Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tech Column: Our Social Networked World -- It's Not What You Think

by Bill Adler

The other day, as I posted a new photograph on the food social networking site, Foodspotting, and reported on my local weather on the weather social networking service, Weathermob, it dawned on me what the future of social networking is going to be. In fact I understood with crystal clarity where society is heading in general: A world divided into specific-interest social networks.

We identify ourselves as Americans or Italians, as graduates of the Rockville Middle School or Public School 201, as Catholics or Baptists. Those identifications are --how to put it?-- mostly something that we're born with or that was foisted on us. They're not ways of identifying ourselves that we choose
because we become interested in them later in life. I didn't choose to be a New Yorker, though that's what I was when growing up.

But I can and do feel like a foodie. I am interested in weather, with severe storms especially stimulating my fear and curiosity nerves at the same time. I can feed my interests by participating in their related, narrowly oriented social networks.

There are social networks for just about everything that you could become interested in or decide to be. There are social networks for pilots, train enthusiasts, knitters, geologists, watch collectors, Middle English scholars, constitutional lawyers. Scratch "just about" -- for everything.

Until recently, these specialized social networks have been confined to the universe known as the Internet, a rather large expanse, and one that required you to be sitting at your desk to enjoy. Before the Internet you had to actually go to something called a "convention" to hang out with people who shared your interests. Now it's not only easy, but fun, to participate in specialized social networks. Take Foodspotting. Here's the abridged version of how it works: You're having a wonderful meal out. You want to not only remember the evening, but you want to share the flavors with the world. You snap a picture of your meal, add a few words, and upload the information to Foodspotting. (The Foodspotting app already knows where you are.) Later on --please, not at the restaurant!-- you
can also look photos of other people's dinners out and add your comments.

How do Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Linkedin, and other general interest social networking spaces fit into this new world of balkanized social networks? Will Facebook remain the king of social networks, or will something else come along and dethrone Facebook? I don't think that's the question. The question is, will people have one, general interest, jack-of-all-trades social network the place
that they want to inhabit in cyberspace, or will people want to go where their hearts and minds are? Facebook may become the variety show of social networks in a world where what people really want is something that specializes in their actual likes.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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