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Blogging on the Go

Cell-phone blogging gets another boost.

Blogging might seem to be uniquely broadband-centered, with its emphasis on links, searchability, and now video. But, at the same time, the live, journalistic nature of the medium suggests it could work well on highly mobile devices – cell phones with cameras, for instance. And two recent developments – the introduction of the Helio wireless service and the addition of blogging to Sweden’s Mobispine platform – suggest that mobile blogging is on the rise.

Mobile blogging (also called “mo-blogging” or “mblogging,”) isn’t completely new. For years, bloggers on the go without laptops have been able to use tools like Rabble from Intercasting, FoneBlog from NewBay Software, and Google’s Blogger Mobile. These applications are typically available to consumers through their wireless carriers.

But they’re primitive services, and not generating much revenue, says Lewis Ward, a wireless communications analyst at International Data Corporation (IDC). Ward thinks Helio may give a boost to that activity. “Mo-blogging’s been around now for a couple of years,” he says, “but what [Helio] gets at is the community element of the Internet merging with the very communications-oriented, personalized strengths of mobile devices.”

IDC has not gathered statistics on mobile blogging, but Ward says the market is developing enough that he expects to put together a market forecast on the phenomenon before the end of the year.

Helio represents the latest MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator): a company that resells service from a current wireless provider, in this case Sprint. A partnership between the Internet service provider Earthlink and South Korea’s SK Telecom, Helio offers a variety of services, including the ability to blog photos and text to the wildly popular social network MySpace. As Ward points out, Helio is also notable because its service requires expensive phones, costing between $250 and $275, whereas current MVNOs tend to be focused on low-end markets.

One barrier to the use of mobile blogging has been that most services handle blog posts via MMS (multimedia messaging service), which is costlier and more difficult to use than simple text-messaging. Because Helop uses MMS, it doesn’t fix the expense of mo-blogging.

But Sweden’s Mobispine does. It lets users post blog entries without using SMS or MMS (although phones must have a data service, which does have a cost). Mobispine’s new blog tool is an extension of its free instant-messaging application, released last year to let callers use instant messaging without paying SMS fees.

Mobispine’s cofounder and head of sales, Joakim Hilj, says the company added mo-blogging because users wanted the service. “It’s starting to be really cool,” he says. Mobispine hosts the blogs and sells advertising around it, which provides revenue for the company.

The biggest challenge for any cell-phone application developer is the fragmented nature of the market: each wireless network uses different technical specifications, so even an application written in a supposedly universal development language like Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) needs to be tweaked for each phone offered by each carrier.

“In the phone, Java is not as compatible as it is on the PC,” says Joacim Boivie, CEO of Stockholm-based Mobispine. Mobispine is now available for 57 different mobile phones, and next week will add the RIM BlackBerry to its list.

Mobispine will also add new blogging capabilities, Boivie says. Right now, users who shoot video using their phones cannot post it to their blogs. That will change in about two weeks, he says.

IDC’s Ward says it’s unusual to find applications that circumvent the cellular carriers entirely, in part because it adds a level of risk: cellular carriers can ban communications out of their network. Thus, if Mobispine is too successful in selling ads to its blogging site, it could risk seeing its users cut off from their blogs, since cellular carriers tend to resent third parties who make money from their networks.

Another issue that may hinder Mobispine is that it hosts the blogs – so people who are currently bloggers can’t post to their existing blogs. Boivie says there’s no technical reason why the company couldn’t let them do it, but “we think most users don’t really care where they have their blog.”

Instead, he’s betting they’ll care a lot about blogging on the go.

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