Sure, you’ve heard about Facebook and its gazillion users. Maybe you’ve even figured out what Twitter is all about, or experienced the virtual power of receiving online birthday wishes from 45 of your “closest” friends. But what about all the new social networking sites rapidly being adopted by the under-30 crowd?
From location-based applications such as Foursquare, where users check-in to their locations, to sites such as GetGlue that combine social media with watching entertainment, there are a wealth of new applications that are tracking where people are going and what they are doing. According to social media experts, whether you like it or not, pretty soon, everybody is going to be logging on and allowing the collective cyber network, also known as “the cloud,” to lend a hand. While using these new social media sites exposes our location, buying patterns and network of friends to companies who want to sell us stuff, there are many reasons people still want to get in on it. Here are just a few.
“One useful way to think of Foursquare is as a social network based on proximity,” explains Silicon Valley tech writer Mike Elgan. “You have family, friends, co-workers and so on connected to you through your smartphone—plus the ability of your phone to know where you are—enabling a new category of ‘nearby.’” When “nearby” overlaps with your social network, you can be notified, as in “your former co-worker Steve is also at this seminar—would you like to text Steve?”
Location-based applications such as Foursquare are downloaded onto your smartphone. Users then “check in” to their locations using the app. The practical applications are enormous. Consider the industry conference, suggests Elgan. “One reason people attend conferences is to network with fellow attendees,” he says. “Location-based social networks facilitate this by enabling ad-hoc message areas in which anyone nearby can participate. Attendees, as well as speakers, can post observations, ideas and offers, creating a real-time stream of posts. During downtimes, while checking the stream,
you might notice projects, job offers, products or other information of particular interest, and you can connect with those people while you’re both at the conference.”
“Ultimately location-based social networks will function as intelligent agents that alert you to things,” says Elgan. “Because you’ve checked in to so many locations, an intelligent agent may know your hobbies, preferences and past history, and notify you of sales, discounts, coupons and the nearby availability of rare products and services. For example, if you’re meeting with someone for lunch,” he says, “the intelligent agent will be able to suggest a restaurant that both diners prefer, that is highly rated by other users and that has a commercial relationship with the software maker, who may also offer discounts or deals. When you go to schedule a lunch meeting, your intelligent agent might say: ‘I recommend Indian Oven, as Kevin also likes Indian food, and the restaurant is rated four stars. Show this message for a free basket of naan.’”
Mike Elgan, Silicon Valley tech writer
These types of discounts are already being given on Foursquare, explains Carmine Gallo, whose book, The Power of Foursquare, teaches businesses how to market using Foursquare. Foursquare is popular with users because it’s like playing a game, says Gallo. “For instance, there’s this restaurant in Baltimore called Miss Shirley’s, but it always has a two-hour line for breakfast on weekends.” If you’re the person who checks in on Foursquare most frequently at Miss Shirley’s, you get to cut to the front of the line and bring three friends. “So there’s this fierce competition,” he says, “and it’s cultivating even more business for the restaurant.”
Intelligent agents are already at work at home-based websites such as GetGlue, a service that creates a social network of users watching the same content. Users of GetGlue log in and are rewarded for updating others as to what they are viewing on TV.
“This will become especially powerful for ‘event’ TV, such as the Oscars,” says Elgan, “but also for regular TV shows and other forms of entertainment. Rather than TV advertisements today that guess at the interest of the viewers, an intelligent social network like this will actually know precisely what viewers enjoy.”
One more type of website is cropping up where users access their network of friends to hear recommendations about products to purchase. Websites such as Keepio.com or ijustbought.com allow users to post their possessions online or recommend things they have just purchased. “The truth is that brands can often form part of a personal online identity and sense of self-expression,” says Elgan. “Social networks will try to facilitate this kind of communication.”
Elgan says that in the future, “People will be able to take photos of themselves, for example, and tag the products in the picture: the glasses, the hat, the shoes, the car—whatever—so that friends can then click on those tags to get more information about the products, and even buy their own.”
Ironically, although you’re connecting to potentially thousands of other people online, the future of social networking is all about you. “What everyone needs to understand is that all these social tools lead to intelligent agents, which is the future of all computing,” says Elgan. “Companies want to leverage social activity to gather very specific and rich information on user preferences to enable marketing that is super compelling. Eventually, social tools will know more about what you’d like to do, what you need to buy, or where you want to go than you do.”
While that may sound like a nightmare to some, others view this social media evolution as the impossible dream come true. If you can get on board with putting that much information about yourself out there, these types of sites offer an astonishing array of services and capabilities, not to mention a new way of life.
Jenny Jedeikin lives in Northern California and her writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Rolling Stone and In Style, among other publications.
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