The Future of Social Networking

The Future of Social Networking, Cellphones and Your Credit Card

I love future technology, and I try to follow current trends in the tech world. I follow what is happening, and (to the best of my ability) what is about to happen. Sometimes, I get good ideas; and this is one of them.

Though I see this as simply a “good idea,” I’d like to think that it is also the inevitable outcome and product of current activities, trends and technological advancements.

I’m unsure how it will be implemented, but we’ll talk about that later. There are several options, all of which are viable and possible; but it won’t make much sense to talk about implementation before describing WHAT we’d be implementing.

So, how to describe this… This is the blending of cellular phones, the internet, commerce, personal data assistants, data management and social networking – all in one, easy-to-use, neat, customizable and (hopefully) open source web application.

So, now that we have it outlined (details will follow), let’s talk about implementation. The thing is this: It is an internet suit, dependent on internet functionality; but I think it would be all you should need on a cellphone handset. So, most likely the cellphone would not be a “cellphone” but rather an internet access device, about the size of a cellphone, and with the main purpose of accessing and interacting with the features of the site I will describe below. Because of this, you would also be able to access the site and do everything you can do with your “cellphone” (that little internet device I described above) from any computer (preferably equipped with speakers and a microphone).

On to the site. What will it be like? The features I am about to describe are all existent today in one form or another, but many of them have not been successfully married together by anyone. And NOWHERE (that I am aware of) are all of these features found in one place, especially not with a cell-like device as I expect it will be some day. Yes, even though I describe this as a future idea, the fact is somebody else has probably already begun creating something like it. I know European cellphone services are beginning to resemble some of this, but NOBODY has it all… yet. I believe it will happen soon though, perhaps in five or ten years.

Here it is! The site would at first resemble a social networking site (much like Facebook). You would have a profile, along with everyone else who wants to sign up (I think it should be free to have a profile, while some of the features would probably require a monthly subscription). The main difference is that businesses and organizations would have profiles (like Virb and MySpace), and you would actually add them to your contacts. 😉

Basically, from here it becomes a little like an address/contact list/book. In stead of having all of the profiles you want linked to you as “friends,” you could put them in “circles,” or categories. Depending on the category, the group/individual will have more or less access to your personal information. Some sample “circles” could be as follows: Friends, close friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates, church/club members, neighbors, services, businesses, etc. So, you would search for a listing (your friend’s name or the business name/phone number/address) and then drag them into a circle or into several circles (or, in a less “touchy” interface, you would check boxes by the “circle” names) and they would be saved in those circles.

Maybe you look up a close classmate, who also happens to live by you, and you are good friends with him/her. So, you look up their name, let’s say “John Doe.” (I know, cliché, right?) John Doe’s EXTREMELY basic profile would appear showing his name, maybe a photo, and any other information he chooses to show everybody at his discretion. Then you would check boxes by the circle name(s) you want him to be a part of (or, in our ultra-cool iPhone-esque scenario, you would drag his photo onto each label, one at a time). Each circle would have a different level of security associated with it, and thus you would only be able to add him to some categories with his approval (like doing a friend add in Facebook).

Each circle represents the relationship you have with this person. Some relationships are very simple, and thus you do not need access too much of the individual’s personal information, but you still might need to have them in your contact list. So, you add John Doe to each circle. Let’s start with classmate and neighbor, which are similar relationships.

For this, each individual sets preferences for how they want them handled (depending on how secretive, paranoid and/or protective of personal information they are). Let’s say John allows people to add him as a neighbor and/or classmate without him having to approve it, but the only privileges associated with this relationship with John are the ability to send text messages and make phone calls. Or maybe classmates are only allowed to send text messages to John through the service, but neighbors are permitted to make phone calls and send text messages.

As for the “friend” relationship, John has set his security preferences to prevent people from adding him as a friend without his permission, so after adding him to these three categories, he will only show up with basic contact capabilities in your address book in the classmate and neighbor circles until he approves your request to add him as a friend, at which time you will have as much access as he deems necessary for his friends, and you will be able to see his full profile. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to wait until he logs into the internet – a text message is sent to him immediately, notifying him that you are waiting.

Now, remember that this service is married to your cellphone? Because it’s an internet service, the phone calls are handled as voice over IP (VoIP), and thus video conferencing will be possible too (though the handsets might be a little awkward for this, it’s not unfathomable). The text messages would not be limited in size, thus they could be considered full messages or even e-mails and would be received into an “inbox”.

As for the text message you sent him… Social networks are difficult and slightly annoying for some people. They can’t be scheduled, they can get very involved and if you’re always carrying it around with you, you’d probably get interrupted a lot unless you just turn it on and off throughout the day, right? Check this out – like an instant messenger (oh, did I mention the service includes IM? It does) you can set your status. And in case you’re worried you might forget to set your status to busy or unavailable, this service is combined with your schedule. You tell it when you’re in class, at work, in meetings, in church, etc., and it keeps silent during those times – you can even tell it to stay quiet for another ten minutes or so (you set the time) after the scheduled event, just in case the meeting goes a little late, or class lets out late.

