The term "social networking" is cropping up everywhere these days as companies try to tap into and leverage the phenomenon of creating virtual communities of friends and family and the enthusiasm of the digital generation for texting, blogs and wikis.

The definition is broad, starting with online sites like MySpace or Facebook. However, companies also are using the concept of social networking in product development, basing new ideas on buzz generated in various forums. See this Bullpen column from CT‘s May issue.

Social networking also applies to a host of new applications, such as the search and social networking tool called Affinity, which SeaChange International demonstrated at Cable-Tec Expo. Another is Integra5’s MediaFriends TV Chat, expected to be available in early 2009.

Integra5 is a strong proponent of "tightening the bundle," as indicated in this July CT article on converged services. Could social networking be reviving the notion, so popular during the Internet bubble, of applications that ‘stick’ to consumers?

"As subscribers build their social network through these applications, it increases the ‘stickiness’ factor," said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst with Parks Associates. "Subscribers would be more reluctant to leave their current (provider) and start from scratch in building their network with a new provider." TV Chat The newest addition to the i5 Converged Services Platform (i5 CSP), MediaFriends TV Chat will allow people to use their remote to invite "buddy list" friends to watch a television program. If the invitation is accepted, the TV set finds the right channel. Mobile phones are used to text messages for a live chat, displayed within the picture on the TV screen.

"Communication historically has driven change and innovation …. It drove the rapid growth of email and the Internet. It will define the next generation TV experience," said Meredith Flynn-Ripley, Integra5 CEO.

Research conducted by AT&T indicated that 78 million "American Idol" votes were cast via text messaging this past season; 22 percent of responders said they learned how to text in order to vote for their favorite singers. Separately, Grunwald Associates said 45 percent of teenagers communicate via instant message or email during TV programs.

"(Viewers) are interacting with television programs organically on their own. It’s been a disconnected experience …. Television programming itself is moving people into new communications behavior. MediaFriends TV Chat is a way to make that experience better," Flynn-Ripley said. Appetite for convergence Integra5 already has 30 customers across seven countries for i5 CSP. Current applications include CallerID on TV, PC CallerID and customer care alerts.

"There is an appetite for converged communications. People want to use whatever service with whatever device," Flynn-Ripley said.

A silo buster, i5 CSP is integrated into an operator’s video and IP (voice and data) networks, leveraging existing infrastructure. Beyond churn reduction, the company’s licensed applications have a potential revenue angle.

Integra5’s research indicates that customers are willing to pay $1 to $3 per month for a service such as MediaFriends TV Chat.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

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