Nimbuzz Connects the Walled Gardens

This startup service provider lets social networking fans VoIP, IM, and otherwise communicate across disparate communities.

By Adam Stone | Posted May 1, 2009
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To the growing problem of communications fragmentation, Nimbuzz offers a solution of simplicity through unification. Its increasingly popular software combines presence, social instant messaging, and VoIP calling in a manner that cuts across many existing silos.

"Everyone is in walled gardens," said Tobias Kemper, head of communications and social media at Nimbuzz. "They are not interoperable. Members of AOL and Skype and Facebook and MSN and MySpace cannot really talk to one another."

Nimbuzz’s cross-platform solution, which comes in versions for PC users and mobile phone users—plus a Web portal version, Nimbuzz Web—has been drawing attention. Recently it marked its 10-millionth download on independent app store GetJar. The firm has drawn $25 million in venture funding from Mangrove Capital Partners, Naspers/MIH and Holtzbrinck Ventures. In January 2009, Nimbuzz secured the Red Herring Global 100 award.

Although Nimbuzz can be put to use without VoIP, internet telephony is a key component rounding out the overall communications package. Nimbuzz allows for VoIP calling to one’s community buddies over 2.5, 3G, and WiFi networks. Dial-Up VoIP (with a local dial-in number connecting to a VoIP server) is available in more than 50 countries. SIP calling allows for inexpensive international mobile calls.

While Nimbuzz builds its proposition largely around the need for simplicity in social networking, VoIP is a logical piece of the overall puzzle, Kemper said. "It’s a don’t-make-me-think approach for the user. They want a single access point for any type of communication. They don’t want to switch applications, they don’t want to switch screens. So voice needs to be just another form of communication."

At the heart of Nimbuzz, meanwhile, is an effort to make it easier for social pals to connect.

To interface between Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, MySpace, et al, mobile buddies today must resort to such primitive but ubiquitous means as texting, e-mail, or voice. With its cross-platform capabilities, Nimbuzz allows for instant messaging across communities, and also enables presence information to cross the garden wall.

"We basically run a whole bunch of gateways in order to connect Yahoo to Facebook to MySpace, all from one single platform," Kemper said.

Nimbuzz said its free software has been attracting more than 600,000 new users a month.

The cross-pollination plan is intended to appeal to consumers and service providers. Consumers win by entering into a more agnostic telecom world, one in which the choices among providers and devices become less challenging as well as less prohibitive.

"The user at the end of the day should be able to decide freely, and to act freely, instead of having to blindly subscribe to every little service in order to do the same thing in each place," Kemper said.

In a leveled playing field, "the industry shouldn’t have to worry about losing users to someone else" on the grounds of anything other than quality of service.

Right now Nimbuzz is generating users and kudos, but no actual revenue. Kemper said the company is banking on revenue sharing among future partners to eventually fill the coffers.

The VoIP component will be a critical piece in that partnering effort, a value-add that could prove too tempting to resist.

"Operators understand that mobile Voice over IP is the future," Kemper said. "This gives them the opportunity to have a VoIP platform if they don’t have one, without having to build that themselves. It is a way for them to get over to VoIP just by switching it once, without any additional investment, while at the same time bringing all these other additional benefits to their customer."

Among the social communities, Nimbuzz is looking at forms of revenue sharing as well as the possibility of mobile advertising arrangements. The sites would win, in so far as Nimbuzz is able to foster loyalty through its promise of simplicity, Kemper said.

Handset manufacturers too may factor into the mix. Those willing to package customized Nimbuzz software into their devices could present a value-add to customers and possibly carriers.

If Nimbuzz creates a halo of success around itself, it will be an interesting instance of VoIP weighing not as a primary offering but rather a nice-extra feature, a means to give social media users a leg up over the garden wall.

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