Students' New Best Friend: 'MoSoSo' ; Mobile Social Networking Software - the Next Wave of Virtual Community - Is Already Appearing on Cellphones, Beginning with College Campuses

Article excerpt

Walk on a college campus these days and you'll see cellphones everywhere, but only some being used for conversations. Baruch College sophomore Yelena Slatkina in New York City recently rustled up an emergency sub at work by typing a plea to her entire work group on her cellphone. University of South Florida sophomore Nate Fuller routinely uses his cellphone equipped with Global Positioning Software (GPS) to find recruits for his intramural football team and locate friends in Tampa, Fla. Texas 21-year-old Brittany Bohnet uses photos she and 20 of her networked buddies snap on their phones to locate one another, using visual landmarks they spot in the pictures they send.

These under-25s (the target market for early adoption of hot new gadgets) are using what many observers call the next big consumer technology shift: Mobile Social Networking Software, or Mososo. The sophisticated reach of cyber-social networks such as MySpace or Facebook, combined with the military precision of GPS, is putting enough power in these students' pockets to run a small country.

But while many young users are enthralled with the extraordinary conveniences of what amounts to a personal-life remote control, others who have been tracking technology for more than a few semesters say that as the benefits of the multipurpose mobile phone expand, so do its risks. Not only do they point to possible security issues with GPS running on a cellphone, but cultural observers worry about the growing preference of young users to stay plugged into a virtual network, often oblivious to the real world around them.

"These technologies are addictive," says author Michael Bugeja, bemoaning what he calls a growing self- absorption encouraged by social networking. "With a society that is increasingly amusing and distracting itself to death, what's at stake is nothing less than the collective conscience."

The Iowa State University media professor, who has written extensively about the cultural impact of new technologies, suggests that an increased focus on networking only with like-minded folks could diminish the ability to deal with the unfamiliar - a skill that is vital to democratic institutions.

Pros and con artists

Mobile GPS will open a Pandora's box of possibilities, say others. "I'd be very concerned about pedophiles or identity thieves hacking into a system and locating me, my wife, or daughter," says Henry Simpson, who coordinates new technology for the California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB). "It raises huge safety issues," he adds.

But new technologies have always brought new risks - such as identity theft. Philosophically, every technology has both positive and negative values, says Andrew Anker, vice president of development at Six Apart, a Web consulting firm. "In fact," he points out, "the most positive aspects are what also add the most negative."

Companies looking to do business on college campuses have paid particular attention to security concerns. Rave Wireless introduced a GPS/MoSoSo enabled phone for students this past year, emphasizing the security value of the GPS feature over its potential to deliver underage victims to predators. While the Rave phones enable students to find like-minded buddies (Bored? Love Indian food? Meet me under the clock!), it also offers a cyberescort service linked to campus police. If the student doesn't turn off a timer in the phone, indicating safe arrival at a destination, police are dispatched to a GPS location.

Campus residents give the service high marks. Kristen Halverson, a resident adviser at CSUMB, says her students are often alone on campus late at night. "The GPS escort is probably the best new thing for students I've seen," she says. …