And if the future is as cool as I hope it will be, you won’t even have to worry about inputting your own schedule. When you get a new job, register for school classes or even arrive at church or the movie theater, the local computer system will automatically connect with your profile and either input the new scheduling information (work will send your weekly schedule to your cell service, which you will be able to view online and on your phone, AND the schedule work sends you will include phone quiet times and break times so you don’t have to set your status – it’s in the schedule), or the church or movie theater will detect that you’ve entered their facilities, and change your status to quiet mode (busy, unavailable, etc.). If you have some kind of urgent, pending business, you can make that known on your profile and even the museum’s computers will understand that certain contacts (which you associate with the emergency situation, like your spouse or the police) will still need to be able to get through to you.

OK, just two more main features before I wrap up by quickly describing the interface.

Part of the aforementioned functions are facilitated by the actual device’s global positioning system capabilities. The system learns the device’s physical location by way of GPS, and this information becomes part of your profile, and is updated in real time while you are logged in with a GPS enabled device. The main service includes mapping capabilities, to display this information. It shows the locations of everything in your contact list on that map. Some relationships or circles will limit the ability to see the location of particular profiles (based on security preferences), but any business you have listed will show up, and the map will provide directions to anything you see on the map.

Finally, the service will include a function similar to that of PayPal. You can transfer money to anyone in your contacts, from any circle, without exchanging banking information. The hand held device will function like a credit card or bank card allowing you to make purchases at stores, and the online service will allow you to transfer money to businesses with which you conduct online transactions. Even donations will be handled in this fashion.

Basically, just imagine if Facebook, Skype, PayPal, Google (Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc.), and a high speed wireless internet service provider (like WiMax) all merged together and started a cellphone service. This is what you’d end up with, and I think that the popularity, functionality and practicality of these services point to one thing – they’ll all be the same thing in the near future.

The service’s main page when you log in will be very customizable. I am hoping that this will be an open source project, and third party applications will be a large part of it (like here, at Facebook), allowing users to add widgets, gizmos and applications to their profile and homepage as well as adding additional functionality to the phone. Similar to Facebook’s home page, there will be news feeds, that you can customize, from your family, friends and business contacts, as well as actual news items, weather, etc. Businesses you save in your business circle will display small ads and special offers for you for items and services you would be interested in. You can customize the look of the page with colors and images or even your own coded formatting through CSS, HTML, or whatever else you like.

At the top of the page there will be tabs. You can create your own to hold content you chose, and there will be tabs for your favorite circles. Each one will have specialized news feeds from the contacts in them, and you will be able to view these contacts and their profile pages through the navigation tools. Contacts can be ordered by time you’ve known them, distance from you, alphabetical order, how often you have contact (phone calls, text messages, etc.) with them, and even preference (who you like the most, which business/restaurant you like more, etc.).

Placing a call would be as simple as selecting the contact and pushing the “call” button. There would be a video call button, a send message button, a send photos or files button and perhaps (though third party applications) other buttons could be added as well for interaction with your contacts (anyone up for a good poke fight?).

The actual hardware would HAVE to use OLEDs to save battery power and provide richer images. There would be a speaker, microphone, jack for external components (maybe), bluetooth and other wireless connectivity, USB (or whatever else we’re using then) for a keyboard or something, a multi-touch screen big enough to actually read all that stuff people write on their profiles but not so big you can’t carry it around with you, a camera hidden behind the screen for natural face to face video conferencing, and a couple other things like battery charging accommodations (though that might be wireless too by then) and an on/off mechanism (though you probably won’t use it all that often). It would need to be small enough to fit in a pocket, but not too small. Data entry could be through a slide-out keyboard, on-screen keyboard or even through speech-to-text technology (which is getting better every day).

The internet site that runs your phone might be reformatted to fit the smaller screen, ditching some things to save space and make it fit. When viewed online from a larger screen, this would not be an issue, and the site would have no limitations. The free account would include a profile and all networking functionality. If anything were to be charged, it would be a monthly fee to have high quality VoIP calls with video, though I don’t know why a free subscription couldn’t offer the same VoIP that Google Talk offers today for free. If all goes well, when you sign up for this service, you should be able to tell it the URL and login information of a social networking site you’ve already been using (such as MySpace or Facebook), and it will go in and import all of that hard work you’ve already done there into this new service. That way you won’t have to enter all that personal information AGAIN! After all, who wants to type out all of their favorite music and interests for ANOTHER social networking site? Not me!

One of the coolest features of a service like this would have to be the ability to share your handset. Say you have a friend who signed up and got a profile, but didn’t buy the phone, and he wants to call his mother. You can hand him your phone and he can log on to the site through password verification just like we do on any other social networking or banking site today. He uses your phone as though it were his own, then logs off and you log back on. It’s that easy.

Finally, and I know you’re about to give me the”run-on sentence-king” award and “diarrhea-of-the-mouth” award, I truly do believe that this is all just a couple years away, once someone decides to do it. There are patents to be considered, as well as the availability of high speed wireless internet connections, but overcoming those hurdles, this service is already available, you just have to piece it together and make them talk to each other. If anyone out there is interested in actually doing this, and they have the ability to get things done (find programmers, designers, engineers, manufacturers, web hosts, etc.), I don’t mind if you steal my ideas. First of all, they probably aren’t unique, and second of all, I think it’s going to happen whether I do it or not. The only thing I ask in return for taking my idea isn’t credit, but a piece of the pie. Not a percentage of the earnings, but a handset! I just want to be able to use the service I’ve dreamed up without having to pay for it. Is that too much to ask? I think not!

Happy dreaming, and until next time.

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