Dodgeball & Colombia

Today I was approach by one of my very good friends for sharing some of my thoughts about the social network service of Google DodgeBall. He had been in turn questioned about the matter by Natalia … something, a girl that uses to write for the biggest local newspaper (El Colombiano) of my home town of Medellin, Colombia.

Her questions are rather simple:
– Is there an opportunity for this kind of services in Colombia? If yes, why?
– What are the technical requirements for a project of this nature?
– What’s the position from the point of view of a developer?

I would go a little further in the subject by trying to talk about the commercial challenge and some potentially good approaches.

A service like dodgeball is part of the web 2.0 and a social media application. The web 2 because it takes the internet experience further in the ways we interact with it, obtain information and feed it with information as well. Social media because it uses mechanisms like social networks as the base structure.

I truly believe there is a HUGE opportunity for a service like this in Colombia, and not only in Colombia but in most of the developed and developing world. Communication is and will always be a necessity and social networks have proved a successful and efficient way to connect to and communicate with those persons that by any way we have a relation to. We can see that communication services like IM (instant messaging) and email in Colombia as in any other country where the killer applications that brought internet to us. Video and multimedia services are the ones to bring us broadband. And it’s not only an opportunity but also a necessity to start taking this kind of mobile phone based services to be more that just silly voting mechanisms for reality shows (I have to accept there are a couple of SMS based services out there, but those can be scored as regular the most).

Regarding the technical requirements and a developer’s point of view in the subject I can say: There is not single real challenge from the technical point of view. All the infrastructure is available and the know-how required for such a development can be found in plenty of local companies.

The real challenge: business approach

To me, the business approach for such a service is the key. Let’s get the things in place: the primary interface for the service is sending a receiving SMS messages. Any attempt to charge premiums for the messages will be a disaster, first because people are not used to this kind of services so it would be such a high barrier for the real potential growing of the social network (beside the fact of being Colombia a developing country == low budget young people) and second because it would encourage the people to drop out after the first bill is paid.

Another important issue, maybe not that obvious in the big cities, is the poor Internet coverage. From it we can argued that:

  • Subscription to the service (even if it’s free) should not be required in order to start using the system.
  • The marketing should rely also in traditional media (newspapers, radio, fliers) more than just the Internet. However the most important for social networks will always be word of mouth marketing.

The big question to answer here is how to generate revenue in order to make profit. The revenue would come from different strategies:

  • Having a division between basic free services and subscription or premium based services. The second services are those that allow the user both over the internet and from the mobile phone to interact in a more enriching way with their social network. Services like dating, contacting people from your network that are in the same place and are not your contacts, answering questions like “what’s hot now?” or “what’s hot tonight?”.
  • Using the service’s platform for more specialized networking services like event planning and pre-event networking.
  • Using the service database to get public places in contact with their visitors/clients.

Bottom line:

Everything is ready for some entrepreneur to jump and catch this opportunity in Colombia, and why not, in many other places. The up-front investment is low and the potential is big. It’s important to keep the entry barriers as low as possible and try to generate the revenue both from the premium users and advertisers.

Please, drop a comment, I would like to see some discussion on this topic.



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