Social networking site plans mobile service

Multiply.com will launch mobile alert service in the Philippines, its first worldwide, and also open its first office outside the United States in the Asian market.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

MANILA—Florida-based social networking site Multiply.com has unveiled plans to open a local office and launch its first mobile service in the Philippines, a country where it secured a high-profile investor and 3.5 million subscribers.

Peter Pezaris, founder and CEO of Multiply.com, said in an interview Wednesday the company is now in the final stages of screening its local management team before it formally opens its first office outside the United States.

"It's only appropriate that we set up an office here because we have a huge number of subscribers in the Philippines that is almost as big as our subscriber base in the United States," said Pezaris, but did not provide a date for the site's opening.

The executive said the Philippine office would make coordination easier between the company and its local investor and partner, broadcasting giant ABS-CBN. Because of time difference, Pezaris said it can be difficult to receive calls from ABS-CBN executives in the middle of the night. "But if we have a guy on the ground who represents the company, and can decide on various matters, then the task of coordinating and implementing our strategy will be straightforward," he said.

In November 2008, ABS-CBN acquired a 5 percent stake in the social networking site for US$5 million. The two companies had signed a marketing deal in June 2008 aimed at generating online advertising revenue.

Paolo Pineda, head for business development at ABS-CBN, said while the broadcasting industry has seen a significant drop in revenue from traditional advertising, there has been an increase in online ad spending.

"Times are hard so companies are targeting niche markets," said Pineda, former head of ABS-CBN's interactive division.

Sociable Philippine users
Despite being exposed to different social networking sites, Filipinos have taken a liking to Multiply.com because of its user-friendly photo-sharing and unlimited storage features. Some 3 million images are uploaded daily on the site, most of them presumably from camera-loving Filipinos.

An internal study conducted by the company found that Filipinos shared 85 percent of their captured photos, the highest on the list. Americans were at 75 percent, while Japanese respondents clocked in at 21 percent.

As for the company's mobile offering, it marks the first time Multiply.com is implementing an MMS service and SMS alerts in partnership with local operators. Details of the deal are still being ironed out, though, according to company executives.

David Hersh, vice president for business development of Multiply.com, said it did not initially entertain the idea of rolling out a mobile-based photo service. ABS-CBN executives then highlighted that not all Philippine households have an Internet-enabled PC, on which they can upload and share their photos.

"The concept of sending SMS alerts to friends that a photo has just been uploaded seemed absurd at first. But, we realized that not all folks here have computers and Internet connection, unlike in the United States where people are online almost all the time," Hersh said.

The Philippines often proclaims itself the world's SMS capital, where its people exchange an estimated 1 billion text messages a day.

Although Multiply.com is using the country as a testbed, Pezaris said the rest of the world would likely take the mobile route as well.

"In the future, we expect half of our users will upload their photos through their mobile devices. These units even have photo capabilities that PCs don't have," he noted.

Asked if Multiply.com has other projects in the pipeline, Pezaris said the company will unveil a new version of the Web site "six weeks from now", that will feature an enhanced photo-sharing capability and entirely new interface.

"Multiply.com is currently on its third version. The fourth version that we're launching will incorporate drastic changes," he said.

Melvin G. Calimag is an IT writer based in the Philippines.

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