Google Operating System reports (and confirms) that Google has acquired a mobile service called Zingku, which had been in private beta. Around since 2005, the service uses text messaging and picture messaging to provide a platform for (what appears to be) entertainment and events-related communication but also has commercial potential. Zingku also integrates the desktop with mobile. Below are some excerpts from copy on the company’s website:
Our service is designed from the mobile phone, outward, allowing you to create and exchange things of interest ranging from invitations to “mobile flyers” with friends in a trusted manner. On the mobile phone, Zingku uses standard text messaging and picture messaging features that come with every phone. On the web, our service uses your standard web browser and instant messenger. There is nothing to install.
With Zingku, things you wish to promote or share can easily be created and fetched via mobile, instant messenger, and web browser. Our service integrates your mobile phone with a personalized web site so that you can easily move (zing) things back and forth between the web and and your mobile as well as powerfully connect with friends and optionally their friends.
And regarding commercial application of the service:
Zingku services are also being made available to “merchants” who wish to reach an audience. Merchants create “mobile flyers” and then publish/email a “zing-code” to their customers who opt to pull the flyer to their mobile phone. The customer can then zing it to those friends who they think may be interested. Our mobile flyers are interactive, can take a recipient through a mobile text and picture messaging journey. As such, 18 – 28 year olds, who have tuned out of email and are tuned in into their mobile, respond far more actively than traditional marketing media.
It’s quite polite, and quite effective. Our view of a “merchant” is anyone who has something to promote, whether it be a retailer, a theater promoting a production, a band who has just produced a new EP, a humorist producing snack-size entertainment, or an event organizer of any kind! We are currently working with a range of merchants who are excited by the prospect of connecting with their audience/customers within this new medium.
Because only a few people have used the service to date, everything is speculation in terms of how Google might integrate this service into other mobile initiatives. Dodgeball, one of the first mobile-social services and acquired by Google in 2005, has so far not yielded much. In fact, Dodgeball Founders Crowley & Rainert Quit Google In Frustration covers how the main people behind Dodgeball left Google back in April over product development issues. Zingku would appear to supersede it in a way.
As Google Operating System also points out, the unified telephony/messaging startup more recently acquired by Google, GrandCentral, also can extend into mobile.
There are a few things interesting to me here. One is the desktop and IM integration, which is important and will be a feature of more and more mobile offerings. (AOL is making a big push to integrate the desktop with mobile.) Also, Google is one of the few companies that can instantly monetize a service like this with contextual advertising (AdSense for Mobile). It’s likely, however, that Google will seek to build usage and observe that usage for some time before doing so.
Text messaging is where the volume of data users is right now and it’s not really being used as an ad medium by many. Companies such as 4Info , the newer MoVoxx, and 118118 in the UK are actively monetizing text messaging with ads. But most advertisers and ad network providers are looking “beyond” text to WAP, where the environment is considerably richer though far less developed in terms of adoption.
When I saw Zingku, the thing that first popped into my head was a mobile version of Craigslist (on the commercial side), although I’m sure that’s not exactly right or how it will play out. As with many Google acquisitions, I’m sure the company saw potential to use the service in a variety of ways on both the consumer and advertiser sides.
What may also happen is that Google may just take the capabilities, get rid of the Zingku brand (since nobody knows it), and fold everything into an uber Google text platform and suite of services that integrates aspects of Dodgeball, Google Maps, etc. There’s also considerable potential to integrate this with the newly redesigned Orkut (which should probably be renamed) and differentiate that service from other social networks. However, MySpace and Facebook are actively involved in “mobilizing” their networks.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed (but the money can’t be much, given the pre-launch status of the services), and Zingku is only available in the U.S. currently. However, Google will expand the platform or integrated capabilities globally over time.
Clearly Google can do a number of things with Zingku. The questions are: precisely what and how soon? Though I hate to use the term, “mobile social networking” will be a large segment (probably focused on text in the near term, eventually to be multi-modal) and there will be something of a race to gain widespread usage. Twitter, which formerly had so much buzz, seems to be cooling off.
If you want more discussion, there’s quite a bit at Techmeme here.