Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business social networking to meet human needs: Part 2 – local online and the pressure for customer-aware best practices

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on September 7, 2010

There are several major threads that run through this blog as a whole and one of them is at least loosely organized as Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time. We are rapidly moving into a situation and even a cultural mindset where sharing data and knowledge and communicating can be an ongoing seamless context to our lives, and also where that is taken for granted.

One of the key elements to this system has to be in localized online where we can immediately and real-time tap into, find and connect to local resources for wherever we happen to locally be at any given time. And this is a capability that is rapidly developing, and both for handheld platforms as access points and for notebook and laptop computers and other larger screen devices connected in through Wi-Fi and G3 (and now G4.)

Established enterprises compete for local online market space with connection options such as Facebook Places. A growing range of startups are staking out market share in this developing capability with companies like Foursquare coming immediately to mind.

There are resources that can help you find businesses with their products and services for meeting your immediate needs, but more than that they are increasingly powerful tools for tapping into and connecting to social networks and even where the immediately apparent focus is marketplace oriented (e.g. on becoming identified as a Foursquare “mayor” of a particular business venture.) This type of localization data for popularity and customer preference is shared along with viral marketing messages about the businesses that have mayors as a part of their social networking context and it serves as shared value that helps to maintain social networking cohesiveness.

And of course there are many, many handheld oriented apps that can offer selective, specialized local online connectivity to particular types of resource (e.g. apps specific to finding local movie theatres and what is playing and when, and for both dates and times – and for sharing this information with friends.) The range of options that are currently available is already fairly extensive, but it is also growing and evolving in both capability and accessibility very rapidly. And this is being met with both acceptance and resistance, and in both cases that does not simply follow an age-related early/middle/late adaptor pattern. Acceptance and marketplace penetration patterns for local online are developing according to more complex demographics than simple generational distinctions would cover as different groups find resources that meet their particular needs, and that are presented in ways that to varying degrees allay their concerns.

What concerns could people have in local online? One is a loss of privacy where details and levels of detail as to where they go, and what they do there become public knowledge and to the public at large. Another is that when people know where you are, they also know where you are not. I know of at least one YouTube video of a home break-in caught on web-cam that was reported to have happened when the people breaking in knew via local online that the apartment owner was away. In this case the hook that gave this video clip notoriety and viewing audience was at least in part that the person leading the break-in was a former boyfriend of the woman who owned that apartment, and he did not in any way cover his face so he was immediately identified. But the take home lesson in this type of shared story is that local online with its capacity to widely share word as to where we are at all times has its down side from that sharing per se.

I am writing this posting as a second installment in a series on Business Social Networking to Meet Human Needs (see Part 1 – a need for shared best practices for the first installment) and the major focus of this series is on learning curves, and both for businesses and for those they would reach out to and connect with – and in localized real time.

We all face what can at times be conflicting needs, for accessibility and connection on the one hand and for personal privacy and security on the other. Implementing effective ubiquitous computing, data sharing and communications as a long term viable and sustainable approach has to include lessons learned from learning curves too, and the development of tools and resources that will help us thread paths through these conflicting needs to limit the down-sides while maximizing benefits.

As individuals we need tools for among other things being able to control who will have access to what localized information that we share at all, with some going out widely and openly but some only going to specific groups or subsets of potential recipients. And we need to think through what we would share with whom and in what time frames. That might, for example, mean sharing where we recently were rather than where we are now, as in “I went to restaurant X and had A and B and this is what I thought of the place” rather than “I am at X right now.”

As business owners that means being careful what we share with our communities, of the information that we collect concerning our specific customers. So to follow up on the above example, it would not help preserve personal privacy or home security if a patron at X only indicated they had been there after the fact in their own data sharing, if X as a business broadcast that they were there right now through open connectivity and identification tools that broadcast out through their Wi-Fi.

My next posting in this series is going to focus on creating comfort zones for sharing localization information and for both businesses and individuals who they seek to connect with. I am going to go on to discuss ways in which local online might change social networking per se by changing what we seek to use it for as our networking goals and priorities.

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