Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Bytes In A Mobile Chat Room?
By Mike Masnick, Wed Dec 01 19:00:00 GMT 2004

As mobile operators look to encourage more MMS usage, one company is hoping that its MMS chat service will be attractive. Do users really care?

Chat rooms played a major role in the growth of the Internet. Many say that AOL's meteoric growth in the 90s was mostly due to its unmoderated chat rooms that kept people online for hours. So, it should be no surprise that some are now hoping to do the same with mobile chat rooms -- especially as mobile messaging systems quickly try to add features to compete with computer-based instant messaging system that are quickly going mobile.

The latest move into this space is an effort by a mobile services company to offer MMS chat room solutions to mobile operators to rebrand as their own. The idea is that it increases usage of MMS and increases overall data usage while also fending off these challenges from IM systems. There's just one problem: there's not much in it for the end users. Chat rooms, by their nature, are about "chatting." While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it isn't always easy to translate those thousand words into a conversation.

Even worse, MMS uptake hasn't taken off as many expected, and the problem isn't it's inability to be used in chat rooms -- but usability problems. Tossing it into a chat room, where its value isn't entirely obvious isn't going to help anyone get over the usability questions.

To make this even less appealing for many, the company in question makes it clear that, in order to avoid "bad" content, it has a "24x7 real time content monitoring" solution. However, it's unclear how well that really works. Is someone really sitting there monitoring all text, videos, images and sounds before they reach the chatroom, and yet, still allowing the conversation to happen in close to real time? That seems unlikely. However, just the fact that the conversations are being routinely monitored in some manner may turn off users as well. Part of the initial success for the AOL chat rooms, in fact, was that they were not monitored, and often became quite racy.

It's good to see new attempts at encouraging communication through mobile applications and services, but simply throwing separate pieces together doesn't automatically create a compelling service -- especially when almost all of the benefits of the new service go to the mobile operators, and not the end users.