Social networking has transformed the way we interact with friends and family and has made the world a more open and connected place to live. There’s just one problem—social networking is not actually social.
This might sound like doublespeak but it makes sense if you think about it. From the Latin root socialis, meaning “united, living with others,” the word social is firmly grounded in the physical world and implies face-to-face interactions. If you’re a social person it means you like to spend time with other people. And as humans we are all social creatures, hardwired for interpersonal contact and companionship.
But this definition of the word social conflicts with our concept of social networking, an activity spent primarily with screens rather than people. Facebook doesn’t get old school, face-to-face social and they never will because it goes against their bottom line. The more time you spend on Facebook, the more ads you’re served, and consequently the more money they make.
But how do we break away from our screens without losing the benefits of a digitally connected life? How do we bridge the gap between online and offline and become more connected with our real friends out in the real world? How do we make social networking actually social?
The explosion of Mobile has done more than any other trend to drag social networking into the real world, but even industry leaders like Foursquare fall short. The check in was built partly on the myth of the serendipitous connection—the idea that when I check in somewhere a nearby friend will decide to join me. But in practice this rarely happens. There are just too many hurtles. I have to have a friend who is nearby and available. And even if I’m lucky enough to have such a friend there’s no way for them to know if I checked in when I got there or on my way out the door.
Mobile is the bridge between the online and offline world but mobile alone isn’t enough to make social networking social. It’s not simply a matter of web versus mobile, it’s a matter of past versus future.
In the last decade, Facebook and other social networks have focused on mapping and documenting our existing relationships. Facebook’s focus on the past is highlighted by their new Timeline feature that beautifully chronicles your life story. With the rise of Twitter and Foursquare the emphasis has transitioned to what is happening right now. The past and present of our lives are established online; the next frontier in social networking is the future.
When you push the time horizon of a check-in into the future and shift the paradigm from “I’m here now” to “I’ll be there later,” you delivery on the promise of the serendipitous connection. First, your friends no longer have to be nearby because you’re giving them enough time to hop in a car. Second, the more lead-time you give your friends the easier it is for them to free up their schedules. And finally, if you let your friends know when you plan to arrive they don’t have to worry about missing you.
The transition from past and present tense (“I did” and “I’m doing”) to future tense (“I will do”) might seem trivial but it’s not. It’s a huge difference because while you can’t change the past or the present, you can change the future.
Learn from René Pinnell the CEO and Designer Forecast and Hurricane Party as he explores the possibilities of future tense social networking. Will these new location services enable intent-based marketing? Can they disrupt the advertising and marketing industries in tangible, long-lasting ways? How will they revolutionize the way we live, shop, and play?
Before dropping out of graduate school to start Forecast, René Pinnell spent 10 years writing and directing for film and television. From 2004 to 2008 he directed and produced 30 episodes of the acclaimed comedy show “Backpack Picnic,” as well as the MTV Pilot “Meet the Bulldogs.” More recently René Pinnell co-directed “The King of Texas,” a feature documentary that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and was distributed internationally by Watchmaker Films. While pursuing an MFA in Design René Pinnell was awarded a $100,000 research grant for the development of a mobile app that displays room level energy data and incentivized building occupants to reduce their individual energy consumption.
Eric is the CTO and co-founder of Forecast. He is a lifelong hacker, a licensed mathematician, and a lean startup fanboy. He recently finished his PhD in Mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin, and lately, Eric has been talking to everyone he meets about Lean Startup, a new technology that improves a startup’s odds of success. Warning: only ask him about Lean if you have a couple of hours to spare.
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