Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Social media's future? Why the prophets have got it all wrong

Social networking may take a different path…
Social media trends: Changes in social media will mean online contacts could become friends in the flesh at the touch of a button

Changes in social media could turn online contacts into friends in the flesh at the touch of a buttonPhoto: Shutterstock

Written in my office on a mild January day after a short fishing trip and sent to silicon.com via wi-fi the same day.

Here we are. It's early in 2012 and the tech prophets are hard at it, making their predictions for the coming year. Among their "more of the same, but faster, smaller, and cheaper" prognostications, it's their forecasts for social networking that have particularly caught my eye.

There seem to be two schools of thought. Either social media will all lose that vitality and sizzle, become mainstream, and cool down - or it will heat up and continue to accelerate at an increasing rate.

My guess is it will do neither. It's more likely that social networking will mutate into something new that encompasses the real and virtual worlds by exploiting mobile devices and location-based information.

Friends online will then have the opportunity to become friends in the flesh at the touch of a button and a short walk to a coffee shop.

Imagine. A contact on Facebook or Twitter et al chooses to reveal that he or she is just 450 metres from you. You may never have met before, but could you resist the temptation, and the prospect of a face-to-face meeting and where that might lead?

Human chemistry says the combination of the virtual and the real will be a winner. So, media, politicians, do-gooders, worriers, observers and commentators, it's time for you to put your thinking caps on. It will be a miracle if you can work out and anticipate the good and the bad of this new coalescence, because we're really looking at novel emergent behaviours here.

My forecast is that the good side will be far greater and more powerful than the dark side, with the positive opportunities far outweighing the negative risks. But some pundits will ignore the good and focus entirely on the bad, amid calls for controls and regulation.

What's certain is that whatever the outcome it will eclipse social networking and location-based services alone.

And it doesn't stop there. A slew of new apps will appear that allow 'friends' to share more and more information as they get physically closer together. Of course, this process will involve friends of friends who may also be in the vicinity.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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