The future of social networks #5

The future of social networks #5

Andrew Curry and Andy Stubbings write: The Shell Oil futures guru Pierre Wack described his work as being about “the gentle art of reperceiving”, and the type of work that Alex Steer has laid out in his four blog posts this week on the future of social networks is about changing perceptions by improving anticiption. We can’t know the future, but we can improve our understanding of the present and our ability to respond to change. Better anticipation, in short, increases both the depth and the breadth of vision.

So what do the six social media Pivot Points (here and here), and the tensions they represent for users, tell us about the future of social networks?

The Future of Facebook

Looking first at Facebook, it says that the model at the heart of Facebook (One for All-Big Net-TurnOn-Open Hand) may not persist. Alternative futures, for example, include a version in which ‘One for Each’ emerges as more valuable and its Connect system becomes its biggest asset, the ‘invisible social layer’ which connects other web and mobile properties, a valuable utility, without maintaining a huge public presence itself. A less promising future sees Facebook losing out as users start to value privacy and specificity more online (Tight Knit-Closed Fist-One for Each), and drift away, leaving the social network as a legacy “first generation” social network. Somewhere in between these is a future in which Facebook is less of a warehouse, and more a series of rooms, in which the tensions between One for All and One for Each are more finely balanced. In this model, it becomes a series of smaller tighter circles, but with ease of movement between them. But of course, this is also the space into which Google+ has pushed itself into with its ‘Circles” model.

Innovation spaces

Interrogating the Pivot Points, combining them in ways which stretch thinking, also starts to throw up some interesting innovation spaces.  To pick up a few here:

  • Big Net‘ and ‘Closed Fist‘  don’t appear, on the face of it, to be good fellow travellers. One is ubiquitous, the other about strong privacy concerns. But this is a potential future in which value accrues to the institutions which can guarantee security of digital identification; it may be a ‘citizens.net’, which gives access to public services which also confirming one’s online identity to third parties who are concerned about anonymous behaviour online. And it might also be the gateway through which we manage our personal ‘official’ data, or volunteer, or alert public services to repairs or improvement.
  • Play‘ and ‘Turn On‘ obviously describes the world of immersive online multi-player games, but what if we add ‘Challenge‘ to that instead of ‘Confirm”? It becomes the safe space of the Fool or the Jokester, the place where one can challenge current assumptions without spurring revolution or retribution. Think of it as the ‘Carnival Incubator’, a space where communities of interest can engage with diversity or difference to innovate.
  • And working through these in a short internal session at The Futures Company, we also saw an emerging world of ‘Hive Mind’, in which shared tags created created new associations between things and people, in which Delicious met location. Imagine a travel guide that reassembles itself in a thousand different ways, and has a hundred curators.

One strong possibility emerges from this overview: that marketers may look back at this early development stage of the social network with nostalgia, even amazement. It is not at all clear that the current dominant model, which emphasises mass engagement and openness, will persist at its current scale. In most of the futures which emerge from our thinking about the pivot points, marketers have to work harder, and smarter, to reach people who are more resistant to marketing.

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