Geosocial Networking – What’s In It for the User?

When, where and how much to share are big issues when it comes to social media, especially now that geolocation and search have gone social. But the panelists at a Social Media Week event on Tuesday night agreed that the rewards of connecting online far outweigh the potential for sharing too much information.

“We communicate with ten times as many people as our parents did,” said Brett Martin, founder and CEO of the mobile app company Sonar, and the number of loose connections people are able to maintain over great distances and long periods of time have increased the need for relevance in social search.

People can already find their friends in the real world with check-in sites like Foursquare, but in the future geosocial technology will connect people who might not know each other well by proximity, interests, and expertise. Information pulled from Twitter feeds and other publicly available data will be used to assess why two people who are standing in line at the same check-out stand might want to turn around and say hello. “We’re not connecting strangers,” said Martin. “Building relevance is part of reducing that creepy factor.”

In its brief history, social networking has led to some remarkable connections, like the hundreds of sperm donor babies who have found their half siblings through the Donor Sibling Registry and other networking sites. In this case, a geosocial tool might come in handy for people who worry they might be related to someone they’re interested in dating.

In less extreme cases, geosocial dating could be a mixed bag. TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid, who moderated the panel, said that although he was currently looking for love on OKCupid, he preferred screening his potential dates online to meeting them serendipitously in the real world. But proximity is an important part of casual dating, and sometimes it’s helpful to know which dates are a couple blocks away rather than all the way across town.

Geosocial searches also have more practical uses. Martin described a scenario where someone’s car has broken down and, through the miracle of technology, was able to locate a friend nearby who could fix it for free.

This is also where the fun factor breaks down.  The friend in the aforementioned scenario might not have time to jump start the car. Once someone has been established as an expert in something like medicine or car repair, they might be hounded by others for help at inconvenient times. And while it could be fun to run into a friend at a rock concert, no one wants to know what they have in common with other people in the waiting room at the free clinic. On the contrary, said Martin, “People are self-policing about that.” They likely won’t harass each other online “for the same reason people don’t harass you in bars.”

Online networking is fraught with lapses in judgment, but in person, social data can help with lapses in memory. For example, it’s normal to wear a name tag to a networking event, but not to a barbecue or a pool party.  Being able to scan for an acquaintance’s name before you have to ask for a reminder could nip an awkward moment in the bud.

And now that social media has such varied and interesting business models, there are ways for people to benefit even when companies inevitably sell out their data to marketers. In Las Vegas, for example, some hotels will upgrade your room based on your Klout score, which usually only happens when you start winning at poker.

Stephan Weitz, the senior director of search at Microsoft, described how wonderfully democratic the Internet can be for people from all walks of life, like the janitor for the LAUSD public schools who happens to have one of the most influential followings on consumer electronics. “As online comes offline,” he said, “you’re going to see a lot more of that democratization.”

Image by Peshkova via Shutterstock.

 

 

 

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