Social has been the big thing over the last few years, Social media and Social networks springing up all over the place and bringing people and their together. Staying connected, hanging with your tribe, digital snacking are old and new behaviors that these networks have created and foster. Facebook is the dominant one, at least in North America and boast a large and growing user based. Delivering a mobile device without a good facebook and twitter client will invoke the wrath of the reviewers and the bloggers. New services appear that try to exploit a new facet of online social behavior but have one single driver, the community they are able to attract and from this one revenue source, advertising..
Perhaps it might be time to take a fresh look at the whole social network/media space, my personal take on this area offers a more holistic view which is segmented along the dimensions of time and space. These are dimensions which create both the basis and opportunity for humans to socialize and where digital media can enhance the social interaction. Using this model it is easy to see where existing social tools focus and where the whitespace is. The following diagram maps out the social model..
The dimensions shown above bisect the temporal and spatial boundaries of social interaction.
- Same Time/ Different Place: This is clearly an area where technology has had significant impact. The ability to make the spatial divide disappear has been the main focus of telepresence, and conferencing technologies. The first technology was of course the telephone but we now see Halo rooms and mobile Apps that deliver an real-time AV experience for remote groups along with chat and IM programs all of which assume a same-time interaction model.
- Different Time/Different Place: This has been the domain of messaging and mail oriented technologies. The immediacy of the interaction is not important but the information in the interaction is of great importance. In recent time the web has service to democratize information across the time and space divides and things like this blog also fall into this kind of social interaction.
- Same Time/Same Place: Some people may think that this was just what existed before we had technology. But I feel this is actually an area where there is space to innovate. This innovations comes from the use of social media and also social commerce (more on this later)
- Different Time/Same Place: This one might be harder to imagine but most physical bulletin boards fall into this category, even graffiti speaks to this dimension. More recently with things like geo-tagging and location based services there have been grass roots efforts to enable the place to play a role in social interactions independent of time.
Technology has clearly influenced the nature of social interactions in certain areas of the map above. However I would say the most of the effort has been placed along top row where the spatial divide is dominant. The thing that has driven this has been the natural human desire to maintain connectedness even when being away from the people they wish to connect with. What’s interesting is that typically what is going on is sharing. Connections are maintained through sharing information with a community of interest. Posting something on facebook is only desirable if there is a large community of people (friends) to read and comment on it. This desire to share, to discuss, to recommend to provide advice and commentary would seem to be universal.
Perhaps what is missing from the lower row in the figure above where it is the time domain that changing rather than the place is the notion of community. Perhaps if there was a way to capture the community at a place irrespective of time that would enable similar social sharing and social media to occur as it does in the more traditional distance based online communities.
I am going to define the communities that address the social needs in the lower row of the figure above a Geocommunities. The community exists because of the place rather than a URL. We all belong to Geocommunities as we move around and spend time in other locations. Sometimes we are surrounded by people we know and sometimes by strangers or a mix. In either case the Geocommunity can act as a means of sharing, for example
- Sharing of Media: Visiting a friends home and displaying images of your vacation while on their TV. Printing a recipe on there printer, or simply exchanging a URI they should see.
- Sharing of behavior: Ever turned on a computer in a location and been confused about which network access point to connect to, or which printer to use, or where most people eat. This is community information that be shared (anonymously) and used to create a better experience
There are some applications that do some of the above but nothing on the scale of online social networks. The area is mosly untapped and it would seem that linking the communities that exist in the physical world with the ones the we belong to in the virtual world would extend the richness of applications and services and enable new social interactions and behaviors to develop.
It would seem to me that geocommunities and the support that would need to surround them would most logically come from a mobile solution company. Clearly in any place oriented solution the mobile device is a key component as it would be the instrument through which sharing is enabled and the lens through which spatial information would be discovered.