Social Networking

Nokia Asks Twango to Dance

Mobile phone powerhouse Nokia has acquired the small, privately held media sharing company Twango — a 10-person outfit that currently works out of a cofounder’s basement in Redmond, Wash.

Despite the company’s small size and basement digs, Nokia clearly sees potential in Twango’s solutions and vision.

By acquiring Twango, Nokia said it will gain an easy way to help people share multimedia content through PCs and mobile devices.

“The Twango acquisition is a concrete step towards our Internet services vision of providing seamless access to information, entertainment, and social networks — at any time, anywhere, from any connected device, in any way that you choose,” Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s executive vice president and general manager of multimedia, explained.

“We have the most complete suite of connected multimedia experiences, including music, navigation, games and — with the Twango acquisition — photos, videos and a variety of document types,” he added.

So What’s Twango, Anyway?

“The Twango explanation I give to my mom is, we are the online way of sharing any of your personal media,” Randy Kerr, Twango user experience manager, told TechNewsWorld.

Twango is a free service that lets users upload files from mobile phones via e-mail or via a PC with a Web browser. The files go into a virtual repository for the users, who can share files via multiple channels of their own choosing.

The key difference between Twango and most of the big media sharing sites is that the larger players tend to specialize on a single type of media. For instance, YouTube is all about videos.

“Real life is a multimedia experience, so you need a Web site that can accommodate all kinds of media,” Kerr noted. “So we took a broad, comprehensive approach.”

Twango supports more than 100 media file types. Unlike a simple media sharing site, Twango breaks into the social networking angle by letting users choose how they want to share their media.

“We realize that people have a continuum of privacy,” he noted. Users can designate private content, group-based content or entirely public content. “We cover the full spectrum of privacy options,” he said.

Plus, Twango provides code snippets that members can use on blogs and other social networking Web pages, letting them link to files, create thumbnails or embed a Flash-based ticker. Users get unlimited storage but are limited to uploading 250 megabytes per month.

The E-Mail Competition

“Who is the biggest competitor to Twango right now? It’s not the media sharing sites, it’s e-mail,” Kerr said. “People still put a 5 MB photo attachment in e-mail and send it, and it clogs up all the servers, and it may not even be a photo you care about … and that format for sharing just gets worse when people want to share videos.”

Despite the problem with e-mail between users, Twango wanted to extend the familiar e-mail method of sharing media files, so users can upload files by sending an e-mail with an attachment to a special Twango e-mail address. By typing some simple commands into the body of the e-mail, users can generate lightweight e-mail messages that get automatically sent to friends, or they can add details about the media, including storage directions that place the media in a specific Twango user channel, without having to go online or get in front of a PC.

“Our motto is ‘many ways in, many ways out,'” Kerr noted.

Who’s Sharing Mobile Media?

So far, most photo and video clips created with mobile phones either remain on the phone or get sent via a mobile phone provider’s built-in feature set to another mobile phone user. Is Web-based mobile media sharing sites and social networks on the rise?

“Right now, it’s largely non-existent,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “It is hoped that easier-to-use phones like the iPhone will change this.”

In addition, Enderle believes that features like the YouTube playback functionality integrated directly into Apple’s iPhones is pressuring other mobile phone manufacturers to look for similar features and services.

Growth Ramping Fast

“Mobile social networking is a very strategic field for a few reasons,” Karsten Weide, IDC’s program director of digital media and entertainment, told TechNewsWorld.

“First, we believe that mobile social networking will take off in a big way because you can communicate anywhere and you don’t have to be at your desk or machine to do it,” he explained. “Second, you can take high-resolution pictures and videos on the fly wherever you are, which adds an immediacy to social networking; and third, you can have GPS for location-based services, which is the notion of pinpointing people and putting them in relation to each other and to landmarks, so it can add utility to social networking.

“All all of these factors mean that social networking can be greatly enriched by being mobile,” he noted.

In terms of growth projections, by 2010, IDC expects the use of mobile Internet access to triple, which will help spur big leaps in mobile social networking.

What’s Next for Twango?

First up, Twango plans to relocate into a new office in the Seattle area near Bellevue. It also plans to start hiring additional talent to help grow the Twango solution set, which will continue to work with Nokia products as well was other mobile phones and PCs.

The company isn’t ruling out some enhanced fee-based services, but Twango says it plans to retain a strong free component.

Nokia is a great cultural fit for Twango, said Kerr, and will provide the company with the resources it needs to grow.

“As a small startup, you try to broker deals, and it’s hard to get presence on a device in front of a user,” Kerr explained.

“Ultimately for this to win, it’s got to be as simple as, ‘I buy this device and take a photo or video, and I have an immediate option to share that video online through a service.’ And it needs to be that simple … but you need an intimate arrangement between a handset provider and the software service to make that a reasonable consumer scenario,” he added.

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