I thought it was really cool when Google’s Latitude came out; but then, I spend a lot of time in the same area, consistently missing people I know by less than a hundred feet. I also think FourSquare is awesome, for different reasons than Latitude – although it may be seen as an extension of the same. I think I was the only one in my clique who skipped over the obvious “No More Cheating In The North End” implications of permanent location awareness.
Still, it’s a little weird seeing so many people dive all over FourSquare, spending a week with @julien (Julien Smith) posting nothing but “I’m at [insert venue]” tweets, and then get smacked in the face with:
The fallacy of location based social networks is thinking that I care more about where you are than what you think. – @bradjward
The stupid thing is, he’s totally right. But he’s also missing a beat. The displayed assumption is that everyone will adopt these geo-social networks, and use them in the same manner that others, like Twitter, are used. If Julien is any indication, he’s right, which sucks.
Social networking itself addresses one of the aspects of modern living technology had heretofore removed; the sense of real, organic connection with others in your peer group. As these networks grow, it become blisteringly obvious that many of them have the same core functions; status updates, uploading of some form of file, and a dynamic profile connected to other dynamic profiles in a web of private and no-private ways. Regardless of their other toys, or their disparate aims, this kind of view lumps LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and a slough of others on the same plane. You can treat them as your own website, even if you have one. I’ll call them Home Base networks.
On the other hand, Twitter, Plurk, and their kind are much more narrow, specialized toward nothing but constant status update, microblogging is a good word but it doesn’t address the possibilities. Twitter, as an example, has a very extensible API, which means there are already hundreds of other sites, applications and services which link to Twitter externally and do neat things with the service. Because of the way it behaves and how horrible it is for real conversation, Twitter makes a great handshake, but not much of a good first impression if you’re paying attention. But, like the applications that use it as a framework, it can be used as a foot in the door, a way to find people, and send them back to your home base. Other people use the term Outposts, so that sort of fits with the Home Base analogy; I’ll stick with that.
See where this is going? It makes the entire game of social networking feel quite a bit like an RTS. You’re setting up bases, sending out your tweets – er, troops – and gathering allies and audience. It’s alliance more than community, on its face; what you do with the people you’ve then gathered can become community, but social networking on its own is not enough.
This is the part where I tell you where Brad missed the step, right?
Back when you didn’t spend your whole Friday night on a computer, you spent it calling all of your friends to see if they were up to anything, and then going out. Computers, cell phones, the internet – it all made that process a lot easier from some directions, because text messaging and now social networking were so much faster and easier to broadcast. Now, however, your friends have maybe a hundred other friends. Or maybe you’re bored of all your existing friends, and want some single-serving friendship. Or maybe you actually want to get out and meet new people (gasp).
This is where geo-social networks are interesting, because they easily provide a way for others to see where you are, see what’s hot. It makes an awesome ice breaker. It gives you tips for finding new things. Instant, on-demand serendipity.
The assumption that everyone needs all of these tools is a weak one, so please don’t make it. I read enough of Brad’s blog to know that it’s not where he was going with his original tweet, but you’re on notice anyway. When you’re deciding which social networking applications you’re going to use – personally, as a business, whatever – you need to spend some time making sure not only that you know how to use them, but how other people are likely to use them.
If you already have a website, what are the benefits of aHome Base style social network? Maybe it’s a good funnel point; it’s never a bad idea to have some presence somewhere, no matter how inactive.
Similarly, if you’re lacking outposts, there are probably conversations you’re not hearing that you could.
I didn’t even touch on YouTube, or other visual broadcast media – dip your toes in there. Even I’ve done this, much as 5 views of a video in its first month mean anything.
But what about Geo-social networking? Businesses don’t go anywhere, but they can certainly use these tools to draw people in. And for people – should probably get to this point, since it’s the whole point of the exercise…
For people: Geo-social tools are not about where you are. They’re about the conversations that can be encouraged, the experiences you have when you’re AT these venues.
But maybe you’re afraid of having a first-hand experience. In that case, keep your head in your cell phone when you’re at a coffee house, spend all your time in your own meta and stick to Twitter.