Device wars: Mobile versus TV for social media

Over at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas yesterday, MySpace made the announcement that it would be the first social networking product available on television. This is probably the first of a wave of widgets being developed by social media platforms to integrate old media content with new media interactivity.  And it’s unsurprising that NewsCorp-owned MySpace is the first in this territory as it has the most to gain from linking social media with its traditional broadcast media offerings, reclaiming (perhaps) some of the audience it has lost to digital media, and providing a new channel for ad sales in a declining market for advertising on television.

But there’s a crucial issue that has been missed in the development of these applications: social media is about individuals connecting to their networks.  It may be social, but it’s decidedly not a practice which is designed to be shared with your family or roommates.  The very concept of a teenager using MySpace in front of Mum and Dad on the TV during the ad breaks of their favourite family show is quite frankly, absurd.  And even if the television used to access TV-MySpace is a privately viewed set, it’s unlikely that the television would be as easy to navigate and update as a mobile phone or netbook.

So in my humble opinion, the whole concept is terribly flawed.  I understand why Newscorp want to integrate the platforms, I just hope they didn’t spend too much on prototyping the innovation, because I think it’s going to tank.

For a start, it’s not really the first social media application available through a television set anyway.  At least, it’s not the first time a television set has been used for internet applications, and as such, the difference between a private widget channel for MySpace and simply swapping to PC mode on your TV is negligible. And then there are televisions which enable connection to your PC anyway.  I have a (very cheap) television set at home with a VGA socket and an audio jack which I connect to my laptop when I want to see my PC on the TV.  Mostly I use it for watching BBC iPlayer or 4OD programmes I have either downloaded or want to stream.  But it’s also useful to have my twitter and email stream on in the background to my internet-delivered television viewing, so I can swap between broadcast-style programming and messaging as the whim takes me. And if I was really compelled to respond to something I’d seen on my normal broadcasting source, with a lazy press of a button on my television remote I can swap between my freeview broadcasting content and my PC content, and with my laptop comfortably perched on my sidetable, tap away as I please.

So as far as I’m concerned, my television already ‘has’ social media in a way that’s comfortable for me.  The notion of having to have another keyboard or a bigger remote to enter content into a channel that’s restricted to MySpace is a bit twee.  And frankly, not worth the effort. But that’s my private television set, and I certainly wouldn’t choose for messaging content to come up if I were watching  program with a friend or with my family.  And as televisions are generally more of a group viewing device, the integration of individual interaction content channels is in my view, inherently flawed.

This is partly why netbooks and smart phones make much better social media devices.  Orange announced the other day that they had experienced a surge in mobile search activities among their subscribers.  And T-Mobile is now using YouTube to enhance its customer support services.  But it’s the huge surge in the number and quality of mobile social networking applications in the market that demonstrates just how much people want to use mobile (and not TV) for social networking.  There’s even been recent research which indicates increasing reliance on mobile devices for social networking among young people.  Mobile devices make sense for social networking because individual interaction can be sustained even whilst the device owner is in group contexts.  And as smart phones get smarter, and as telecommunication companies increasingly package social media access and participation in mobile contract plans, the cost of accessing social media through a mobile device is becoming less of a barrier to adoption.

But it’s really the fact that social media simply fits better with mobile that makes the war between TV and mobile a battle already lost by the old broadcast box.  Because in spite of the nomenclature, participation with social media is a distinctly individual activity. And when it comes down to it, I’d rather tap out a message on a Blackberry than a TV remote.

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