Moblogging Uptake Weak, Even in Japan
By Eric Lin, Wed Apr 14 00:45:00 GMT 2004

A new study shows Japanese aren't moblogging, but they still send snapshots to other handsets. If carriers want people to moblog more, we look at some interface improvement suggestions from around the web.

Steve at Line of Site says he's frustrated with US carriers. What he really seems to be frustrated with are the interfaces offered to US subscribers to do anything beyond making a voice call. He received an eCard from a relative and Italy and noticed he could respond to the holiday greeting by sending a message to his cousin's mobile phone. Because of a simplified configuration process, he could send an SMS or MMS with just a few clicks, and virtually no effort.

Attempting to activate the same features for his own account, Steve was frustrated by the number of steps required thanks to the variety protocols and software US carriers have chosen to use. There is no simple "this is my phone number" interface. The lack of a simple interface often prevents users from taking advantage of features they might otherwise use. Complex interfaces are one of the causes we blame for the poor uptake of moblogging as well as other advanced services.

Even in Japan, which Westerners normally consider "picture mad," two-thirds of cameraphone users take pictures less than three times per month. Providing some relief to carriers, two-thirds also report they send those pictures to other phones, however barely anyone sends the pictures to a website as in moblogging. Dottocomu translates these results from a survey of almost 20,000 Japanese cameraphone users. They also remind us we can't base the world's moblogging patterns on those of Japan. Since Japanese favor accessing the web over their phone, posting to desktop websites might not interest them, providing an alternative explanation for weak moblogging results.

We were more surprised by how rarely the respondents report taking pictures. One to three days per months is less often than we expected. One factor that hasn't been quantified yet is whether people who own phones that have a more camera-like photo interface take pictures more often than those who don't. Japan has a head start over most other countries with these devices, so it would be interesting to learn if they make a difference.

While a camera-like interface may help users to take more pictures, it won't necessarily encourage them to do more with the snapshots. What could matter most in this case is not hardware but software. Because it's becoming a critical issue, I've been thinking about what software changes could encourage moblogging.

Reading a preview of the new K700, we see that Sony Ericsson has added a setup wizard to the new handset. Using a wizard like this would certainly help users set up a moblogging account. If manufacturers added the necessary hooks to their camera or picture viewing applications, carriers (or manufacturers) could also use a web interface where users could choose a moblog service and the necessary set-up information could be sent to the phone by SMS. This is already done for everything from GPRS set up to email accounts, adding moblogs are a obvious extension.

Once setup has been simplified, users should be reminded that they can do something with pictures after taking them. Once a picture has been snapped, why isn't the next menu or question or soft button "Send this?" Give the users a choice of MMS / email / moblog, and they would. Better yet just ask to a contact / to my moblog, and select the appropriate method (MMS or email) depending on whether the user chooses a phone number or an email address. The more manufacturers and carriers work to make picture mail and moblogging easy and obvious, the more likely subscribers are to use it.