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This article was published on September 19, 2010

5 trends that will shape the next few years of social media

5 trends that will shape the next few years of social media

The past few years have seen some spectacular changes in the technology that embeds itself in our daily lives. The perfect storm of social media, smart phones and location awareness is only beginning to take full effect. We’ve gazed into crystal ball and considered how we think these technologies will combine to become such an established fabric of our lives that in the next few years what we’ve written here won’t be considered amazing at all.

Identity will become embedded in your devices

Your social media identities (Twitter username, Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, Digg profile, etc.) will be entered as part of setting up your devices and propagated into all applications. Apps will then be able to access social network functionality through APIs and be able to use embedded identity without need for entering credentials.

You’ll no longer have to enter your Twitter or Facebook credentials to access Twitter and Facebook functionality on mobile phone apps, they will seamlessly access your profile in the same way that a “mailto:” link opens an already configured email client on your desktop. The recently rumoured Facebook phone is an example how this approach could be applied.

The sign of success for a major social media platform will become whether device manufacturers and browsers include its identity as part of their configuration settings.

Online sharing will become embedded into your media life

As soon as social identity is embedded into our day-to-day devices, social sharing will become an integral part of the way we enjoy media on our regular tv’s, dvd players and music players.

Media servers and the like will fade into history as our living room tv’s, PVRs and hi-fis will be internet enabled and allow us to share likes, links and personal commentary. Remote controls will include “like” buttons which autopost to your Facebook page. Music players will sync preferences to Facebook and / or Ping.

Location will become embedded into all activities

It all began with Flickr showing photos on a map view using EXIF data. Over time, geo-tagging photos grew in popularity and some digital cameras now include positioning chips to embed geo-tags in all photos.

In the online world, Foursquare and Gowalla have slowly carved out a market for the location check-in market and the recent launch of Facebook Places brings this to a mainstream audience. Twitter has allowed location meta-data for some time and introduced it into the client in March.

The “holy grail” for location aware functions will be pre-emptive use of location to alert the user to things or people nearby that may be of interest. Users won’t have to check-in to a place to see if their friends are nearby, their device will just alert them. The potential commercial tie-ins are obvious – vouchers and discounts in Foursquare are really just the tip of the ice-berg.

Smart devices and web apps will automatically check-in and post updates

One thing that frustrates me about Gowalla is that I need to open it up and check-in every time I’m somewhere of interest. I would like to pre-approve some places – my favourite restaurant, my local cinema, my local pub, etc. – and have the app automagically check-in on my behalf.

Interestingly, the much derided Facebook Beacon was perhaps the first mainstream application of this type of functionality. Facebook got the privacy and permissions model all wrong and probably delayed further development of the idea by some years. I don’t want everything I buy on Amazon advertised to my friends as a matter of course, but I might be happy with an option – available for each order – that enables this, especially if my Twitter identity is already embedded into my browser.

The coming onslaught of identity aware devices, empowered by embeddable RFID tags, will allow this type of technology to spread much wider than just your mobile phone. Smart handbags, for example, could enable auto-checkins and send coupons to your phone as you enter your favourite store.

A few examples of ideas in this space: Facebook Beacon, Blippy (credit card transactions), RunKeeper (exercise information).

Social networking will revolutionise the way large organisations collaborate

Earlier this week a client said to me “If we knew what it is that we knew, we could make this company double as productive.” Large organisations have always struggled to share knowledge across multiple teams, divisions and geographies.

Social media inspired design patterns applied to existing enterprise software and/or intranets opens up opportunities for collaboration on an unprecedented scale. Employees in large organisations will finally be able to find colleagues with knowledge or experience they could benefit from. Collaboration will no longer mean simply sharing documents and version control, but the ability to find colleagues by shared interest and collaborate seamlessly in a multi-channel environment.

At the moment, current examples include disruptive innovators like SocialText, Yammer, Podio and SocialWok. In time, the established intranet software vendors will begin to include social functionality as part and parcel of their offering. It also seems likely that vendors of HR software, which already contains much profile related data, will be looking to expand into this space.

Bringing it all together

It’s about ongoing convergence (tvs becoming social media devices, corporate intranets becoming private social networks etc.) enabled by embedded identity and enhanced by location awareness.

The meta trends – convergence pushing towards ubiquity of a given set of technology – has been the natural order of events for years. Applied to the current crop of cutting edge web and mobile technologies, it looks like the next few years are going to be quite exciting.

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