Saturday, September 13, 2008

Shameless Plug: hi5 mobile

Back in April while reading Danah Boyd’s blog I stumbled upon a research paper about mobile usage by Palestinian teenage girls. Given to these girls by their boyfriends, the mobile phone had become a symbol of relationship status, and no longer just a communication tool.

The authors’ quote “…the nature or the effect of technology is not inherent in the medium and cannot be presupposed.” captures the essence of that phenomenon. And it also sums up the key challenge of designing services for mobile.

Especially with mobile it is difficult to predict how users will welcome the application and interact with it, and what the social implications might be. In mobile the most seemingly cumbersome of activities turn out to be extremely popular, such as entering SMS messages. In contrast, the most obvious of use cases, such as mobile video or LBS, often times fail to capture the audience. In my experience, this challenge is exacerbated when trying to port an existing Web product to the mobile realm.

Little did I know at the time that soon I would face this challenge yet again, but on mass scale. I spent the past two months working on the mobile version of hi5, which is the 3rd largest social network in the world with 56 million active subscribers.


During the process of coming up with hi5 mobile, at hi5 we avoided at all costs the temptation of simply trying to cram hi5 into the mobile device. The process involved really understanding the medium itself and the context in which this medium is used. As a result, hi5 mobile does not emulate the Web experience like other SN mobile services do. hi5 mobile really brings out what matters most when both the medium (screen, keypad) and time are limited.

Not a Utility

The mobile phone is the ultimate and most widely used communication tool in the world. In youth, in particular, mobiles are a tool for establishing and nurturing relationships. Much like hi5 itself, for youth the mobile is all but a utility. As a result hi5 mobile is a fun place for nurturing friendships through messaging, commenting, and updating status. It is very much about contributing and reciprocating. It is not a phonebook.

About status

Traditionally, the mobile phone has been a powerful tool for building status. Possession of a mobile phone signals to the world that one belongs to a social circle, has relationships; it also signals independence. According to Danah Boyd many of the activities that promote peer status in the real world also take place in social networks. With hi5 mobile we want to contribute to users’ ability to build status within hi5. Initially, this could be as simple as showing when someone is utilizing a mobile phone to access hi5. But over time this theme could expand to other users’ interactions within hi5.

It is quite possible that even in spite of the highly contextual design of hi5 mobile the net impact it could have on hi5’s users may surprise us. But in the mean time, all usage and feedback points to a good reception by our users.

To try out hi5 mobile, visit us at


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