The mobile revolution has enabled some supposed new forms of human behavior. The ability to leave a footprint of everywhere we go is one of these. As is our ability to geo-locate ourselves with a ‘check in’ and even share this information with whomever we chose.
A lot of people I talk to tell me it is weird and the mobile web going to far. Personally, I feel it is nothing new. It’s just a new iteration of existing human behavior which probably hasn’t changed in centuries. They also say it has massive implications on privacy and that new forms of communication are putting the private lives of all people into question. But there is a simple fact about privacy which straddles all communication – and that is this:
The idea of communication and privacy are naturally juxtaposed to each other.
This means that every iteration in our ability to communicate, takes an equal amount of privacy away. The reason we continue to chose connection over privacy is simple: Improved communications improves the living standards of our species.
Why is geo-locating not weird: Sure, we’ve had and used maps for centuries to guide us. But even the simple idea of a cave painting or a book is a form of geo-locating. It is telling a story of what we saw or what we found, or where we were. I’m sure this process of documenting our experience in these forms seemed weird when it first arrived. The only differences a geo-locating mobile device has is accuracy and immediacy.
How does communications improve the human plight: Knowing more, leads to all of us either having more, or access to more. Sharing, collaborating and specialization is a way to reduce scarcity and increase efficiency. We intuitively share data and lessons because we know subconsciously it is what puts as atop of the food chain. The challenge in the short term is coping psychologically with new methods which seem out of place.
We have a choice: Ultimately these ‘so called weird’ behaviours of sharing, collaborating and pinpointing our location and activities are chosen ones. We can choose not to do any of it. We can chose not to participate in the culture. But as mentioned in my previous post, this will chose to self exclude most often leads to reduced self opportunity and benefits.
Human tracking is a normal and historically relevant activity to improved civilization and living standards. While recent technology has given it a jolt in what is possible, my advice is simple: we are all better off when we embrace the evolution and share in the benefits.
Mark Zuckerberg has promoted the idea of the Social Graph for sometime. And it is true that Social Networking has changed the way we use the web. The only problem for me is that sometimes the people in my social life are there not by choice:
people I work with
Neighbours in my my street
People who drink coffee where I do
People I went to school with
Friends of friends
You get the picture. These people are in my life by geographic default. Whether or not we are interested in the same things is another question. In fact our values and interests may be entirely juxtaposed. This is starting to make me think much more about finding people who are interested in the same things as me. The social space is such a deluge of opinions and data, it is hard to sift through the noise to find what I care about. I am not necessarily interested in people just because they are in my close geographic space. It needs to be much more. We must share an an interest as well - we must intersect on the ‘Interests Graph‘, not just the social or geographic one.
In fact, my circle of acquaintances has never changed as quickly in my entire life as it has in the past 3 years. People are coming and going at a rapid pace. Sure, close friends and family are bonded by forces much deeper than digital technology, but we need another layer added to the social graph to make more meaningful connections.
It’s already happened on a business and career level already – coders, entrepreneurs, advertisers, bloggers, lawyers, artists, photographers etc all have connection potential in existing digital forums. But what about the marathon runners, surfers, cyclists, and basket weavers? (Insert personal passion here) They need to be able to find each other too.
I really feel like this is a massive opportunity space for startup entrepreneurs. Connecting interests, socially and geographically to using temporal mobile devices to create deeper meaning. The question for all of us, is how can we do it in the things we are involved in which don’t yet have a commercial context?
The web has changed a lot since the early 1990′s. if we think back to the dominant behaviour in 10 year blocks it tells us a clear story about how the web is being ‘organised around the people’. Which means that the people are certainly not organising themselves around the technology. It sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering as we embark on any business project.
the 1990′s – the web was all about browsing. Finding places to go. Websites – the WWW era.
the 2000′s – the web was all about search. The Google god, SEO and ensuring we had page 1.
the 2010′s – the web (so far) is becoming more human. Social interaction & guidance. It is segmenting, grouping & geolocating.
And we can see this in the evidence we find in how the web is being trafficked. According Hitwise web traffic to portals is down -21%, traffic for web search is flat and traffic to social forums is 52% up. Just like life, people don’t want to leave their stream if they can help it. We’d rather stay with the ‘life juice’ that our human relationships provide. Another simple example is what is happening to brands in social forums. Most brands have 10 times the the Facebook fans than they have in monthly visits to the home portal. The best example is Coke, which currently has 33.8 million fans versus 270k visits to its home page per month.
I guess one thing has never changed in business, and that is the best place to take our brand, is where the people already are.
I was really impressed by how some of the smarter Skiing resort operators are using GEO-locating to enable a deep interaction with their customers. What some of the resorts have done is used their new electronic ski lift tagging systems as a social engagement tool. Skiers can register on-line via the resorts facebook page so they can compare how many kilometers, ski runs, hours they do on the mountain for the day, week season and compete amongst friends. It’s even got a nice gaming element to it. It’s a nice iteration taking ideas from the likes of run keeper. You can read more here about what ski resorts are doing to tech-up.
The thing that is clear to me is that there is a human movement, movement. It’s so much more than companies being able to track what people are doing, it’s actually about companies creating forums where we can actually track ourselves. So we can know more about ourselves and change the way we move and interact with others and personally. It takes away the privacy concerns, and moves us into a space where we co-opt information sharing for mutual benefit.
The question entreprneurs and marketers should be thinking about is, how can we help our people track their movement to get more out of when they move. It’s only just the start.
Our lives are increasingly being influenced by what I like to call ‘Screen Culture’. Which I posted a piece on here. I thought it would be worth showing the idea in action – hence the video I made below. Many of the statistics to support the concept were garnered through ‘Eye on Australia‘ which is an annual Grey Advertising study on consumer sentiment. The video explores the impact screens are having on our lives in the geographically specific & connected world. Enjoy!
Geo locating is getting big. Real big. Let’s take Four Square as an example; last year over 6 million people checked into over 380 million retail locations. Something is really happening here, yet the doubters are strong with their voices of incredulousness. They can’t understand why anyone cares where they are, or why they’d want to share such personal information publicly, or with their on-line friends. Rather than argue, I thought it was worth posing some of the human reasons why geolocating might be so appealing, an anthropological journey if you like.
The web wants to replicate life – Because it is a form of life. It loves to get physical, real and human… because it’s made by humans for humans.
The 3 ‘human’ reasons why geo-locating will only get bigger are:
1. Who’s here?
People want to see who else is where they are. Are their friends here to? it’s a great way for us to cross the virtual chasm into a physical reality.
2. My life is cool – I’m cool.
See how cool I am being at this particular place. it’s so cool you don’t even know where it is, and here I am…. proven via my smart phone GPS. I’m so cool, I’m teaching you the cool places to be. And I’m showing you how mobile I am and all the cool places to go to – like SXSW.
3. Reward me.
Heck, If I’m going to get a takeaway coffee everyday, I might as well go to the place that gives their Four Square mayor a free espresso on Friday or rewards you after X check ins. You want me to be loyal? You better reward me.
I feel like we are only just starting to see the potential of geo-locating in terms of startup and marketing. It really does feel like the missing link between the virtual and the physical. And for those who are concerned about privacy, like all technology, our choice is a simple one:
Embrace it, or miss out on the benefits.