What is the Future of Social Networks?

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Who says only prophets and fair-ground psychics are able to predict the future? Understanding the future is beneficial to most industries in order to cope with technological and societal change. We take a look at what the future landscape of social networking might look like.

Future forecasting

“Futures Studies, Foresight, or Futurology is the science, art and practice of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. Futures studies (colloquially called “Futures” by many of the field’s practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends.”
Wikipedia entry

Herman Kahn of the RAND Corporation, used scenarios to predict how a nuclear war could be “won”, while the Ministry of Defence’s nightmarish vision of the next 30 years includes: “information chips implanted in the brain”, “electromagnetic pulse weapons” and Flashmobs “rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups”.

British Telecom’s futurology department also research the future to enable businesses and organisations to “…design technology and products with future customers in mind, with a vision of the kind of environment they will be living in”. (Personally, I can’t wait for the “global machine dictator”).

Using some of the techniques listed on this Wikipedia entry, you could conduct your own research and develop your own scenarios to try and envisage how you would handle any potential situations that may arise in the future. As the following quote by the MoD explains, these techniques can help you rehearse various possibilities so that you can better respond to them if they happen

“The benefit of strategic futures work is not that it predicts the future, which is unpredictable, or enables organizations to control it. It is about rehearsing possibilities, so one is better able to respond if they happen”

MoD future

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Attempting to examine how the political, economic, technological and cultural landscape will affect social networks is far beyond the computational power of my own brain, but, it does provide a great excuse to highlight sites, tools and research that we haven’t covered before and find out from our readers what you think is the future of social networks.

We’ve compiled a number of articles that give an indication of what impact social networks might have in the future. More importantly, we want to know what your own opinions are on the subject.

Pervasive

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.
– Mark Weiser


“Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned”
– Marshall McLuhan

Will ubiquitous computing lead to social networks becoming pervasive? Charlene Li at Forrester Research thinks that in the future social networks, “…will be like air. They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be”. Steve Rubel agrees and says, “In short, the next big community is not a single destination. Rather, it is going to be everywhere.”

If communities are going to be everywhere, then there are already examples of companies that have built communities rather than single website destinations. Alternate Reality Game designers like, 42 Entertainment and GMD Studios have successfully built communities around ideas rather than single destinations.

When social networks become pervasive then it could change how we interact with our friends and contacts locally. As Clay Shirky points out, “We’ve replaced planning with co-ordination”. If we can see when our friends are nearby then we no longer have to make plans to meet up with them, but our encounters will be based on using the technology and the enviroment to co-ordinate our activites.

Collective Memories

Is the flow of time something real, or might our sense of time passing be just an illusion that hides the fact that what is real is only a vast collection of moments?
—Lee Smolin

Seth Godin’s recent blog post talks about what he terms as “the clowd”. Projects like wefeelfine and twistori already tell us what crowds are feeling. Photosynth takes collections of photographs of a particular area and can reconstruct them into a three-dimensional model. Watch this amazing video to see how Photosynth might help to create a collective memory.

Mapping and City Planning

Pervasive social networks and tracking devices, such as RFID, could lead to a better understanding of how people navigate through their environment. A recent project used mobile phones to track how people move through cities. With more data it might be possible to use this information for city planning and transport infrastructure.

There are already tools, such as, semacode, yellow arrow and socialight, which enable us to remap places by overlay information onto existing environments. Sound artist, Janet Cardiff used audio to overlay a fictional narrative onto East London streets. Now projects like biomapping attempt to map out an individuals “physiological arousal” at a particular geographic location. The information is then collated to indicate how crowds feel at various locations.

Could the social networks of the future be used to help further our own understanding of our environment?

Privacy

“An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. ”
-George Orwell

You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.
-Predator 2

There have been hundreds of stories where people have been fired for what is on their MySpace and Facebook profile. With “DNA” social networks like, 23andme and genebase, privacy concerns are likely to increase. Can you really trust any company with personal and sensitive data?

How much of yourself do you really show in public? Everybody has moments they would rather forget, but if personal pictures and profile pages are used as excuses by employers not to hire someone then will social networks turn into a digital panopticon? There are also privacy concerns about RFID chips and similar technology.

Over to you. How do you think social networks will evolve in the future? What issues will arise from social networks? Leave your comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about the future of technology and how it might impact society, then check out Ray Kurzweil’s books, The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Age of Spiritual Machines and Bob Cotton’s, Futurecasting Digital Media. Another great book to read if you get the chance is Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan.

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2 Readers have left their thoughts

  1. YOu have taken interesting topic, thanks for information, but do you think it will be usefull in nearly future?