We’re in a fairly mature phase of social networks now.
Broadly speaking, most social networks separate out into a few main groups.
- Eyes – e.g. services like Flickr for pictures and YouTube for moving pictures.
- Ears – e.g. AudioBoo for voices and SoundCloud for songs.
- Feet – e.g. FourSquare for where I am now and RunKeeper for where I have been (running).
- Hands – e.g. Etsy and Github show what I am creating.
- Mind – e.g. Twitter and Facebook for what I’m feeling and thinking, and what I “like”.
- Brain – e.g. Coursera for what I’m learning now and LinkedIn for what I’m doing with that knowledge.
I’m sure you can think of many more examples and some rather different (and equally arbitrary) groupings.
So that set me thinking about what else we could share socially. Some of these ideas may already exist (and no doubt I’m not hip enough to know about them).
Touch and Texture
3D printing is already garnering a community around it – Thingiverse, Shapeways, physibles. But what about touch and feel? Companies like Senseg are already able to simulate textures on a touch-screen.
Sharing the feeling of rain falling on your skin, the way your hand drags across a crocodile’s scales, or the squeezability of a friendly cat.
Eventually, this leads us down the route of teledildonics – a technology of limited usefulness while it consists mainly of motor speed variations but perhaps of more popularity when we can share very refined haptics.
Smells and Tastes
Despite our best efforts, we haven’t found a simple way to encode, distribute, and produce olfactory sensations.
Imagine a site like Untappd – which tracks which beers you’re drinking – which allows your friends to experience the smell and taste of your beer.
I’ve watched with joy as my friends eat the food I’ve prepared – and laughed helplessly while they try to handle a spicy curry or super-sour sweet. I could use InterFlora to send you some roses – or I could create a personalised fragrance to emanate from your phone whenever I call you.
My friend Alex Blandford has written about tracking medical conditions with personal technology. Perhaps we don’t want our friends to know our body temperature, T-Cell count, or the level of dopamine in our brain – but it might be useful for our doctors. Or maybe social attitudes will change and sharing our body’s weight and brain’s happiness with the world will become de rigueur.
Sites like Fitocracy check our physical fitness and share it with the world – so why not track our mental health in the same way?
We may not always know how we feel, be able to identify the cause of our distress, or understand how to articulate it – a medical implant could silently monitor our brain chemistry and alert our friends if we needed help.
None of these are a paradigm shift – they are all datapoints which can easily be integrated into our existing social networks. Until we have the ability to directly create memories and sensations in the brain – we may be limited to vicarious enjoyment by proxy.
Many years ago, the next big term was “Social Objects“:
The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. […] There needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.
Our social objects are only conduits to what we really want to share. When you tell a joke, you want to make people laugh, when you tell a friend to see Les Mis you want them to cry, when you talk about your bowel movements you want them to know how you feel.
What if “checking in” to The Seven Year Itch allowed you to directly share the weird feeling in the pit of your stomach when Marilyn Monroe’s skirt is caught in the updraught from an air vent? What if sharing your car’s average fuel efficiency of Fuelly allowed your friends to experience the same smugness you do?
When we share, it’s not because we love a brand, or a film, or a mere thing – we share because we love our friends and we want to bring them joy and help them understand the journey we’re taking.
Maybe that’s what’s next for social networks.