User-Generated Content and Social Networking - Lessons from Three UK and o2

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We heard CEOs at 3GSM pronounce that 'User-Generated Content' and 'Social Networking' were two key areas that the industry had to explore, and fast. But who's really doing anything commercially effective today?

The Digital Youth stream at the Telco 2.0 event in March is exploring this issue and, as you can imagine, proving extremely popular with registrants so far. This is partly because the youth market is hot for operators and partly because we have a superb line up of 'stimulus speakers' from across the value chain - EA Mobile, France Telecom Ventures, Habbo Hotel, MoBlog, Orange Home, SonyBMG, and SubTV.

One other stimulus speaker is David Springall, CTO of YoSpace, the company that powers two highly successful 'mobile web 2.0' services: Three UK's SeeMeTV and O2's LookAtMe! I met up with David at 3GSM last week and he described what many see as a 'poster child' for mobile 'User Generated Content' and what the key lessons for the industry are.

The website says "SeeMeTV is a new channel on 3UK where you're the star. Simply record a 12 second video clip on your mobile phone or digital camera, submit it (email or text) and get rewarded every time someone else downloads it".

The service was launched in October 2005. Content creators MMS their clips to a shortcode, users browse the content for free and get charged 10p for downloading the clip or up to £1.50 for ringtones and wallpapers. Users can rate the clip for free or leave a comment for 5p. Creators gets 10% revenue paid via Paypal. Since the start the service has had over 12 million purchases, with £250,000 (GBP) paid out in revenue share to content creators. There's a 30 second limit to a video clip, and all clips are screened by a human before publishing. There's a service age restriction of 18+. Some users download 20-30 clips per visit and others have earned up £500 GBP per month. Popular downloads include: "Hot dog boy - the quickest frankfurter eater in town" and "Pretzel girl - a real-life office contortionist". You start to get the picture...

3UK claims the service brought in more than £1m (GBP) in data revenues in the last quarter of 2006.

O2 UK launched LookAtMe! in June 2006 on the same platform, and has had similar take up. They've recently augmented with a music version, YourShow, which allows users to upload homemade ringtones and audio clips. In January 2007 they reported 40,000 downloads on a single day, and it has become the No.1 service on theirportal.

So, with Vodafone launching a similar service at Cebit in March, what are the key ingredients for making these concepts work, and what are the lessons?

1.) Easy for Operator: YoSpace's heritage is in MMS sharing and rendering. They created a turnkey solution that integrates quickly and easily with operators network and IT systems, leveraging operator's existing billing, authentication and rendering systems.

2.) Relevant for a Mobile Experience: Supports 'instant gratification', 'content snacking' (view thumbnails), it's very low cost to download (10p includes the data charge), and it uses a non-network, but universal method to pay contributors (PayPal).

3.) Added Value: It has active moderation of the contributions, and it pays people to contribute. It's not a "YouTube on the mobile".

David told me that, apart from these factors, the biggest benefit was that, like SMS, the system was completely interoperable with other mobile networks. As such, the potential viral effect is enormous if other operators adopt the same tool (and why wouldn't they?). This, of course, opens up all kinds of possibilities for advertising (more on why here), and is no doubt a key reason why YoSpace was very recently bought by Emap, a major publishing company. (UGC has the potential to be a very nice channel for their digital advertising inventory...)

David was keen to point out that 'Social Networking' is something rather different to what we've described above, but the principles of creating a mobile-centric approach apply. So, for those interested, there is a very good article on why "social networking on mobile" (MySpace, Facebook etc on my mobile) is VERY different from "mobile social networking" here.