10 Dic Key and the Conduit: How Increased Social and Mobile Networks Are Impacting Lives
The Spectator, Hamilton College, NY, By David Riord an, December 10, 2008
Technologies only become interesting once they’ve already become ubiquitous. That’s why Facebook made sense when Mark Zuckerberg & Co. launched it at Harvard: constrained to the community of Harvard undergraduates, it became significantly easier for the site to become used used by everyone, or rather everyone at Harvard. Otherwise, what good is software for your community if only one other person is on it? But moreover, it was launched at Harvard University. It was for a select group of people in a constrained location. It mattered because its users weren’t just bound together by a common interest, but by a common place. And yet, while local-centric social networks have driven consumer growth, it’s only the beginning of place-based social networks. Enter the mobile phone. Actually, in most cases, it’s now a computer that just happens to make phone calls. But unlike the computer on your desk, mobile phones are inherently social. Its only used with relation to other people, whether its storing birthdays, phone numbers, events, or just making calls; almost everything inv olves someone beyond you. With the rise of powerful mobile platforms like the BlackBerry, Android, and the iPhone, the social computer in your pocket can do everything the PC on your desk already does, but it also does a few new things. Namely: it’s always on you and its always on, and you can let it know where it is. It knows who your friends are, and you use it for communicating with those friends (probably a lot more, and a lot more informally than you would even in the most nonchalant online communication. It’s a totally different way of interacting than with a typical computer. But the most important difference is that it becomes a way to link where you are to the rest of the world, and when it comes to social networks, it means the real world gets to matter more than the digital one. Mobile phones are about to become the key and the conduit to our social networks. So you can get to scaled down versions of Facebook and MySpace on your iPhone and BlackBerry. That’s information recalled on the fly. For the iPhone application version of Facebook, it’s like a return to the days before the Facebook Platform, in that it acts like an interactive contact list, in that it provides information but doesn’t provide the ability to search for new contacts to add. Additionally, it’s just another window into the service, not a new way to fundamentally use it. Rather, the next step for mainstream social networks is WHERE – location-based social networks designed to connect people in real life, rather than augment real-life relationships online. Take Loopt, a location-based social network that’s exclusively based on mobile phones. With Loopt, you can choose to let your friends know where you are in addition to what you’re up to. Because mobile phones have location-based services and are on one’s person at all times, it becomes possib le to unlock the potentials of mass connectivity without being chained to a desk. With services like BrightKite or Loopt, the people physically around you matter. For every chance encounter with a friend on a random streetcorner, there are countless times that friends miss each other by mere moments or meters. It took two weeks for my best friend and I to figure out we worked in the same building at different firms two summers ago. Now, with these services, the potential to make serendipity happen means technology finally empowers real-world encounters and relationships. And the only way to get to this kind of connectivity is through a mobile phone. But what about the kids? The privacy implications of this are huge and are yet to be worked out, but it appears a way to control children’s safety on mobile is emerging.