Q&A: RIM's take on social networking

Although Research in Motion made its name by delivering secure corporate email, it has had to move quickly to adapt to the ever-shifting world of social networking.

Now that users expect a wide array of applications to be available on their mobile devices, RIM has been trying to walk a tightrope that will address those wishes while preserving the security features that have long been RIM's staple. In this interview with Tom Goguen, RIM's vice president of collaboration and social networking, we'll get his take on trends in social networks and learn how RIM plans to make social networks a key component of its devices.

What is RIM's strategy when it comes to social networking?

We think our devices are inherently about managing relationships and having reliable communications. Today the number of communications channels has multiplied and the way people use them is substantially different. But at the end of the day what you're doing is managing your relationships and managing your reputation.

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One core tenet of our strategy is to allow Facebook and social networks to communicate anywhere on the device. So if I'm looking at a friend on my contacts list, I now have the option of putting a message on his Facebook wall right from the contacts application. The idea is that you won't have to be in the Facebook app itself to access Facebook features.

Another example of this is what we've done with our Universal Search feature that not only helps you search the Web and your email message but also provides you with relevant information from your Facebook account and Twitter feed. One cool experience I had recently was when I used social feeds to find information on Web-based television. I have been monitoring the success or failure of getting all your television through the Web because I'm interesting in ditching my cable or satellite connection. A friend on one of my feeds had seen this thing about Amazon Prime offering free video. So I see it, I click on it, I get a link to a press release, and I see what other people are saying about it. And when I'd look it over I sent it over to my wife through BlackBerry Messenger to see if she was interested. The integration of social networking apps helped me to very efficiently get something done.

How have you balanced customer desire to have access to multiple social networks with their need to have secure mobile communications?

I get that question a lot in the context of enterprises. People at work who are using their BlackBerry device are also consumers. And for a lot of people, access to social networks is becoming part of their jobs. Companies want to provide us with access to these sorts of things. That's why RIM developed the BlackBerry Balance technology to allow people access to social networks and social communications while also protecting the integrity of corporate data.

What are some of the big trends in social networking right now?

Mobility is the big thing right now. If you look at the growth numbers, growth on mobile platforms is outpacing growth on desktops for Facebook -- it's about two times faster on mobile for Facebook, while on Twitter it's close to nine to 10 times faster.

In enterprises, there are a couple of interesting trends going on. The first is understanding that social networking isn't just having Facebook in the enterprise, but rather seeing that social networking in general is helpful for getting stuff done. So when you look at it that way it's not Facebook for the enterprise, it's, "How do I follow this customer and events associated with this customer through presales or customer support?" So let's say a customer has expressed interest in some particular product or service your company is developing. This way you can let them know about when that product might be ready by getting updates from the profile of the engineer who's working on it.

What impact will technologies like LTE and WiMAX have on social networking and mobility?

When the Internet first came to people's homes the pipes were big enough to deliver text and pictures. Then when they got larger we started to get music, and then when they got larger still we start to see video. The same step-by-step process will hold true for the mobile Internet.

I won't try to predict what people will try to do with this added bandwidth. I don't think anyone in 1996 imagined a Facebook or a Twitter. I'll tell you one thing, though, from a social networking standpoint, today I'm at a point where I'm pretty close to streaming video. We introduced PlayBook video chat and I think you're going to see more of a social dynamic around streaming video. We have the ability to capture HD video on the device and the screen is large enough where I feel connected to an event while filming it.

I think in the near future, I'll be able to take a device like PlayBook and use it to live-stream a party or an event out to other friends and families who weren't able to attend.

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