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BUILDING MOBILE COMMUNITIES

December 6, 2007 Leave a comment

By Lai Kok Fung, CEO, BuzzCity
At BuzzCity, we’ve been doing our homework – conducting a systematic survey of myGamma’s users across multiple countries, studying user profiles, interacting with our members on a one-to-one basis, consulting with university academics who research media consumption habits.

And now we’re putting our findings into action. We’re in the final stages of designing myGamma 2.0. Watch for the launch in February.

Let me share with you the thought process that has brought us to this stage.

Mobile Social Networking – Who does it?
When BuzzCity first entered the world of mobile social networking, we figured – like most people – that our users would be well-heeled professionals and trendy youth from affluent societies. These are the consumers who buy the latest phones and gadgets, the people that marketers want to reach, right?

We could not have been more wrong.

Regular readers of this blog know that myGamma’s members are largely individuals who do not have regular access to PCs, people like Liton (a 27 year old airport worker in Bangladesh), Alanleic (a crossing-keeper in the UK) and Sandy (an overseas Filipina caregiver in Israel), all of whom have been featured in previous columns.

Liton, Alanleic and Sandy – like most myGamma users – are not rich. They’re in the lower to middle income groups, what industry observers and academics are now calling the “bottom of the pyramid”. Emerging markets account for more than half the world’s total telecom connections, and according to Gartner, this will rise to 69 percent by 2010. The GSM Association believes that the next billion subscribers will come from the bottom of the pyramid.

Most myGamma members are also over the age of 20. Sixty-five percent are in their twenties. Just ten percent are teenagers. They come from emerging markets or work in blue-collar jobs in industrialised countries. In October, the countries with the highest myGamma usage were India, Indonesia and South Africa. MyGamma now has two million users from 60 countries. Another two countries come online every month.

Why enter a mobile community?

We organised a session of BuzzCity-NUS Digital Media Forum a few weeks ago with presentation by Dr. Rohan Samarajiva, who leads a regional ICT policy group called LIRNEasia. His group had a done a study across five Asian nations – India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand – and asked people the main reason why they use a mobile phone.

The pace and style of life in The Philippines is vastly different from Sri Lanka; India and Thailand have little in common other than a taste for spicy foods. Yet across these five countries, the number one reason why people use a mobile phone is the same: to stay connected with friends and family. “Staying connected” ranks consistently ahead of doing business or delivering messages.

myGamma’s users express similar sentiments. People join our mobile communities to connect and share experiences with new friends. Like other communities – both real and virtual – myGamma provides members with a sense of belonging, acceptance and appreciation. Features like testimonials, the Hall of Fame and virtual marriage enhance these feelings.

Dignity and Choice
Why do some ventures that target the lower middle class fail? Often it’s because the items for sale are too cheap or the project appears like charity. Nobody wants to be treated like a charity-case. The poor want dignity. They want to move up the social and economic ladder.

Muhammad Yunus (“Banker to the Poor”) and Krishna Rao Prahalad ( “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” ) have written extensively about how the lower income groups should not be treated as victims but instead should be seen as creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers.

To many at the bottom of the pyramid, the mobile internet is a great equaliser. It’s proof that they are moving up the social ladder. myGamma is empowering and improving people’s lives.

Mobile Networking 2.0
The next generation myGamma platform has new communities – like sports, health and entertainment – that enable and encourage our users to better interact with each other. BuzzCity editors will showcase a different community each month and the featured topics will resonate with our members’ interests and lifestyles.

The tools are already there, but in myGamma 2.0 each new community will have its own blogs, groups and original content. By visiting these new communities, myGamma’s users will meet people with similar interests and connect with like-minded individuals.

myGamma 2.0 is a place to make and connect with friends, an environment where you can share day-to-day experiences at work, at home and at play.

We’re also opening up the gates. We’ve decided to eliminate subscription fees and day/week pass charges. Membership is going to be free. Users will still purchase Gamma dollars if they want to buy virtual items, vote for each other or download premium content provided by our partners. But we expect the bulk of myGamma’s revenue to come from advertising.

By delivering value to consumers – providing our users with a sense of community and belonging as well as access to information that they can use to improve their lives – myGamma’s population will continue to grow, which in turn enables us to provide value to advertisers. Welcome to myGamma 2.0, where the mobile-centric internet meets the needs of the “unwired”.

Categories: Lai Kok Fung