The Fantastic, Dystopian Future of Social Networking
BY John Brandon
Think of it as Yelp meets Nike+ shoes meets Facebook meets Google meets Twitter. Start-ups: Start thinking now about where you'll fit in.
In the year 2020, social networking will look different.
Well, I should say, it better look different. I'm getting bored clicking through pictures of cute babies and weddings.
So I'm going to do a little prognosticating. I think in the future one of the biggest improvements we'll see will have to do with the intersection between the real world and our digital streams. You probably already know about The Internet of Things, where devices like kitchen appliances and the front door connect to the Web--and to your phone. And, gadgets like the FitBit Flex already provide a daily digest of the quantified self.
But there is an opportunity, particularly for tech start-ups, to help turn social networking into something much more valuable. Consider an existing company like UrbanSitter, which taps into your Facebook feed to help you find a babysitter through people you know. The app primarily just borrows your contacts and uses Facebook for authentication. I see this going much further.
In a future connected society, artificial intelligence will advance to the point where the quantified self movement joins the physical and digital realms. Did you just order pizza, buy tickets to the theater, and give your spouse a bouquet of flowers? Your Facebook account--or whatever social media you use--will know. In fact, a site like UrbanSitter might automatically start scouring opt-in feeds for available sitters and schedule one for you. He or she would just show up at your door.
As more gadgets connect and we quantify more, the analytics potential is astounding. My car will connect, and so will my shoes, my smartwatch, and even my fork.
There will be reams of data to mine here. Maybe one company will focus on traffic management--don't go on that highway because 50 people reported an accident on their social feeds. Skip that eatery up the street--10 people gave it a bad rating recently. It's Yelp meets Nike+ shoes meets Facebook meets Google Analytics meets Twitter. Yet, it's all automated--I won't need the Yelp app (or really any apps) because the computer will push the info I need. Data will do the work for me.
And with all of this data and connecting going on, someone is going to have to create a dashboard for viewing it all. I don't mean something like GoSquared that mines your online world. I mean a dashboard for both virtual and digital, a kind of uber-overlord of all activity you actually want to use.
Someday, I'll pull up more than my FitBit score. I'll pull up my life score. I'll see that I burned 20 percent more energy in my home last month, walked 40,000 steps, and ate out 10 times. More importantly, I'll see a snapshot of all my energy use over time--car, boat, shoes, calories, work, and sleep. No major company can get this specific about so many areas--yet. It will take a legion of start-ups and smart thinkers.
Most of this data will be culled from my social feed automatically. I'll be able to do a quick "lifescan" to see how I'm doing.
Yet, this is about more than finding a sitter and a better route to work. It will be a vast social connection where I can learn from the behavior of everyone (willingly shared). It will tell me to walk more, drive less, eat differently, socialize with coworkers after work, and get some rest. The value will be in guiding me to better health and work.
Of course, there's something distinctly dystopian about this future--once we know more and gain more knowledge, there is the possibility that someone else could steal this data. Or hold it hostage. But as with the advent of in-store tracking technology, it all depends on the benefits gained--not whether this future social network can sell more ads. Keeping all of this data secure, by the way, presents even more opportunities for start-ups. The smartest companies will recognize the trend, innovate, and reap the rewards.
So what are your plans? How will you help build the next social network? Is this future one that will help us or cause more alarm among privacy advocates?