While doing some research for a recent article on breakout social startups I was able to identify 7 unique trends happening in social media right now. All I can saw is, “wow,” because the social media landscape is changing so quickly. I believe this is because companies have started asking themselves what real life social situations people are facing day to day in order to find instances where current social media offerings fall short so they can build a product to address those opportunities. As saturated as the social media market seems to be at the moment, there is still a lot of room for meaningful expansion, as proven by the products listed below. It’s beginning to look as if finding the right social networking experience will be a bit like shopping for cereal on an aisle packed with crowded shelves and many options.
For the time being it seems as though connecting with people through technology will be a bit of a fragmented experience. There are increasingly more networking options which is nice on the one hand, but I wonder if people will get tired of issues like adding the same contacts to circles or groups for every new service they may want to join. Soon there will probably be an app that caters to every type of human interaction or social situation a person can think of and when that mine runs dry entrepreneurs will continue focusing on addressing the frustrations or limitations created by current offerings and so the cycle of social networking innovation will not be playing out any time soon. Whether or not the market will tolerate so many offerings is another story altogether.
Here’s a look at what’s happening right now along with a few examples (let me know if I missed anything good).
The “Here-Now” Network
The world’s first “here-now” social network was just announced by Sonar a few moments ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in NYC. Sonar, an app that already uncovered hidden connections a person may otherwise miss has added some new features that let a person connect with temporary groups of people. This means you can now share information with people around you that you may not want to make part of your permanent network. This could come in handy in a number of circumstances. For instance, if you were attending a concert and had some extra room on your blanket you could let those that find themselves blanketless nearby know and invite them over.
A number of new features makes the here-now network possible. The Sonar Status feature is like a tweet, but directed at only the people close by. This solves the “who wants to grab drinks/go for a run right now?” problem that no one has really effectively tackled. As a bonus, this status shows up in notifications when you come in proximity to your friends. Sonar Presence runs quietly in the background, letting you share what you’re up to or interested in with your friends nearby, without checking in or opening the app. Sonar Notifications will let you know any time someone you actually know and are connected to is nearby. As you can see there is a focus on real connections and friends because relevance is super important. Finally, the new messaging feature means you can now jump into a private chat when you see someone nearby on Sonar as opposed to just sending a tweet.
The current generation of social networks tend to be very focused on sharing what you have already done. By contrast, Forecast has a focus on the future. The whole idea revolves around your friends seeing what you are up to and joining in on the fun. Essentially, this is like Facebook’s timeline feature in reverse where you can create a forecast of what you’ll be doing today to share with your friends. Once you get where you are going, check-in with one touch to let people know to come join you. Essentially, you can use Forecast to replace the use of texting to plan a meetup with your buddies. So, Facebook looks backward and Forecast looks forward but I wonder what happens when you look to the side… is there anything in-between?
The location-based networking space is a bit more crowded, probably because it was an obvious next step. While useful, these apps tend to put a strain on battery life when running in the background.
Banjo is all about discovery and, like a few different apps, automatically notifies you when friends are nearby and allows you to see a map of your social friends all around the world by tapping into Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram and other services. Banjo can tell you not just what is being shared but from where. One Banjo user uses the app find “hidden” food stands at baseball games by browsing current comments and locations.
Highlight is an app that helps you learn about the people around you. It’s a great way to remember people’s names, discover mutual friends and things you may have in common with others nearby, learn about interesting people that cross your path and of course get notified when friends are nearby. Right now you can only login through Facebook.
Micro Social Networks
As social networking grows up, people have started realizing that not everything can/should be shared with everyone. While some social networks try to do it all, such as Facebook and Google+, for instance, a new crop of social networks are focusing on keeping things small and simple by focusing on a person’s closest relationships.
Path is probably the best known network in this category. Path is great at letting the technology melt into the background and helping interactions shine through front and center. It’s essentially a smart journal that goes with you everywhere and posts entries without any effort on your part. Path is all about privacy and sharing information with your most intimate relations, namely, family and close friends. Path has an intuitive interface and lets you connect with services like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter from directly within the app.
Pair is the most extreme example of this as it is a private social network for couples. Pair facilitates private texting as well as photo and video sharing. A main feature is the “thumbkiss” which happens when each person’s thumb touches the same place on the screen. Hmm. Another feature is the ability to send “thinking of you” nudges. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether those are good features or not.
So far I’ve covered social networks that cover your past and future but what about what’s happening right now? Touch is a cross-platform messaging platform that works on the usual suspects (iPhone, Android) as well as *gasp* Blackberry devices. What makes Touch standout is it’s focus on realtime interactions which means you’ll receive push notifications whenever something happens. With other social networks you tend you check in on events after the fact. Can you imagine getting an update every time something happened on Facebook? That would be way too much to process (and very annoying). For that reason, Touch focuses on a person’s close relationships.
LocalMind is a cool new service that allows you to send questions and receive answers about what is going on right now at places you care about. Lets say you want to know if there’s a wait at your favorite restaurant. Ask your question on LocalMind and it will ping a real person who’s actually there to get you an answer.
Making New Connections
Meeteor is a professional networking assistant that leverages your connections from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You tell it what you’re looking for and it’s algorithms will tell you who you should meet. It’s essentially a personal networking concierge. Meeteor takes privacy very seriously and can help you understand what should or shouldn’t be made public before making an introduction.
Pearescope is another application that is capitalizing on the fact that networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are mostly focused on past relationships (people you already know). Pearescope uses your current social connections to find and introduce you to new people. In this way you can privately network through mutual friends.
Ourspot describes itself as a beautiful way to remember and engage with the relationships that matter most. In other words, you can discover forgotten relationships that may be worth reviving. Ourspot lets you create (what else) virtual “spots” where you can stash memories, either digital or from real life. As life goes on you can look back and remember those times fondly. You can keep your spots private or make them public for others to see.