The Obvious Next Community Step – Mobile

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

According to Pew Internet, forty percent of adults use the internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone (up from the 32% of Americans who did this in 2009). Of that group, 38% browse the web using their phones.

This trend, given the ever growing (and cheaper) smartphone marketplace, represents the greatest sea change on the social web since Facebook opened its walls to non college students. Positioning a company or nonprofit to effectively engage stakeholders on their smartphone, tablet or other portable device only makes sense. Mobility is the most obvious change that communities are making wholesale on the interwebs.

As Priya Ramesh pointed out yesterday on the Buzz Bin, mobile web access is expected to surpass desktop access by 2014. Because of the wide proliferation of platforms and, frankly, in the case of the iPhone, apps, it makes the most sense to develop your site to at minimum offer a great mobile experience. Applications can be costly, only work on singular platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.), and need to offer more value than simply repacked web content.

Beyond the obvious mobile web, comes mobile use and how that impacts the data and user behavior. There’s no greater example of this than the current location based social network craze with Foursquare and Gowalla taking the lead, and Facebook and Twitter trying to compete with their own offerings. However, as experts are beginning to notice, check-in programs do not offer real long term value for organizations.

The real development is in understanding how people use their phone to engage the web, and then build mobile programs that serve the customer. In some cases, that may mean delving into the location network’s database via its API and developing custom applications to serve the community.

Consider that Central Park is the most checked in place in New York City on Foursquare. Central Park supported this latent community by adding historical data for check-ins throughout the park, providing context and information to the average Foursquare/Central Park visitor’s experience. There are also mobile applications available so people can track where they are in the Park, and find attractions and locations near them.

Understanding how mobile impacts your stakeholder is the key. Whether that’s easier experiences with less input because of the device, or actual hard location based use depends on the organization. What is clear is that this is a trend that companies and nonprofits can no longer avoid.

The above is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.