All the major social networking sites have discovered the mobile phone market, but have not yet figured out what makes it special. Instead, smaller startups are showing the way, and user location is key to what they are doing.
"Today the major social networks are simply replicating access to their existing Web-based products on a small screen," said Lenn Pryor, vice president for product marketing, services and software at Nokia.
But the mobile phone can offer services that aren't possible on a PC -- after all, it's the only computer that is with you 24/7, according to Pryor.
"You have things like location: Are any of your friends nearby? You also have context around presence: Am I available to be interrupted or to meet up with someone?" said Pryor.
The addition of GPS (Global Positioning System) support, in particular, will help accelerate the development of more advanced services.
"We expect to sell 400 million devices with GPS in them this year alone, it's quite a sizable number, so developers can start to count on navigation being there," said Pryor.
But while the majors are missing the opportunities, mobile social networking has turned into a fertile breeding ground for startups, which have taken a much more mobile-centric approach, according to Pryor.
Social networks will help turn your mobile into your life recorder, according to Dan Harple, cofounder and CEO of GyPSii, which is the name of the company and its platform.
Users can record their life using photographs, videos and audio clips on their mobile phones, and then automatically geotag them -- for example including the location where a picture was taken in metadata. Users can then share the photo with friends in real time, according to Harple.
Ways to use GyPSii include alerting friends to an event such as a concert by sending a picture, a location and a message, or adding comments about a place like a restaurant on a map showing its location.
GyPSii currently supports BlackBerry devices, the iPhone and phones running Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile software, and is free to download.
But GyPSii is far from the only company with a cool vision for the marriage of social networks and mobile phones.
Last month Vodafone bought the Danish company ZYB, which is working on Social Phonebook, a service that will let you see the live location of your friends -- if they want to share it -- and see their availability for a call, including the time zone they are in, to avoid any unnecessary wakeup calls.
Pelago's first product, Whrrl, which is currently in open beta testing, allows users to discover places, movies and other events by seeing where their friends are going, according to the company. Icons on a map show what friends think of something, as well as location.
Sniff (Social Network Integrated Friend Finder) from Useful Networks is integrated into Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. It lets users get the location of friends via a message, if the friends allow it. The service just became available in the U.K., where each search will cost £0.50 (US$1). It is also available in Scandinavia.
Taking all this into account social networks have barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and no one knows what will happen next, according to Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at CCS Insight.
"My advice is to make the features and tools available, and then let the users develop the next killer application," he said.