Towards the Facebook phone

Social networking online is grabbing all of the headlines. But huge numbers of people have been using cellphones to socialise electronically for much longer. Surely the mobile platform is a better one for social networking.

Computer scientist Vassilis Kostakos certainly thinks so. He recently told me about some FaceBook plugins he is developing that can connect people you meet in real life with their online profiles. It uses software installed on your phone to look for nearby devices using Bluetooth.

One of his plugins, called CityWare, was launched last summer. If you get close enough to another person who is also running the plugin on their phone, you are provided with a link to their profile the next time you login to Facebook. It was developed as part of a research project also called CityWare, partly funded by HP, Nokia and Vodafone.

Kostakos is working on more plugins, one of which really brings social networking and phones together.

Called Little Bird, it gets your phone to update you with information from your friends’ profiles whenever you meet them. “When you walk into a room, a message on your phone tells you what events your friends in the room are attending in the near future,” explains Kostakos.

I think we’ll be seeing more applications like this. It makes sense to help people get at this information on their phones; for example, telling you when contacts stored on your phone come online.

Kostakos says that since gaining publicity last year for his first Facebook application, he has spoken with several large European mobile operators interested in bringing social networking and phones together.

I imagine the handset makers will also be interested. I wonder how long it’ll be before the first ‘Facebook phone’ appears. Perhaps the first wave of devices based on Google’s ‘open’ Android platform will see that happen.

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