Orange, Vodafone up the pace on social networking

The impact of social networking on mobile data traffic has driven UK operators Orange and Vodafone to revamp their strategies in an effort to attract higher usage.
While Vodafone's plans are not confirmed, Orange has taken the lead by announcing Social Life, a social networking aggregation tool, that brings together activity on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo into one central interface, accessible via the Orange World portal.
Orange says the new platform allows users to upload photos, update their status, keep track of friends' status updates, etc., as well as sending and receiving messages. Social Life also claims to have SMS capabilities, allowing users to send and receive updates by text.
This move into becoming a consolidator makes more sense after Orange revealed that the number of monthly unique users to social networking sites jumped 48% quarter-on-quarter to 946,564 in the three months to the end of February. Monthly page impressions climbed 129%, with the average number of social networking pages per user per month hitting 397, indicating some heavy usage.
Orange said it will look to incorporate more social networks throughout the year.
Meanwhile, industry sources claim that Vodafone is preparing to launch its own social networking and aggregation platform, understood to be called Vodafone People.
The platform, which bears a striking resemblance to Zyb, the mobile phone utility and social networking site that Vodafone bought last year for €31.5 million, would appear to directly attack the INQ Mobile service offered by 3 by syncing contacts on multiple devices and details with Facebook.
However, Zyb is a little different from the MySpaces and Facebooks of the social networking world in that its focus is on enabling users to back-up and share their handset's calendar, messages, contact information and the like online. Vodafone People is also expected to allow integration with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Bebo and GTalk.
This interest in providing much improved access to social networking sites would appear to be added evidence that Orange and Vodafone are determined to increase the value of their proposition by offering their own services - a critical acceptance as voice and data tariffs continue to fall.