users bypass the work of downloading software now needed for mobile device access.

According to a Wall Street Journal report Thursday, there are no details on Nokia devices under consideration or what the financial agreement might be. The Journal also said Facebook is working with Palm on integrating social network capabilities into its new WebOS platform, and talking to Motorola about device integration as well.

The news comes as popularity of social networks continues to soar and the battle big competitors Facebook and competitor MySpace rages on.

Last Spring Facebook overtook MySpace as the world's biggest social network. A report from online metrics firm comScore (NASDAQ: SCOR) in August revealed that social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Bebo and Hi5 collectively saw their traffic rise by 25 percent between June 2007 and June 2008. The report revealed Facebook posted 153 percent growth in unique visitors in that period while MySpace grew just 3 percent.

It also comes as smartphone players strive to differentiate handsets and functionalities in light of intense market competition. Nokia launched a slew of high-priced smartphone handsets in 2008, many with a music-centric focus, following Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) winning strategy with its iPhone.

Last October Nokia debuted what analysts viewed as its top iPhone contender, a touchscreen-based, music-centric smartphone called 5800 XpressMusic. The vendor also launched a free music download service.

Social networks plans

According to the Journal Nokia is also considering building its own social networking site.

Nokia declined to comment on the reported Facebook talks and its social platform plans.

"Nokia doesn't comment on market rumor and speculation," Nokia spokesperson Laurie Armstrong told InternetNews.com.

Facebook and Palm did not respond to media inquiries by press time. Motorola spokesperson Jennifer Weyrauch-Erickson told InternetNews.com "it does not comment on rumor."

MySpace.com told InternetNews.com it is exploring having platform access built into smartphones but declined to elaborate on specifics. MySpace is owned by News Corp., which also owns Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

"Our goal is to have MySpace be a ubiquitous experience for mobile users and we're making inroads in that goal," a spokesperson said. "We're working closely with handset makers and carriers to have that functionality in the future."

But integrating Web sites into mobile device systems brings a slew of sensitive issues into play.

Nokia reportedly doesn't want Facebook to have the capability to access user information stored on on the device such as browsing activity or online shopping data.

Currently mobile device users access social networking sites by either preloaded applications on handsets provided by carriers, or by downloading software from the networking sites or third-party developers.

The quest to make social network interaction even easier on the mobile user end can clearly pay off.

In October 2008 MySpace launched its BlackBerry application and saw 400,000 downloads in the first week. According to MySpace it represented an all-time high for both MySpace and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion in terms of first week application downloads.

Facebook also built a specific application for the BlackBerry last year but mobile user response wasn’t nearly as high as quickly, though they did ramp up.

Facebook downloads on BlackBerry devices surpassed the million mark after five months.

MySpace has also worked with Danger to design an application for the T-Mobile Sidekick and has also built applications specific for the Android open source platform and Apple's iPhone.

"We have been in the business of preloading since early 2007, when AT&T preloaded our Java application on upwards of 50 devices," a Facebook spokesperson said.

"We believe an application lends itself to a more personal experience and allows for more functionality and deeper integration."