Saturday, February 18, 2012

Next Wave of Social Media - Will They be more Privacy Friendly?

Facebook is the biggest marketplace in the world where people gather, chat, share their personal data, play games and where advertisers have access to close to a billion people on the earth. Whatever may have been  the original intent or business plan, Facebook sure has become a dream-come-true for marketers, merchandisers and whoever else needs instant reach to a huge volume of consumers and their tastes, preferences and habits. It’s not a surprise that the impending public launch of this social networking platform is promising to be the biggest IPO ever – bigger than even the giants like Google, Apple and Amazon. It’s all about the lure of the biggest marketplace…..

So everybody wins. To the grandma keeping in touch with her far-flung grand-kids or to the boomer who just linked up with his or her high-school friends, to the high-school teen sharing the latest vacation pictures, Facebook is priceless; to the marketers it is a gold mine, and to the company shareholders, the $100Bn valuation may only be the beginning.

The insane money-making potential aside, will Facebook be able to extend its innovation to something bigger or should we be looking elsewhere for the next wave in Social media?

With our pervasive GPS tools, we all are increasingly fascinated by the location-based connections – not just with people but with places we visit and with things we do, We want to know where our friends are, if any of them is in the neighborhood and what's around us (without having to mess with any unwieldy paper maps). We want to geo-tag everything, geo-fence some of our connections and play geo-caching games… (I suggest Wikipedia if these were not in your current vocabulary!) There are even GPS dating apps – for your romantic networking, e.g., SmartDating app whose ‘People near me’ feature pulls up all the users (potential dates?) that are in your area! If SoLoMo (Social-Local-Mobile) is the new paradigm, will Facebook be still the reigning king or will it be up to the Twitters, Foursquares, Instagrams of the world to claim the next stake?

Whatever is the next wave, one thing is sure, social media will always need and thrive on our personal data. And that always brings up the dark side of our dependence and exuberance with social media. Should we be concerned with the recent disclosures that Twitter and other social networking companies are reaching into people's smartphones and retrieving their personal contact information without getting explicit permission? Twitter acknowledged that its "Find Friends" feature on smartphones (Android and iPhone) was merrily sending phone number and emails found in the address book to its back-office without clearly alerting the consumer.

Stories like this have a familiar ring … Every now and then a report of privacy breach leaks out, the company concerned apologizes, calls it a mistake and everybody moves on until the next story leaks out. Google, Apple, Facebook – all have been there. It all goes back to the premise that, benefits aside, all social media apps and platforms are a gold mine for marketers – where there are too many consumers ready to be tracked and lured.

Social media apps have brought people together, added many conveniences in our daily life and made the world a better place in many senses and I look forward to seeing continued innovation. We all however need to be aware of that its commercial value lies in reaching out to its captive base of the users and in knowing their tastes, preferences and whereabouts. May be, someday we all will ride out the hype-cycle of social media, or be just fatigued by our own over-exposure, find the sweet-spot of moderation and re-learn the pleasure self-reflection in our privacy.

Until then, Happy Tweeting. Look forward to you next Face-book update