Whitespace: Social networking on the go

Issue 37: May 2008

You're at a conference. You walk into a room for meet and greet drinks and can't see any familiar faces. So you turn to your BlackBerry or iPhone, log onto Facebook and bring up a list of people in the room.

After a quick browse you discover a CEO you're keen to meet is standing two metres away. You read his profile, familiarise yourself with his image, walk over and start a conversation.

Say hello to the new face of social networking.

Just when you thought Facebook couldn't be any more ubiquitous comes the forecast that social networking sites will soon converge with global positioning systems (GPS) in a trend that's destined to have a major impact on how we communicate both personally and professionally.

Facing up to mobile internet

In just a few years social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and an array of others have made their presence felt across the globe by providing an easy way to self-publish information and communicate with contacts.

At first these sites were limited to desktop or notebook computers, however the growing popularity of internet enabled iPhones, BlackBerrys and other PDAs has changed all that. Now social networking can go wherever you go.

And if the trend spotters are correct mobile social networking sites will soon allow others to know your whereabouts (if you so agree) via GPS or Bluetooth technology. The latter platform is already being used by German social networking site aka-aki, a popular service that enables members to swap information and view each other's profiles when within a 20-metre range.

Not surprisingly, marketers are showing plenty of interest in the development. Interactive outdoor media capable of reading a person's profile (presumably only when set to public) and sending out personalised messages as they walk or drive past are already on the drawing board.

DIY social networking

In a parallel trend, do-it-yourself social networking sites are also being touted as the way of the future with software developers creating technology that allows companies to establish and maintain their own Facebook-like networks.

However, early consumer-focused experiments indicate DIY social networking isn't for every brand. Nike, for example, has had little success with its Jogasite with commentators suggesting niche social networking may only be suitable for interests that people are genuinely passionate about (think non-profit).

A more advantageous approach may be the use of social networking applications within organisations. Large, multi-site or recently merged organisations stand to benefit from the use of profile pages that display the faces, roles and responsibilities of employees; a recent example is the launch of pharmaceuticals company Pfizer's social networking presence, which has been cleverly dubbed Pfacebook.

The end of privacy?

There can be little doubt that concerns about privacy represent the biggest hurdle to the future growth of social networking. However, it should be noted that we are entering a time when individuals, most especially Gen Y's, are increasingly willing to trade privacy for access to knowledge.

But is ubiquitous social networking capable of attracting other demographics? Consider this… if it can instantly enable you to recall an important contact's name, help you avoid an annoying former colleague or add value to your social life, you might soon be left wondering what you did without it.

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The Australian Institute of Management's Whitespace discusses emerging business trends, and represents a 'space to think of the future'. Register now to have this monthly feature emailed to you.