Why should mobile social networks not be built in Java(or other downloadable platforms)?

Yesterday at the Mobile Web summit, it was great to hear Mark Curtis and his views on how they built up Flirtomatic. Mark is a good friend and also one of my authors. Mark mentioned something subtle .. Which I think many people(including me) had missed for some time ..

He said .. They started with Java for their Mobile social network, then just before their big launch they abandoned Java .. A costly decision but one he has never regretted it.

Instead they exclusively adopted the Mobile Web(XHTML and above) and have stuck with it ever since with great commercial success

Why should mobile social networks not be built in Java(or other downloadable platforms)?

They key to flirtomatic’s success is its extremely fast feature turnaround, adaptation to customer needs, introduction of new features, responses to customer needs etc.

For example –he mentioned ‘roses with glitter’ which they introduced immediately since people seemed to like them, A ‘ring’ for February 29(the only day on which women can propose to men it seems) etc. Many of these features arose from customer feedback and were implemented immediately

And why not implement in Java?

Because – changes to the service are not propagated immediately. It is a mess – and the user pays for the downloads(airtime) – apart from the time needed to test the service in the first place on a wide variety of handsets

With the Mobile Web, this is not a problem. They can change the service every hour and the changes are reflected immediately with no cost(and pain) to the users.

This is not a fluke ..

ALL the big social networks are based on the Mobile Web .. And none on Java .. which is counterintuitive since developers may want to design cool, sexy features and a great user interface – but they dont make business sense in light of the above

The big players are peperonity , mig33 , itsmy , flirtomatic, mocospace are all above (or in the ballpark) of million plus profiles.

Java has never been to get to such numbers and with good reason as we see from Flirtomatic’s experience as above


  1. kimbjo says:

    I think your conclusions are very territorial. All the companies you quoted are in Europe and regional.
    There are bigger social networks – mxit, mig33, Airg, bluepuls that are sold as java products and are bigger networks – all over 10 million users. I think outside europe java is more widely accepted. Look at getjar… For example.

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    getjar is not a mobile social network. I would be interested in one which was 10 million users as you said rgds ajit

  3. Kevin Leong says:

    Ajit, I tried to find more information about Mark Curtis statement, but could not find any shared slides. I am curious. You wrote that he abandoned Java and adopted XHMTL. Did he abandoned J2ME? Or, he abandoned the Java frameworks that wrapped XHTML and JavaScript standards, such as JST etc?
    At Mo’Blast we use Java at the backend, but our Web-tier uses standard XHTML, DHTML and JavaScript. So, we get the flexibility of the Web technologies, but with the Java scalability and performance on the server-side.

  4. Martin Wells says:

    I think this is dependent on markets and product. At mig33 (with 13 million users) we haven’t had a big issue with users wanting to download and install a client application. I can’t be categoric, but as far as I’m aware most of the current mobile social successes are apps, not web sites.
    A mobile web experience on a mobile is going to have less functionality (dynamic updates, phone integration, interface capability) and be significantly slower than a native app. However, there is certainly a barrier in getting someone to download that app in the first place.
    Ultimately, it really depends on how important those features are in creating value for your users versus the barriers that creates.
    For mig33 we are primarily a J2ME app, but support WAP, mobile web and desktop web, so users can start simply and then upgrade.
    As an aside, markets can create some unique barriers, such as in the US with carrier restrictions and a relatively less sophisticated (mobile) audience.

  5. Ajit Jaokar says:

    I believe they abandoned J2ME.I dont know the back end framweork. Martin – happy to speak to you and blog about Mig33. Shall send seperate email. kind rgds Ajit

  6. tomsoft says:

    Again, I strongly disagree with a pure platform approach. At Webwag, were we are doing personalized start page, we have versions in many different framework / languages:
    - Web (Ajax)
    - Mobile app (J2ME)
    - iPhone (Ajax too)
    - mobile web (XHTML)
    - and even more exotic technologies, like Flash
    There are many mobile client of social networks, some in J2me, some in XHTML, and each of these have adantages and disavdantages…. So I do not think you can put a statment like this. The other time, you mentionned Flash as an alternative, which also suffers from the same issue….

  7. Ajit Jaokar says:

    :) dont shoot the messenger! The talk was from mark curtis – flirtomatic. I agree woith it though. The scale matters and certainly they have the numbers so their viewpoint counts rgds Ajit