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Vodacom expands social networking services

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Vodacom has introduced two new personal social networking services that are a first for South African cellular phone users. They are presence-based instant messaging and location-based services. 

“We have used the latest technology, but the real breakthrough here is ease–of-use and the additional location-based feature,” says Dot Field, Vodacom’s chief communications officer.
The first service is Meep, a real-time, presence-based Instant Messaging service. The second is TheGRID that will for the first time allow South Africans to enter the location-based social networking space from their cellphones. A unique feature to find friends by seeing their physical position on a street map is practical and fun to use.
“Meep can be used on any WAP-enabled 3G cellphone and passes the granny-test with flying colours. It is easy and quick to activate and very simple to use and customers can invite their friends and family for free to join the Meep world,” says Field.
Meep offers a transparency in terms of pricing where Meepots are the official currency of the Meep world – sold in bundles of Meepots.
“No additional charges are levied for data-usage and it’s easy to buy more Meepots, as and when required, on your cellphone or PC,” Field says.
The instant messaging service allows private group chats to multiple friends at the same time, shows the members' availability status, messages are delivered in real-time and can be controlled to block access from unwanted users. Meep users can also chat to non-Meep users, in which case messages are delivered via SMS.
Meep allows users to regulate their availability status, and lets them maintain and control their own ‘buddy list’. Meep can also send instant messages between online PCs and cellphones on networks with whom Vodacom has interworking agreements.
Field says Meep will be free to all Vodacom’s Contract, Top Up and Prepaid customers until the end of January 2008.
Vodacom’s Contract customers can also use Meep while travelling internationally, although the international data roaming charge of the guest network will be charged.
She says TheGRID is South Africa’s first location-based social networking service available on cellphones. The service allows anyone with a cellphone and TheGRID loaded, to find friends in their area on TheGRID; locate them on a map, chat to them and share experiences. TheGRID is currently available in beta only via exclusive invitation from an existing pioneer user.
“When you use TheGRID it immediately shows your approximate position on a street map. This is done by utilising network-positioning systems that map the location of your cellphone. If you are signed-in, the profiles of your friends in your immediate area will be displayed, allowing you to share content with them in a number of different ways,” she says.
TheGRID users can leave “blogs” around the city: virtual notes to share experiences with other users, for example, a review of a meal at a restaurant. These “blogs” can include anything from basic text messages to photos and even video clips. TheGRID will also show users which of their friends are in the area – they are then able to make contact with them through instant messaging, and for example invite them to lunch.
Field says TheGRID’s location-based feature added another dimension to the global phenomenon of social networking. “It’s the first of its kind in the country and can be used at no extra cost by anyone with a South African cellphone number.”
TheGRID is built on an open platform that encourages developers to create add-on features, allowing TheGRID to grow organically through its user-base. It operates as an open chat environment, which allows it to link to other instant messaging chat services such as Yahoo Messenger.