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Mobile social networking is social networking where individuals with similar interests converse and connect with one another through their mobile phone and/or tablet. Much like web-based social networking, mobile social networking occurs in virtual communities. A current trend for social networking websites, such as Facebook , is to create mobile apps to give their users instant and real-time access from their device. In turn, native mobile social networks have been created like Foursquare and Gowalla, communities which are built around mobile functionality. More and more, the line between mobile and web is being blurred as mobile apps use existing social networks to create native communities and promote discovery, and web-based social networks take advantage of mobile features and accessibility.
Initially, there were two basic types of mobile social networks. The first is companies that partner with wireless phone carriers to distribute their communities via the default start pages on mobile phone browsers. An example of this is JuiceCaster. The second type is companies that do not have such carrier relationships (also known as "off deck") and rely on other methods to attract users. As mobile web evolved from proprietary mobile technologies and networks, to full mobile access to the Internet, the distinction changed to the following types: 1) Web based social networks being extended for mobile access through mobile browsers and smartphone apps, and 2) Native mobile social networks with dedicated focus on mobile use like mobile communication, location-based services, and augmented reality, requiring mobile devices and technology. However, mobile and web-based social networking systems often work symbiotically to spread content, increase accessibility and connect users from wherever they are.
Advances in hardware and software technology have facilitated the existence of these mobile virtual communities. Industry wireless network technologies include SMS, WAP, Java, BREW and i-mode. Previous focus on wireless network technologies and functionalities has been extended to multimedia and satellite navigation by new and improved technologies like camera and GPS integrated in mobile devices. Combination of these 3 areas of technology in Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 extended the focus of mobile social networks to new areas, functionalities and technologies like cloud computing, user-generated content (UGC), location-based services (LBS), augmented reality (AR).
Japan, Korea and China have much higher usage of mobile social networks than Western countries, generally thanks to better mobile networks and data pricing (flat rate notably is widespread in Japan). Most of them are extensions of PC-based services, but others are pure mobile-focused offerings. Examples are Cyworld (South Korea, web+mobile) and Tencent QQ (China, web+mobile). In Japan where 3G networks achieved over 80% user penetration, numerous other mobile SNS have popped up.
With the current software that is available, interactions within mobile social networks are not limited to exchanging simple text messages on a 1-to-1 basis (SMS) but enable sharing of multimedia content (photos, videos, weblinks, locations, etc.) and group messaging with family and friends or the public. The ecosystem is constantly evolving towards more sophisticated and more real-time interactions of virtual internet communities and private groups.
A lot of mobile social networks are region specific and catering to the non global platform as Facebook/Orkut markets where mobile internet is growing faster than PC based internet usage.
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