Physical Presence + Mobile + Social Networking = Killer Social Networking App?

March 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Mobile and pervasive computing, presence, social software, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Some clever students at the University of Maine created a prototype of a “friend finder” that works as follows according to Gadgets.Softpedia:

The students’ concept, which they call the Friend Finder, is a device attached to a piece of clothing or accessory, such as a purse or handbag. A series of LED lights in the fabric are programmed to light up when someone who also has the device comes within 30 feet, but only if the two people match in pre-programmed personal characteristics, likes and dislikes.

These type of wearable electronics must be somewhat common as this story was also covered in talk2myshirt, a website specifically about wearable electronics.

The Wall St. Journal (3/6/09, p W11, “The Ghost in the Love Machine“) picked this up as a computer dating story, but I see this as a serious idea for business-related social networking.  How many wallflowers do you see standing around the bistro tables during social breaks and buffet dinners at conferences?  Well, picture the following scenarios:

  • You’re at your annual epidemiology conference, of which only a small handful of attendees match your specialty of pediatric epidemiology.  Your Bluetooth device dings a few times to let you know the name badge to look for of someone else within 10 meters of you who pre-regestered with the same specialty and checked that they are available for conversation
  • You’re at the annual internal conference for financial staff at your large conglomerate and your Bluetooth device lets you know someone very close to you at the cocktail party is an expert in EU stock options regulation, which is one of the topics you pre-registered as wanting to connect with someone about.
  • There are a bunch of people that you’d like to connect up with at a conference (some are old team mates, others are vendors you wanted to connect with informally) and your eyes are getting tired walking around the crowded tradeshow floor and scanning for people you know.  Then you remember you pre-registered a list of people who you’d like to be alerted if they are nearby and see your iPhone has already pointed out two of them a short distance nearby.

So what I’ve described is combining concepts from rich presence (adding a physical dimension and availability flagging), mobile technology (some RFID or Bluetooth-type micro-broadcasting technology), and social networking (profiles on what you know and what kind of people you’d like to converse with). 

This is similar to functionality on conference sites to help you connect ahead of time with others and form communities of interest, but adds ups the ante on serendipity – that all-important buzzword for the value of chance meetings that are too often stifled by org charts, distance, and general closed-mindedness. It’s similar to sites that let you find people to connect up with when visiting a city or museum, but more “wearable”.  I’m hoping this already exists somewhere, because I think the immediacy of it could make it a killer app for social networking.

Addendum: My teammate Mike Gotta pointed out a company called nTag that lists this type of functionality among their features:

Get attendees talking with nTAG’s Greetings features. Using profile information provided at the time of registration, nTAG lets attendees know what they have in common so it’s easier to start conversations.

1 Comment »

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  1. Like the idea of LEDs lighting up when a match is detected. Kind of like watching a guy’s pants bulge when a hot girl walks towards him.

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