Rise of the Mobile Super User

I was on holiday and so missed the launch of this great think-piece by my UK colleagues and the erudite Will Harris. Jon Hargreaves at Cold Coffee and Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void have already posted on it. It’s a genuine eye-opener and entertainingly written. Here are some of my take-outs, but I implore you, if there’s a white paper you download, print-off and cogitate on this month, make it this one – http://c0ldcoffee.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/the-rise-of-the-mobile-superuser.pdf:

  • Has there ever been a more under-estimated invention than the mobile phone?
  • Part of the reason for this general under-appreciation of mobile is because we are still in the dawn of the technology
  • There is a sub-group of mobile users who most definitely haven’t missed the point. People who use the phone in different way to that which it was intended. We call them Super-Users, and they have re-purposed the phone for their own ends. For them it is not primarily a mechanic for speech anymore.
  • This pamphlet has a distinct and certain view. It takes as its premise the principle that the mobile phone is the single biggest technological advancement that we will see in our lifetimes. Put simply, mobile phones are agents for change and that change is overwhelmingly positive
  • The establishment will never use SMS . . it’s too informal
  • There were no mobile phones in 1984 and certainly no SMS. Had there been, the miners (in the UK) may well have won, bringing down the (Margaret) Thatcher government along the way.
  • Perhaps the acid teat (of whether someone is a user or a super-user) and the one that works best in research groups is to ask to borrow people’s phon for an hour or two as “I’m expecting a call and I left my phone at home.” A User would say yes. A Super-User would prefer you took a kidney instead, because at least they’ll have a spare.
  • Mobile and Internet, the two over-mighty forces that shape our waking lives, are still operating as two independent ecosystems, bouncing off one-another from time-to-time, but broadly autonomous and independent. Any other convergence chatter you may hear is nothing compared to the gigantic thud that’s going to greet the coming together of the Internet and Mobile in the next three years.

[tags] Mobile Communication, Edelman, Super-Users, Will Harris [/tags]

David Brain

11 Comments

  1. I read about the launch of this in PR Week today, good luck with it. I remember seeing Stephan Shakespeare from YouGov earlier this year and he told us how a group of young people were asked which gadget they would sacrifice if they had to relinquish one of them. Top of the list was their tv because they very rarely switched it on, their lives are based around computers, social network sites – and mobile phones. Do you remember the story about people who refused to give up their mobile phone for a year in exchange for £1 million?

    I really love your project for the world’s first zero-carbon city in Abu Dhabi, btw, I hope it comes off for you. This is so visionary, inspiring and exciting. I would love to work on something like this. As a top green blogger too, I have been asked this week to appear on a TV show with Dom Joly to set him an environmental challenge. The producer found me through my blog.

  2. I guess I could class myself as a Mobile Super User. I use my phone to:

    * call and text (obviously)
    * send and receive emails (through Gmail Mobile)
    * read my RSS feeds (using Bloglines Mobile)
    * surf the mobile web (usually mobile news sites, Facebook Mobile and Wikipedia Mobile)
    * message using MSN Messenger
    * call people (for free) with Skype Mobile
    * download podcasts (using Mobilcast)
    * sync my phone with my laptop to browse the web on the PC
    * listen to music
    * download music
    * listen to the radio
    * take pictures
    * upload pictures to Flickr (using Shozu)

    Writing this makes me realise how much of a Super User I actually am. And although I think I’m in the small minority it’s beginning to become more mainstream. You only have to look at your friends’ Status Updates on Facebook to notice how many are using their mobiles to update them.

    The problem that’s hindering uptake of the mobile web are carriers’ data charges. Through my own personal experiences I’ve found some are a complete rip off – one, one month bill of mine cost £60 alone on data charges.

    One carrier that, in my opinion, is pushing the boundaries is Three UK who I’ve since switched to. For £5 per month you get unlimited data usage and their X-Series range is just leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

  3. P.S. I like this quote:

    “There are 2 billion mobile devices in the world today, more than three times the number of PCs. As the devices increase capabilities and networks get faster, consumers are using mobile devices more and more for common computing and information gathering tasks.

    “With the mobile product lifecycle moving twice as fast as computers at their peak ten years ago, mobile publishing will soon be a requirement of doing business.”

  4. Elle,

    Yes the Masdar contract is really interesting. They really are going to make a big impact with the scaler of investment they are plannning.

  5. Stephen,

    I can claim only about half your list I’m afraid, but as each month goes by, I guess I add another feature. The thing I found interesting was the thought that as WIFI zones get more widespread and cheaper (like MacDonald’s recent announcement of free wifi in all their restaurants) mobile might not mean having to use a mobile telco.

  6. >> mobile might not mean having to use a mobile telco.

    That’s a very interesting statement, David, one that I believe is one of the things that needs to happen as a tipping point for the rapid takeup of mobile.

    One other thing that also needs to happen (or maybe instead of if telcos are to maintain a foothold) is more acceptable and affordable pricing especially for data transactions.

    Maybe the two things are related 🙂

  7. Ah the price issue. One of the key characteristics between the two sides of the collision between mobile and Internet is that one is cheap and the other is costly. Part of the thesis is that with the Internet we have put up with many things such as invasion of privacy that if we were paying for the service directly we would not tolerate. Indeed the question becomes when (if) the mobile internet brings us cheap data will we demand the experience of mobile, personal, opt-in over the tradtional Internet experience?

  8. Some of the super users also carry more than one mobile phone… To date most that I have come across have at least two… so you might just manage to pry one away from them so long as you give them some time to transfer data or calls to another device from that one 😉

    You are right about people underestimating the power and influence of these devices. It’s great to see that companies are starting to wake up to the opportunities out there if they do create a mobile interface to their applications, sites etc.

    Looking back however over the past number of years it really has been more bleeding edge than leading edge technology trying to get devices working. The requirement for standards, solid OS’s with Developer hookins has taken a long time. And finally the mobile carriers are starting to realise that data is the key and that by limiting usage they limit their own market…

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next 🙂

  9. Good points Sarah. It always seems to me a ‘chicken and egg’ thing in the mobile eco-system of operators, developers, hand-set manufacturers and platforms. One or more is always behind and holding up the others and everyone seems to watch everyone else before making the first move . . understandable I guess given the moneys involved but ultimately frustrating for consumers.

  10. I don’t doubt that there is a new group of mobile super users who live life by text but I think this is only half the story.

    We also need to recognise the equally influential twitterer who also strives to keep in contact with his peers all the time using this medium.

    These two groups of people have evolved a similar way of communicating and one in which I fear that people are not fully appreciating. PR pros have accepted the fact they need to get on the blogging platform but they haven’t fully appeciated the sounding-board that is Twitter.

    Whereas it is impossible for marketing pros to enter the closed user group of a mobile super users they can ‘potentially’ follow the similar group in twitter.

    I’ve written a more detailed post comparing the mobile super user as a teen version of a twitterer on my blog – link

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