Students' new best friend: 'MoSoSo'
Mobile Social Networking Software – the next wave of virtual community – is already appearing on cellphones, beginning with college campuses.
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Campus residents give the service high marks. Kristen Halverson, a resident adviser at CSUMB, says her students are often alone on campus late at night. "The GPS escort is probably the best new thing for students I've seen," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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There is a certain irony in the concerns about safety using GPS, points out industry analyst, Bijan Sabet, a partner at the venture capital firm, Spark Capital. Mobile GPS was created in response to a federal mandate, because cellphones couldn't handle 911 emergency calls. But, safety concerns aside, the phone is clearly the hot new platform in the tech world – witness Steve Jobs's announcement of the Apple iPhone. "It's not a matter of 'if' the mobile phone will prove important, it's just a matter of how fast," adds Mr. Sabet.
MoSoSo: the new social glue
The phone is the primary tool for planning and organizing lives today, says Rave CEO Roger Desai. He argues that rather than undermining a larger civic awareness, the combination of mobile social networks with GPS has the potential to reinvigorate moribund civic areas, such as old downtown business zones. His company has been working with cities such as Newark, N.J., to connect people with their local attractions and services. "This is their opportunity to take back the community," says Mr. Desai, who says people can now open their phones and find the local taco stand or dry cleaner, often businesses they never knew existed.
Other firms are rushing to explore the possibilities of MoSoSo. Helio was one of the first to take the plunge, betting on the importance of the tiny tool. "Most of our users don't even have landlines anymore," says Michael Grossi, Helio's vice president of business development. The company's first MoSoSo phone did not have GPS; the current version, dubbed the "Drift," combines MySpace with GPS. Mr. Grossi is quick to point out that the locator function is strictly "opt in," meaning users can turn it on and off at will. The company does not store location information. "It's part of our ethic not to collect customer data," says Grossi. "Our purpose is to encourage communication and connection without any fear that Big Brother is watching."
Students have clearly connected with the mobile social networking worlds offered by their phones. Walking the campus at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), Samantha Jones is a typical student. Focused on the phone she grips in front of her, she's been texting and cyberchatting with friends all day, barely breaking her stride to eat or attend classes. The photo-happy Ms. Bohnet says she only tolerates actual phone calls – which take her attention off her network of friends – from her parents because they aren't up to speed with MoSoSo.
Social, or antisocial, tools?
But concerns over the self-absorption potential of social networking are also somewhat ironic to Gilbert Gonzales, chief information officer for CSUMB. The campus sought out a contract with Rave Wireless, in part to help combat growing antisocial behavior created by the Internet on campus. "Students were stuck in their rooms using the Internet on their computers," says Mr. Gonzales. By allowing them to become mobile, he hopes to get students back out onto the campus to connect with other students.
While phones are clearly omnipresent on campuses, naysayers can take small comfort that there is the occasional holdout. Possibly one of the few college students on the planet not to own a cellphone, Carlos Rodriguez says he prefers interacting with others in person. "I like the subtlety of a human face – you can't get that on the phone, in a picture, or using GPS," says the CSULA electrical-engineering major. "I'd rather meet somebody and interact in person," he adds. "It's just a richer experience. No phone or any other technology can replace that."