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Friends that Ring – Chatting with Neal Fullman, PR Director of fring

If you haven’t heard of fring, you’re probably a tad behind the mobile IM / VOIP wave. I discovered it a while back, looking for an application that worked on an S60 phone and enabled me to communicate with all my MSN, Skype and Google Talk contacts. If it did Twitter as well, bonus. It did.

Besides being a bit of a battery hog, like most cellphone applications that use a net connection – the latest Israeli start-up from the man who brought you ICQ, satisfied my need - and I’ve been a happy user ever since.

After using fring to Twitter a shootout outside my house, I’ve somehow drifted onto the fring Community Radar – and had the pleasure to meet their PR Director, Neal Fullman the other day.

Fring is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it is the viral success of a blogosphere-driven product. No marketing, just good ‘ol egotistical bloggers waxing lyrical. Secondly, it has some very interesting applications in a cellphone saturated market like South Africa. Especially a market with telecoms costs at the level we’re subjected to.

How interesting would a Fring led charge into our middle markets be? Data prices are coming down, and VOIP could soon be an alternative. If our cellphone users consume ringtones and wallpaper at a rate that justifies the above-the-line ad spend of ExactMobile and friends – why not VOIP services?

Talking points:

* Fring’s community based marketing approach. South Africa is an active target market, with a dedicated blog and the beginnings of a “community”. Whatever “community” is meant to mean. I can’t recall many other international startups that featured South Africa as a primary target market. Makes sense though…

* Some changes coming to Fring which I’ve been banned from talking about – but that should see it bridging an interesting gap in the market.

* Link support during Fring IM chats and Twitter streams. Must use that face time to suggest some important changes! (While I'm at it - how about an auto update notification when new versions are released?)

* An interesting PR approach to VC. Fring is not allowed to reveal their total user base – for free of starting the valuation debates prematurely.

* The experience of designing a beta application for the iPhone – and the exciting prospect, that if they can solve its battery sucking tendencies, it could become a boot up runtime for many cellphone users. THAT presupposes an interesting trend, one where voice calls and VOIP calls co-exist without the user fussing over the technology.

* And finally, the link to my hobby-horse, niche social networks. Imagine the next step in web collaboration moving out of the poke-me online application space and into the voice, video and instant messaging space? A virtual video and voice meeting place for your real friends, not your FaceBook ones.

Exciting times. Great guy to chat to. I’ll wear my Fring shirt with pride. Off to charge the phone now…

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