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October 12, 2008

The Future of Social Media Is Mobile, Unified and Transparent

This morning, I had the pleasure of taking part in a podcast with Wayne Sutton and Kipp Bodnarf for their Talk Social News program. During the conversation, we discussed how to find time to participate in multiple social networks, how today's technology luddites might some day consume information, using RSS, and what the recent economic turbulence means for today's startups and tomorrow's entrepreneurs. One of the questions I've been mulling in my head is the future, and what glimpses we have today, in regards to what tomorrow's social media tools will have, barring the true development of anything dramatic, like teleportation, or bending of the time/space continuum.

Mobile

In my opinion, the advent and adoption of mini-computers masquerading as cell phones is the first big step, and one we are seeing in a big way with the market share growth of the iPhone, the newest Blackberry models, and the potential of Google's Android platform.

Just yesterday, my wife and I brought our twins to her mother's house, and I was able to show my 80-year-old mother in law how, with my phone, I could take a photo, and e-mail it to her, wirelessly. I showed her how I could access all my e-mail accounts, how I could watch baseball playoff highlights in high quality, or access all my bookmarks, so when they were added to my laptop, they would reach the phone as well. And when I told her the iPhone started at $300, she was surprised it was so low.

As iPhones and other "true Web" capable mobile devices become a bigger part of how we consume and interact with the Web, so too will they become a greater part of how we consume and interact with social media specifically. Your social network then becomes less some thing that you interact with just when in front of a desktop or your laptop, but from anywhere, helping to bridge the gap between "following friends" and "real life friends". Consequentially, the mobile interface to sites like Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Social Median, Strands and others will be just as important as the standard Web GUI.

Unified

I also believe you will really start to see a tying together of friends and profiles across the different networks. Many different sites now have ways for you to import your contacts from your many different address books and e-mail accounts, and others integrate with Facebook, so when your friends on that service sign up, you're automatically connected. But it's not as seamless as it could be, and adding the same friends over and over again can get tiresome when new services arrive - not to mention copying and pasting your personal profile and attributes repeatedly.

What should happen, and will in due time, I believe, is that groups like OpenSocial or others, will find a solution by which you gain a friends repository, identifiable by your single user name, which checks against the database and auto-populates your friend base, assuming they have given permission. Similarly, when joining a new network, I should be able to point that network to a central profile I have built, which has all my activity, from Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader and the rest, and would pull my data down from those services, rather than making me add them each one by one.

Transparent

I also believe that with growth of professional services like LinkedIn and Plaxo, and increased awareness of tools to derive a person's background, there will be greater transparency and easier discovery of a person's background. I should quickly and easily know a person's professional profile, and their external online activity, which would take the guesswork out of some initial relationships. While some might say this would be too much a breach of privacy, and that anonymity is a much-treasured aspect of the Web, the Generation Y Millennials have no such expectations, and are all too willing to put their data out there. Tomorrow's tools will capitalize on this and further blur your online persona with that you use at the office or at home.

I don't want to pontificate on smaller technology aspects, such as increased video usage, location awareness, or even real-time language translations, although each will be playing a part in these future services. Those are for the experts in their respective field. But we can see these aspects evolving. The world of social media is going to be unified, transparent and mobile (or location independent). Those that can best capitalize on the unification of data, and avoid the traditional walled garden approach will be the winners.